It’s just past midnight on July 29. Assistant police inspector Rauf Sheikh is hooked to a mobile phone at his office in MIDC, Andheri; two other phones are ringing incessantly. A senior official is on the line, asking Sheikh how he thinks the 1993 Mumbai blasts accused Yakub Memon’s execution set for the morning will play out in the Muslim community in Mumbai.
Shaikh, a decorated crime branch veteran, had activated his army of informants — from petty criminals to religious clerics — well in advance. He passes some crucial tip-offs diligently before attending to another call, again from another senior officer.
The police managed to ensure Mumbai was trouble-free on June 30 using the reports from the ground from officers like Shaikh.
Just three years earlier, Shaikh had to deal with a similar communally charged situation. He led the team that arrested the prime accused in the Azad Maidan riots in 2012. He admits that being an insider gives him a certain degree of leverage in gauging undercurrents in the community. “If there were more Muslims [officers and constables] in the force, it would not only bolster the intelligence gathering apparatus, but dispel many misconception among community members about the police force,” said Shaikh.
A century and half ago, when the Mumbai police (Imperial Police during the Raj) was formally set up in 1864 with Frank Shouter as the first police commissioner, the only Indian to be posted as an officer was Khan Bahadur Shaikh Ibrahim Shaikh Imam. Today, the Mumbai police, now a part of the Maharashtra police, has more than 42,000 constables and 4,300 officers. However, the Muslim community representation is miniscule: 1,103 personnel in the constabulary and just about 100 of the officers.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) figures of 2013, there are just about 1% Muslims in the Maharashtra police against the national average of 4%. Andhra Pradesh has 10%, Uttar Pradesh 4.8%, Bihar 4.5 %, Karnataka 6.4% and Delhi 2%, according to the NCRB figures of 2013.
HT spoke to a cross section of people from the Muslim community on this issue. Some said there was a communal bias in recruitment that kept Muslims out. Others said Muslim youth had poor knowledge of Marathi, essential for a state government job, and besides, there was a lack of awareness about recruitment procedures for government jobs.
Reactions were similar in police circles. Some denied any communal bias, while others said better representation would improve policing. But not everyone agrees.
“It does not matter to law breakers who don the uniform. It does not make any difference to policing,” said former DGP K Subramanyam. Many initiatives by the administration to encourage students from the minority community to attempt the state police exams have yielded little results. “Initiative alone is not going to solve the problem. We need equal reciprocation from the community too,” he said.
However, a former encounter specialist from the community, who asked not to be named, said the initiatives failed because they were half-hearted. “There is a certain bias to giving government jobs to Muslims. The poor representation has contributed to the polarisation of the force on communal lines,” he asserted.
However, Qaisar Khalid, senior IPS officer, disagrees. “The assertion of bias is a bogey without basis. If you take community-wise ratio of candidates appearing for and passing the examination, it remains nearly the same for all,” he said.
Socio-economic and educational backwardness, coupled with lack of awareness about how to prepare for competitive examinations such as the MPSC, are responsible for the poor representation of Muslims in government services, he said. Muslim youth, he said, should learn Marathi in schools as it was the state language and the language of communication in all state government jobs.
Former state minority affairs minister and Congress leader Nasim Khan said reservation for the community in state government jobs (police included) was essential. “Proper education and Marathi are a must. At the same time, if we don’t offer reservation, I doubt we will have any substantial increase in their numbers in the constabulary in future.”
Now, a majority of those who make it to the force are from a police background. For example, API Rauf Shaikh is a third generation policeman as is noted terror-buster inspector Rashid Kulkarni. But this can hold true for other communities too.
Case studies: The woman who shattered many stereotypes
When Shabana Shaikh joined the Maharashtra police in 1992, she broke many stereotypes. She was the first Muslim woman from minority-dominated Ahmednagar to become a police officer. Her success inspired a dozen of women from the district, including two of her sisters, to don the uniform.
Shabana, now posted as an inspector in the special branch (SB-I) in the Mumbai police, admits it was a hard-fought journey from an extremely conservative background.
"I was born into a large joint family in Akole taluka of Ahmadnagar district. We were seven sisters and two brothers. Educating girls was almost a taboo in my village. However, although my father was little educated, he made it a point to send all of us to school," Shabana said.
Shabana’s eldest sister was the first girl from the village to enroll into a college. “Despite much opposition, she went to college, thus paving way for our higher studies,” Shabana said, recalling the resistance and condemnation her family faced when she joined a college in Sangamner to pursue her graduation.
She didn’t stop there, though the family married off the eldest daughter while she was in college. “I told my father I wanted to go to Pune to complete my Masters. Abbu was very angry as that would mean I’d have to stay far away from home, which was not permissible for a girl,” Shabana recollected. “I refused to budge. I threatened to quit home and fend for myself in Pune,” she said, adding, “My father knew I was serious and arranged my stay at a relative’s place in Pune.”
In Pune, Shabana joined a coaching class that helped students prepare for jobs. “I was never interested in bank-type jobs. I wanted to do something different and police service became a natural choice,” she said adding though she failed to qualify the direct MPSC examination for the post of Deputy Superintendent of Police, she cracked the sub-inspector exam in her first attempt. She completed her MA during training and LLB later.
“My father was the proudest man when he saw my photographs in newspapers as the first (Muslim) woman police officer from the district and the many felicitations that followed,” she said adding, two of her younger sisters joined the force in 1995. “Our success not only dispelled the myth in our village and the district that (Muslim) girls lagged behind when it came to cracking government jobs, it also changed the scenario of women’s education in the region.”
