A survey by NGO Common Cause and Lokniti finds that, among India’s institutions, police are the least trusted, with faith particularly low among women, Dalits, Muslims and the poor.
New Delhi: Fear of police excesses is the lowest in Himachal Pradesh and highest in border Punjab, a study has found.
Researchers at NGO Common Cause and Lokniti, a research initiative of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), set out to compile a report on the performance and perception of policing across India, and determine whether trends differed across state and community lines.
The report was based on data derived from, among other sources, the National Crime Records Bureau and the Bureau of Police Research and Development, and a perception survey across 22 states. The results sought to paint a picture along two parameters, faith in police and fear of them. The survey had 15,563 respondents.
According to the researchers, their survey involved questions about people’s fear of police, attitude towards custodial excesses, and awareness of police brutality from several sections.
“The responses were then checked against demographic variables of region, caste, class, gender and religion,” the report said, adding, “It was then concluded that the fear of police was much higher in Punjab may be due to the history of the state in the last four decades.”
The reference to the state’s history since the 1970s likely pertains to the bloody movement for a separate Sikh nation that was suppressed by the mid-1990s and the crippling drug epidemic that is said to have engulfed the state over the past few years.
According to the study, between religions, fear of police was highest among the Sikhs and lowest among Christians. Meanwhile, nearly 42 per cent of the survey’s upper-class Sikh respondents reportedly admitted to being fearful of police, against 14 per cent of upper-class Hindus and 9 per cent Muslims.
According to the findings, overall, 44 per cent of the respondents, or over two in every five, said they were fearful of being beaten up by police, 38 per cent about being arrested, and an equal share about being framed.
At least 29 per cent of women, over a quarter of all women respondents, said they feared sexual harassment by policemen.
Distrust in the desert
As for the levels of faith in local and senior police personnel, Rajasthan accounted for the largest share of respondents who expressed distrust in the institution. Uttar Pradesh came second.
A more positive picture emerged from the south, where most respondents from Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Kerala said they had faith in local police. The only outlier in the top four was Jharkhand, which reported the second-strongest level of faith in police.
Trust in senior officers was strongest in Haryana.
The community picture
The report suggests a deep contrast in the levels of faith in police among communities, with most among the survey’s Scheduled Tribes (ST) respondents expressing deep distrust, followed by the other backward classes. They said they feared becoming victims of police excesses or torture, while members of the upper castes emerged the least afraid of police.
Most among the upper castes, in fact, talked of having faith in police, the report added.
“The caste angle on its own also plays an important role in shaping public trust in police,” the researchers said, “The Scheduled Tribes were found to be most distrustful of police followed by Other Backward Classes and Scheduled Castes. Even within these social groups, regional variation was evident,” the report said.
According to the report, among the Scheduled Tribes, over three-fourths in Rajasthan, or 78 per cent, said they were highly distrustful of police, with 54 per cent of Gujarat’s STs admitting as much. However, in other tribal concentrated states such as Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha, Assam and Maharashtra, the level of distrust was not as high.
The highest levels of distrust among Dalits were recorded in Punjab (59 per cent), Rajasthan (58 per cent), Delhi (54 per cent), Uttar Pradesh (44 per cent), Bihar (37 per cent), Maharashtra (34 per cent) and Telangana (32 per cent).
The survey reportedly also found that, among India’s institutions, police were the least trusted, with faith particularly low among women, Dalits, Muslims and poorer sections of society.
The north-south divide
The reports details how over 33 per cent of Dalit respondents in the south claimed to be scared of police, compared to 13 per cent in the north.
“Historically and socially, movements against caste oppression have been more successful in the south than in the north. In such a scenario, the high fear numbers from this region become all the more successful,” the report said.
A similar trend was noted by the researchers among Muslims of the south, with 17 per cent saying they were fearful of police, which is seven points higher than the national average, with the figure highest for Muslims in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. This, according to the report, might suggest that a lower concentration of a minority community in a state may translate to greater fear of police.
“The fear within the community is informed by the concentration of their population in a particular state. States with high Muslim concentration are less fearful but where they are a minority, they feel threatened,” the report said.