Keralites still wish to rest on the notion that the a phenomenon of a racist police exists only in America or Europe, and incidents involving them take place in the relatively less progressive north of India. Keralites are a people given to the complacency that the land of Malayalis is far removed from such uncouth approaches, although repeating experience tells us the contrary.
Out of fear that our boasts about being heir to a liberal and progressive renaissance will become meaningless, we never fail to hide the racist rule by law and order machinery growing around us by dismissing them as mere aberrations. If we observe the statements and approaches of media and political and governmental leadership when Dalits or Muslims get into legal battles, we can sense the stink of racism suppressed under governmental machinery.
The incident in Thykkadappuram near Nileshwaram in Kasargod district, of a sixteen-year old girl being sexually abused in which eight people including the father, a madrasa teacher were arrested under POCSO ( Prevention of Children from Sexual Offences), is enough to shock any one with a conscience. And there is a unanimous demand among the people that the authorities should bring the brutal abusers before law and get them maximum punishment. Unlike in the Palathayi case, nobody has come forward to protect the accused or to hold a procession for them. Still, the DySP in Kanhangad has issued a curious order in connection with the case to the inspectors of police stations under his jurisdiction: that they should issue a circular to madrasas asking them to enquire about the criminal background of madrasa teachers! The police of Cheemeni went one step further by issuing a warning that if madrasa teachers are appointed without ascertaining their criminal antecedents, the appointing committees will face legal action.
The explanation given by the police for the controversial order, which lacks any legal backing but bristles with anti-Muslim bias, is that it was issued with the good intention of taking precautions. They also share their reaction that it was unfathomable for them to see what was objectionable in it. And for the question whether the police would issue a similar circular to educational institutions of spiritual or secular centres of other faiths, their simple answer is that it would not be necessary. Such circulars take their origin from a pre-conception that madrasas are nurseries of extremism, that their syllabus is rooted in hatred of other religions and that the teachers there are uncivilised who resist modernisation. Thus, such documents draw their acceptance because of the upper hand enjoyed by a rationale carefully fostered through a false propaganda about madrasas.
On 23 March, in Madhya Pradesh, the police beat and injured a lawyer named Deepak Bundele for having travelled during the lockdown. When that became a case of offence, the police openly admitted its mistake: that seeing the man's beard they thought he was a Muslim! That the police in Kanhangad police and Madhya Pradesh share a common rationale, means that the communal bias is deep-rooted in our law and order functionaries. The question what was wrong with the circular once again proves that police stations have become a system with casteist and racist glances and words.
The practice of invoking sections and issuing circulars depending on the religion and identity of accused, is borne out of a colonial supremacist mentality. It was from a premise that Mappilas are congenitally given to violence and plunder that the Mappila Outrages Act took birth in British India. The same mental frame incarnates in the circular in Kasargod in its official form. Such government circulars give a lie to the belief that law and order officials and seats of justice are impartial. It offers little comfort that when they create a row ,they get withdrawn. It may also be recalled that the propaganda that Tablighi workers spread Covid in the country, came out in print not only through the right-wing media of north India, but even in the PSC bulletin of Kerala.
Even as the number of POCSO cases is rising sharply in the state, such 'well-intentioned' officials who come out with such circulars, have not been able to ensure punishment to the culprits even in a fourth of such cases. Pedophiles may be present as much in madrasas as in schools, Sunday schools and temples. And they are none but culprits to be punished. If madrasas alone are subjected to surveillance in the process, that phenomenon is to be called rule of racist law. During the time of Covid, madrasas have also switched to online classes like schools. And madrasa lessons and syllabus material are available through channels including YouTube. It may do well for the 'innocent' officials to occasionally watch them, as they help free minds from communal prejudices.