She dismisses talk of bias against Muslims “This is all baseless talk. As far as I know, if one is meritorious and qualifies tests, nobody can stop them. My Guru and trainer in the academy was a ‘Brahmin’ officer who favoured me over others as I was sincere,” she said. Spread of education and awareness in the community held key to more representation in government service, she added.
Gutsy Shabana’s husband is a banker and she wants her two daughters to join the IPS.
Determined to don the uniform
Ahmed Shaikh idolised the protagonist of a crime serial on TV. Then one day, the 16-year-old from Nagpada witnessed a real life chase of a rowdy from his locality by a couple of crime branch sleuths. It didn’t take much of effort for the cops to pin down the armed criminal. The incident only cemented Ahmed decision.
“I want to become a policeman, come what may,” said the Class 10 student of an English-medium school in south Mumbai. His father, Mohammad Riaz, a scrap dealer from Do Tanki, is doing all he can to help his son.
So when children of his age play cricket or perform bike stunts in the crowded lanes of south-central Mumbai, Ahmed sweats it out inside the ring at a boxing club near Nagpada junction.
Riaz recollected the first time Ahmed revealed his ambition to become a policeman.
“It was on an unusual occasion. Three powerful blasts had rocked the city on July 13, 2011, killing and injuring several people. On television we were watching the terrorist carnage with horror as the incidents happened not very far from our locality. My little Ahmed (then in Class 5) walked up to me said he wanted to become a policeman,” Riaz said.
Surprised at Ahmed’s sudden words, Riaz lowered the volume of the TV and pulled him close. “I thought he was traumatised after seeing images of the gory blast sites and the dead and the injured.” But Ahmed was adamant. “I want to kill those terrorists who killed the innocent people. I want to become a policeman and go after them,” he said.
Riaz realised his son was serious. “Though he is average in studies, he is committed to whatever he does,” said Riaz. Teaching him boxing is part of the drill. “I want the fire in him to sustain,” Riaz said.
Encouragement seldom came from friends, though his two brothers and parents back him all the way. “Doesn’t matter. Once I become a policeman, I will be in a position to change their [his friends] impression about the police,” Ahmed said.
He is aware of the challenges ahead. “I can read and write in Marathi, though I lack fluency when I speak. I am working on it. I will overcome the problem by the time I am through with my studies and appear for the police exams,” he said.
Asked about a perception in some sections of the community of bias in recruitment, Riaz said it is often an excuse for failure. “I have never come across any bias.”
Face to face:
# Those from non-Marathi backgrounds losing out: Sarfraz Arzoo (Editor, Hindustan)
What reasons do you attribute for the dismal participation of members of the community in the force?
The foremost is that those at the helm of affairs don’t want Muslims in the force.
Do you have any evidence to back your charge?
Often, we come across instances where even after qualifying in the written and other tests, our candidates fail at interview/s. That is why we have long been demanding representation of Muslims on the interview board/s. Interviews should be videotaped and made available to the candidate.
Then you think the alleged bias is the only reason for poor representation?
It is a major reason. The other is the lack of knowledge of Marathi. It creates impediments for those from non-Marathi backgrounds. Even Gujaratis and those from other linguistic backgrounds lag behind over the Marathi factor.
Little can be done in that direction as Marathi is the state and official language.
But, candidates from other linguistic backgrounds should not be deprived of opportunity. Police personnel, especially in Mumbai, have to deal with people from different backgrounds.
What solution will you offer?
The police department does not comprise of constables only. There is requirement for mechanics, drivers, IT and other professionals whose knowledge of Marathi is irrelevant to their job.
What difference will a substantial representation from the community make?
A lot. Like more representation from the community will become a balancing factor in investigations which, at times, run into controversies following allegations of bias.
# Efforts on to have more Muslims in force: Sanjeev Dayal (director general of police)
Despite many claims of efforts to increase participation of Muslims in the force, nothing seems to have changed?
We have been eagerly and anxiously waiting for an increase in the participation of Muslims in the force. However, Marathi, or lack of its knowledge, remains the main problem.
Some years ago, the police had started a drive to teach Marathi to aspirants from the community?
Several efforts have been made to impart learning in the language to youngsters from the community. We organise camps to motivate youth to take up the language. The CM is aware of the situation and efforts are on to encourage Marathi education in the community.
But the situation hasn’t changed.
Yes, it is true we have not succeeded as much as we wanted to. It is not just the knowledge of the language, but a proper learning of language in the curriculum, that will help.
Former CM Prithviraj Chavan had plans to make Urdu as an option in the MPSC examination.
That is not possible. After selection, they have to interact with the masses in the state language, which is Marathi.
How can leaders from community help in this direction?
They can help a lot by encouraging the inclusion of Marathi in the curriculum in Urdu medium institutions like Madrasas.
# More Muslims in force will bridge trust deficit: Zahoor Kazi (President, Anjuman-I-Islam education trust)
Why are not many from the community joining the force?
Somewhere, there is a feeling they don’t have equal opportunity when it comes to getting jobs in the government sector. Secondly, the dropout number of students from the community in secondary school is very high. It will be wrong to assume that people don’t want to get into government jobs.
What should be done to do away with this mistrust?
Like representation from SC and STs in recruitment boards, there should be sufficient representation from the community too.
Is Marathi an impediment?
I don’t think so. In our institution, Marathi is taught with as much zest as any other language.
What efforts are you making to spread the language?
Organisations like AnjumanI-Islam, leading NGOs in the state must take the lead in this.
How will it help when we have more people from the community in the force?
The biggest outcome will be bridging the trust deficit.