Cover Story, February 1995
“No Riot Can Last for More than 24 Hours unless the State wants it to
Continue”- Vibhuti Narain Rai, IPS to Teesta Setalvad
AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW BY TEESTA
SETALVAD CO-EDITOR COMMUNALISM COMBAT
He is as IPS officer whom the saffron
brigade loves to hate. Based on his personal experience as a junior
officer during the 1980 communal riots in Allahabad he wrote a novel.
Shahar mein curfew, in 1989 on the eve of his promotion as the
superintendent of police of the same city in U.P Ashok Singhal, the
general secretary of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, felt enraged enough by
its contents to engage in a public burning of the book.
In 1987, he was the SP of Ghaziabad. When
in the course of the meerut riots, the state's Provincial Armed
Constabulary [PAC] arbitrarily rounded up a group of Muslims from
Hashimpura, packed them in a truck, killed them in cold-blood and
dumped them like garbage. He and his men, cried themselves hoarse for
three hours in desperate search of a survivor among the victims so
that the gruesome tale of 'criminals in uniform' could be told to the
Having succeeded at last in finding
Babudeen, the lone survivor he ensured top security to the victim
until an F.I.R. was lodged against the murderous PRC men.
Vibhuti N. Rai is his name. He has 20
years of police service behind him.
Now a DIG, Border Security Force (BSF), he
was posted at Srinagar before he took a year's study leave for
research on the subject of communalism and the police force in India.
Among other things, Rai's interviews with
hundreds of riot victims from across the country produced the
startling finding that in all riot situations. Hindus consider
policemen as their friends while, almost without exception. India's
minorities -- Muslims and Sikhs -- experience them as their enemy.
The implications of his finding are
frightening because "losing faith in the police may lead to loss of
fa1t.h in the state" itself
The candour and depth of feeling with
which Rai spoke t o Combat is rare for a police officer still in
service. We reproduce here his interview in full.
What is the specific subject of your
The subject that has been assigned to me
is "Perception of Police Neutrality during Communal Riots", that is,
the perception of the police among different strata of society I
concentrated on perceptions of police neutrality among all minority
segments in Indian society. How they perceive the police was my
specific area of research.
To collect information, I framed a
questionnaire for a wide cross-section of riot victims from all over
the country. The responses that I have got are startling, there is a
sharp difference between the perception of the minorities and those of
the majority community.
Hindus responded in one way while the
response of Muslims and Sikhs was entirely different. From the
hundreds of responses that I have collected it is clear that during
communal riots, Hindus always visualize the police as their friends
while almost every Muslim and Sikh sees them as his enemy.
Now, this is a truly shocking revelation
to me. Though I had anticipated that a large majority of Muslims and
Sikhs might feel this way, I expected at least some sections from both
communities to view the police otherwise. I was shocked to find a near
universal minority reponse that the police are enemies.
A second question I asked my respondents
was whether they would approach the police during a communal riot when
their life was threatened or their property was in danger. The
reponses to this question, too, were yet, another revelation to me.
The vast majority categorically stated there was no question of their,
approaching the police. A few said they would not like to reply to
this question. Among those who responded, barely 5- 10 per cent said
that they would like to approach the police. These responses, again,
are truly shocking.
As a senior
police officer what do you feel are the implications of such
The implications are nothing short of
disastrous because the police represents the state. Losing faith in
the police may amount to losing faith in the state. But t must make a
qualification: one of the heartening findings was that while loss of
faith in the police was near total among the minorities, many of the
riot victims I interviewed still expressed faith in other organs of
the state like the army, the BSF or the CRPF.
But if the communal virus that is so
virulent spreads further. I wonder how long we can keep our army free
from it? Especially, if the army is called in so frequently tackle
communally explosive situations and jawans are stationed for long
durations, there is every likelihood of their catching the same virus.
The consolation for now is: at least, the minorities still have some
faith in some institutions of the state.
Now that you
have completed your research and are near the end of your dissertation
what are the major conclusions that you have reached? As an insider
who has been extensively researching on the issue, how serious and
widespread, according to you, is the problem of communalisation in the
Indian police force?
and bias is so deep and widespread that I feel some drastic steps need
to be taken and fast. Especially by the senior leadership within the
Indian police. Prejudice governs our actions much more than the
fair-play we are sworn to. It is heart-warming to come across
instances of decent, non-partisan police officers. But, and I say this
with deep regret, such examples are more the exception than the rule
It is useless to
decry or condemn or constantly put blame only on politicians. We in
the police force have to accept that our house is not in order.
