The head of the National Commission for Minorities, Wajahat Habibullah, has asked the Maharashtra government to hold errant policemen to account for allegedly acting with bias against Muslims during recent sectarian clashes in Dhule.
Habibullah said he was appalled at what had happened. "I have gone through DVDs and heard the victims. We expect both rehabilitation and accountability (of guilty policemen)," Habibullah told HT.
Six youths, all of them Muslims, were killed in police firing on January 6 in Maharashtra's Dhule town. A brawl over a restaurant bill escalated into a riot, a sign that social relations between Hindus and Muslims, India's largest minority, remain brittle.
A fact-finding report, released by rights group Anhad, accused policemen of watching over the clashes. The HT could not independently check with the state police for its version. According to rights activist Shabnam Hashmi, eye-witnesses had testified that the police "provided cover for a Hindu mob".
The Indian Express daily quoted chief minister Prithviraj Chavan as acknowledging that policemen could have acted with "bias", saying there were "some communal elements" in the force. Two policemen, seen looting a shop during the riot, have been suspended.
KK Daruwala, an NCM member and a former police officer, had written to the Maharashtra police chief, calling for swift action.
Muslim victims said the rioters looted their shops with police support, but HT has no independent confirmation of this.
Relations between police and ethnic or religious minorities pose one of the more serious problems in policing in many countries. In India, Muslims generally perceive the police to be biased against them. Experts say recruiting more minorities in police forces may help reverse the situation.