Hot air tag on riot sermon

Imran Ahmed Siddiqui

New Delhi, Dec. 3: The home ministry has sent the states a list of guidelines to educate the police, from sub-inspectors to IPS officers, on how to deal with minorities in riot-like situations, but security experts have found it too vague.

The guidelines are full of lofty advice such as "cultivation of the spirit of brotherhood" and "the art of balancing head and heart while dealing with situations" but low on specifics and institutional mechanisms. (See chart)

All the states have been asked to introduce the "manual" ' prepared by the National Commission for Minorities ' at their police training centres. "The manual has also been sent to the National Police Academy in Hyderabad," a senior ministry official said.

Security expert and former Delhi commissioner Ved Marwah, however, lambasted the ministry and commission for delivering a "sermon without substance".

"This kind of manual is useless and cannot make any difference on the ground. Preparing such a manual is good for people who have practically no work and love to sermonise," he said.

Marwah, a former governor and National Security Guard director-general, said the key is to insulate the police from political pressure if they are to honour citizens' rights and maintain law and order.

He cited how some politicians and the police had connived during the 1984 Sikh killings and the 2002 Gujarat pogrom but "no action has been taken against them till now".

"Lecturing them during training is futile: we have seen how the police are used by political rulers in a partisan manner. The police must be given a free hand to operate with impartiality."

Former BSF director-general Prakash Singh said the manual should have contained concrete measures rather than high-sounding bombast.

"They should have been more specific about how to train policemen on dealing with minorities in riot-like situations. What the manual says is already there in the syllabuses of primary and secondary education," Singh, who had petitioned the Supreme Court to investigate police reform measures, said.

"The police are by and large not communal; it's only the police leaders or the political masters who are. For example, a large number of police personnel were present during the Babri Masjid demolition but they were immobilised by the Centre and the state government."

Marwah said British police are more efficient, honest and impartial because they are not at the mercy of their political bosses.

"They don't need to be the personal favourites of their political masters to become head of the force. Unlike in India, promotion within the Scotland Yard is a reward for performance and ability," he said.

Former Mumbai police commissioner and counter-militancy star Julio Ribeiro, however, agreed that the effort against communal bias should begin with the training of IPS officers.

"Since the issues are complicated, we should concentrate on the police leadership and ensure wide debate and understanding among them so that they learn to think without bias," Ribeiro said.

"As for their juniors at the state level and the training schools, the basic features of religions can be explained.... The attempt should be to rid the subordinate ranks of biases bred at home and school."

The manual does say that five religions ' Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Sikhism and Zoroastrianism ' should be explained to trainees along with various social issues. However, it doesn't say how this can be done or cite any texts or teachers, leaving it all to the states to decide.

Personnel should be taught to identify "possible reasons or causes of communal clashes or disharmony in society", the manual says, setting the bar high. "This may also include studies and study recommendations and suggestions in the findings of committees and commissions which were carried out in the past in various states."

The points to consider during recruitment, the manual says, may include "spiritual mindset to know if the candidate is a person of principle... if he/she has fear of God or not and respect for law and order".

"We prepared the manual in consultation with the home ministry. We considered the problems faced by minorities and how to sensitise police officers about dealing with minorities during riots," minority commission chairperson Wajahat Habibullah said.

"Now it is the duty of the state governments to implement it during training programmes."