It has become a
routine, a fashion almost, after each riot when the allegations begin
coming in, senior officers defend the force and counter-allege that
the accusations are biased, that they have been leveled by
ill-informed persons, etc; that sections of society, the media, social
activists, minorities and communists who commonly bring these facts to
the notice of the public are biased and that, in a nutshell, their
accusations are mala fide.
Personally, I feel
that unless we begin by accepting that there is something seriously
wrong, we may not be able to rectify it and put our house in order.
must improve, IPS officers must stop blaming the force. This applies
to Bombay or anywhere else in the country.
There is often a tendency in the force to
seek an alibi for their conduct in the role of politicians. For
instance, the excuse that "we were not given the necessary orders" is
often touted. What are your comments on this?
There is no denying that in a system of
parliamentary democracy like ours, politicians play a decisive and in
many cases a final role. But I have never in my whole career come
across a situation where an officer who has acted conscientiously and
stopped a riot, IS punished for it through political action.
Many times we take shelter behind
politicians for our own failures. We say that politicians did not
permit it. But no politician can ever ask us to behave in a communal
fashion. It is not so easy for even the chief minister of a state
ruled by a "Hindutva" party to openly behave like a Hindu communal
fanatic and give orders according to his leanings.
Could you elaborate on this?
Yes. We now have historical evidence of
this kind of inaction and complicity. In 1990, when Mr. Mulayam, Singh
Yadav's government was in power, 300 men were stationed all around and
protected the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya. Though around a hundred
frenzied Persons climbed the domes they could not damage it.
Two years later, on December 6, 1992, we
had a situation where the entire force of the UP police CRPF, ITBP
(Indo- Tibetan Border Police) totaling 20,000 plus were "guarding the
structure. 'The video casette recording b the Intelligence Bureau
clearly documents that not more than 3-4,000 "kar sevaks" were within
close proximity of the mosque. In such a scenario could no effective
action have been taken?
The reason why no action was taken lies
elsewhere. The same cassette shows policemen rejoicing with their
hands held high in victory when the Babri Masjid was destroyed. The
district magistrate and other officials were dancing with delight.
That is why the "kar sevaks" could not be stopped. There was no desire
to do so.
So, if you
were in control and were given an order telling you not to fire at the
kar sevaks, for example, are you saying that you were not bound to
follow this political diktat?
Yes, I am saying that. No government can
give illegal orders. The Indian Penal Code, the Criminal Procedure
Code, the Indian Constitution, they are supreme. And no government can
give orders contravening these statutes.
As a senior
police officer with considerable experience, especially in communal
hotspots in UP, could you cite instances of what you consider open
There are constant refrains from sections
of officialdom that the PAC (Provincial Armed Constabulary) in UP is
.not communal. My personal evidence is to the contrary. I am
constrained to say that their behaviour is like that of an RSS
activist. The only difference is that the PAC jawans sport full khaki
pants while the RSS cadre wears khaki shorts.
For me, one of the most glaring instances
was the conduct of the PAC in Meerut. I was serving as SP in Ghaziabad
(neighbouring district) when the PAC picked up at least 40 Muslims
from Hashimpura in Meerut and shot them dead in 1987
During the communal riots there was an
official "search" of the mohalla by the army, while both the police
and PAC were present. During those 'searches," the PAC arbitrarily
picked up Muslims from the area, packed them into a truck and killed
them en route to Ghaziabad.
prejudice and bias is so deep and widespread that I feel some
drastic steps need to be taken and fast, Especially by the
senior leadership within the Indian police. Prejudice governs
our actions much more than the fair-play we are sworn to. It is
heart-warming to come across instances of decent, non-partisan
police officers. But, and I say this with deep regret, such
examples are more the exception than the rule"
As SP, Ghaziabad reached the spot within a
few hours. It took me more than three hours of patrolling among a
field of corpses - one of the most gruesome jobs of my whole career-
to locate the stray survivor of that massacre.
My men and I shouted ourselves hoarse,
trying to convince any survivor among the victims that we were there
to save them. But how could we expect them to believe us since we
donned the same hateful uniform? Finally, after several hours, we
Babudeen, one of the few survivors of that
PAC assault. It was due to our relentless efforts that the F.I.R.
against the PAC officials was registered in his name. He had to have
top notch security for many days
The case was then handed over to the CID,
UP. Eight years later, I was recently told that the (the CID) have
finally fired a chargesheet against officers of the PAC! The
chargesheet reached the court only. A few months back. The case is now
languishing with the government yet to decide whether or not-to give
sanction to prosecute.
It may be
argued that you are over-generalising from a few capes, however
This is only one
of the examples. If we try to ignore these, call them exceptions and
explain it away saying that their (PAC) normal conduct is secular, it
would amount to brushing the dust under the carpet. We will have to
accept that something is seriously wrong with the PAC.
In almost every riot in UP over the past
20 ears the PAC has been indicted Personally, I feel that such
repeated allegations call for drastic steps to improve the PAC.
Another ghastly case IS the conduct of the
Bihar police in the 1989 riots in Bhagalpur, especially in the
villages of Loghain and Chanderi where 100 Muslims were slaughtered in
cold blood. In Loghain particularly, the conduct of the police and the
administration was truly shocking because the bodies of those
slaughtered were recovered only one-and-a-half-months later, buried in
a field over which cauliflower was being grown.
The reason was that the officials of the
district police and administration, located barely 20 kilometers from
the site, just kept on denying the incidents despite repeated
allegations especially in the media.
You can imagine the killing of over 100
persons in cold blood within 20 kilometers of officialdom and both the
police and administration trying to hide it. That was the height of
callousness. There were serious allegations against the Bihar police
for their gross conduct. On a recent visit to Bhagalpur, I was also
told that only one PSI has even been chargesheeted.
I strongly feel that action should have
been taken against the senior police officer on duty also. Punishing
an ASI or a head constable is not enough The SP or the DSP, the 18,
commissioner or DIG, the DM, punishing someone at the top 1s a must.
Why? To send a strong message down
to the lower levels of the police force and the administration?
that way a clear message is sent down. If you punish the SP, if you
tell the DM and the SP that if there are riots you will be
accountable, there will be no riots. I strongly believe that if a riot
break out and is not controlled within 24 hours, the DM and the SP
should both be placed under immediate suspension.
What you are
implying then is that any communal riot anywhere in India can be
effectively controlled by the administration and the police within 24
hours if they desire to do so. If they do not, they should be held
directly responsible for the failure?
Yes, absolutely. Recently, I attended a
session at a training course for probationers. It was the unanimous
opinion of all senior officials present that no communal riot in India
can last for more than 24 hours without the consent of .I" the state.
I have repeatedly made this proposition
at every forum that I have addressed: In any city or state of the
country, a riot can be controlled within 24 hours unless the state
wants it otherwise. B the state I mean the forces which represent the
state whether it is police or the district administration, or local
Indian society is not a hostile or
volatile society like West Asia, Europe or other parts of the world
where sections of civil society are fighting the state with the use of
weapons. Few situations like that prevail in India, the exceptions
being terrorist-infested areas like Punjab, Kashmir and the northeast.
In the rest of the country, if the police and administration are
unable to control a riot within 24 hours, it only means that our
actions, conduct and behaviour need introspection.
times we take shelter behind politicians for our own failures.
We say that politicians did not permit it. But no politician can
ever ask us to behave in a communal fashion. It is not so easy
for even the chief minister of a state ruled by a “Hindutva”
party to openly behave like a Hindu communal fanatic. It is
often our own inbuilt communal bias, that makes us behave in a
communally biased fashion"
It is my strong personal view that it is
the deep-rooted communal bias in the police and the administration
that prevents us from controlling communal flare-ups within 24 hours.
Statistics also bear this out.
Muslims have been the worst sufferers,
the victims of every riot since Independence. Some 20- 25 per cent of
those affected might be Hindus but over 76 per cent are Muslims.
Similarly, It is Muslims who constitute the large majority of victims
of police bullets in each riot. Despite this, statistics also show
that more Muslims are arrested before, during and after a riot than
Hindus. How can this happen, unfailingly, each time, unless there is
deep-seated communal bias?
What kind of
action do you think is needed to put the house in order as you put it?
The action will
have to be manifold. For example, I would recommend that, first and
foremost, minorities must be given proper representation in the police
force. We must have reservations for this. This kind of affirmative
action has been adopted in countries like the USA and the UK for
blacks and other racial and ethnic groups, and they have found it
useful. In Indian society, which is a plural society composed of so
many ethnic, linguistic and religious groups. I think that fair
representation of all these groups is a must. It is absolutely
Many senior police officials argue that reservation is not the
answer. Why do you feel such a step la justified?
I do not find any force or justification
in these arguments. I find that those who put forward these arguments
are basically trying to hide their own communal bias under the guise
of maintaining discipline or morale of the force. They argue that in
fact having reservations might encourage fights or dissensions within
the force, that it may lead to a situation where the lower rank
policemen might refuse to obey the commands of an officer from another
I find these arguments utterly baseless.
In fact, I feel that if there is a representation within the police
force of members from each segment of society, it will help them to
understand "the other point of view." If there is representation of
Muslims, Sikhs and Christians among policemen posted at the district
level, I am sure there will be a marked change in the overall
behaviorial pattern. I feel certain of this.
What have we achieved by not having
reservation? Despite recommendation after recommendation made annually
by the National Police Commission, why are we reluctant to implement
this basic safeguard?
May I give you a tragic example of what
the lack of reservation can do? Within days of the 1980 communal
carnage at Muradabad, the then UP chief minister announced the
creation of five battalions of a special unit, the Vishesh Sewa Dal,
“especially for the protection of minorities.” Seven years later, it
was the 41st PAC batallion, consisting of these same five
battalions of the Vishesh Sewa Dal, ostensibly constituted for the
protection of minorities that was responsible for the atrocities at
Hashimpura. Can there be a clearer example of what lack of
reservations can do?
Could you explain how a more
representative force will make a difference at a practical level?
Our police functions on the basis of
minimum strength. For example, the PAC of Uttar Pradesh will not be
split in less than a section and the BSF will not be split in less
than one platoon. A section means 11-12 persons. So, imagine if these
11-12 persons are stationed at one particular place, and out of this
number there are 2-3 belonging to the minority community. They sleep
together in one barrack, relax together, dine together. Through all
this, a sort of camaraderie, a sort of brotherhood, develops that
affects their behaviour in a communally tense situation also.
You say that
a quality leadership within the police force can make all the
difference in controlling a communally tense situation. What is needed
to ensure this quality leadership?
Forces are run by their leaders. As
Napolean has so rightly said, "There are no bad soldiers, only bad
generals." So, leadership not only makes a substantial difference, it
is the most vital, the most decisive factor in the functioning of a
force whether we are talking of the police, the paramilitary or the
If the leader becomes communal, his
actions are tainted with bias, it is certainly going to reflect in the
behaviour of the force also. Certain interventions are needed. Among
the remedies, I would rate training as the most important. New
training inputs will have to be evolved.
At the end of the police training we have
to be able to create a conviction in the probationers that once they
don khaki, they seize to be Hindu or Muslim. Their faith remains their
individual faith but once they sport their uniform they are simply
police officers with one solitary duty: to maintain law and order.
serving In UP at the height of the Ramjanmabhoomi mobilisation. Can
you tell us bristly how the communal virus came 10 infect the various
segments and institutions of society?
Those were the Worst years.
Communalisation had flowed down from the upper classes and castes to
even lower caste Hindus. Those were the worst days. I had never seen
anything like it. Every segment of society was deeply affected by the
virus: the media, the police, lawyers, the magistracy, the
Lawers of the Allahabad High Court had
led a procession screaming pro-Godse and anti-Gandhi slogans during
that time. Professors and lecturers of the Allahabad University had
issued letters and joint statements in favour of the demolition and
the construction of the Ram temple.
What was the role of the media
during this period?
The role of the media was the worst of
all. Newspapers Aaj, Jaagran, Amar Ujala have been severely censored
by the Press Council for their role. For example, reports on the news
of the death toll of kar sevaks in 1990 revealed the worst bias .n the
media. Hardly 25-odd persons had been killed. But thanks to the local
press, the figure reached 25-30,000! Some papers began by exaggerating
the figures - just another name for lying - to 500, then 1,000, 2.000.
Within a few days these figures had- reached 25.30.000. You just could
not believe what was happening. The aim of these publications was
clear – to whip up anger and frenzy.
There is the other example from Aligarh.
Local newspapers around the same time published a complete lie stating
that in the hospital attached to Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), all
Hindu patients had been killed. The "news" appeared one morning.
Immediately riots started in and around Aligarh, spreading to
neighbouring districts and villages. Imagine the effect ... violence
breaking out on the basis of a totally false report, maliciously
would recommend that first and foremost, minorities must be
given proper representation in the police force. We must have
reservations. This kind of affirmative action has been adopted
in countries like the USA and the UK for blacks and other racial
and ethnic groups, and they have found it useful. In Indian
society, which is a plural society composed of so many ethnic,
linguistic and religious groups, I think that fair
representation of all these groups is a must"
Within a few hours, a respected couple
from Aligarh, G. P. Singh and his wife, Mamta Singh (writers in Hindi)
went to the hospital and found each and every patient safe. Patients
even told them that after this rumour had been systematically spread.
Muslim doctors and medical college students guarded them the whole
night. They were actually worried that people may take inspiration
from the rumour.
And what happened to the newspaper? It
escaped unscathed, except for a reprimand from the Press Council. And
what would a reprimand do to a publication like this? It made no
What was the conduct of the UP
police during this period?
Policemen. Too, were reading the same
papers. Almost the entire police force in UP began believing that
25-30.000 had been killed at Ayodhya when they had gone for kar seva.
The fascist way of preparing ground and
gaining support from the majority community works like this: it
results in ordinary people starting to believe that they are victims
and under threat. Through insidiously planted propaganda it secures
the participation of ordinary persons in violence against the other",
in the belief that 'they are actually defending themselves. The media,
especially in that period, served the fascist cause admirably by
printing blatant lies.
that part of your research work was to explore how the RSS functions
before, in and during a riot situation. What are your findings in'
The most recent example of the RSS'
manipulation of the mass psyche was evident in Hubli (Karnataka) in
the flag-hoisting controversy. I was there by January 19, several days
before Republic Day, as part of my research. It gave me first hand
knowledge, yet again, of the manner in which lies are assiduously
propagated, and a myth systematically sown deep into the mass psyche.
It bore close similarity to the myth and lies that were manufactured,
for the Ramjanmabhoomi mobilisation.
Until about 1984.85, we always read or
heard the words Babri Masjid used to describe the monument around
which Hindutva forces had launched their mobilisation. This was the
case with the private as much as the official, government-controlled
television and radio media.
Then, gradually, the terms of reference
changed: it first began to be referred to as the Babri
Masjid-Ramjanmabhoomi dispute then to Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid
dispute; finally, by the time we reached 1990, most of the media
-including the government controlled television and radio - had begun
to refer to it as vivadit dhancha (disputed structure).
Similarly, in Hubli, the ldgah maidan had
been given in 1922 on a 999 year-tong lease to the Anjuman-e-Islam.
Since then the location has been referred to as ldgah maidan. Even all
the cases that have been filed contesting the claims of ownership,
including the one by the RGSS (Rashtriya Gaurav Samman Samiti) refer
to the location as ldgah maidan.
But now, suddenly, they have found a
different name. There is a local historical figure, a symbol of
resistance to British imperialism, Rani Chinamma. A statue of this
historical figure, a woman locally respected for her struggle, has
suddenly been installed within 100 yards at the structure at the
crossroads. She is a powerful local symbol who has been sought la be
appropriated by the local forces of Hindutva.
Now, this park which has for 72 years been
called ldgah maidan, suddenly been re-named Rani Chinamma maidan! The
local press has followed suit and begun to refer to it as ldgah
maiden-Rani Chinamma maidan. I recently fold a friend in Hubli that
very soon it will be renamed Rani Chinamma-ldgah maiden and, finally,
a disputed maidan.
This is how the RSS creates a mythical
dispute, works on the minds of a vast majority of Hindus who "then
begin believing falsified accounts and accept them to be the truth.
you punish the SP, if you tell the DM and the SP that if there
are riots you will be accountable there will be no riots I
strongly believe that if a riot breaks out and is not controlled
within 24 hours, the DM and the SP should both be placed under