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The failure of India’s paramilitary forces to attract the country’s religious minorities is reason for serious concern.

It lays bare the non-inclusive nature of our paramilitary forces, which has implications for their capacity to provide security and/or restore law and order in a plural society. According to figures provided by Union Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju in the Rajya Sabha, minorities account for just 9.95 per cent of the roughly 8.62 lakh personnel in the Border Security Force, Central Reserve Police Force, Central Industrial Security Force, Indo-Tibetan Border Police, Sashashtra Seema Bal and Assam Rifles put together. Although Muslims account for roughly 13 per cent of the population, they constitute just 5 per cent of the paramilitary forces.  

The representation of women from minority communities is even more dismal; there are just 2,240 women from minority communities in our paramilitary forces.  Worse, there is not a single woman from these communities at the rank of Inspector-General or above.

This is not a recent problem. Neither is it one that exists in the paramilitary forces alone. The poor representation of minorities, especially Muslims, from our legislatures, courts, bureaucracy, etc is well known. However, their low representation in the paramilitary forces is of particular concern as these forces are often deployed among civilians in situations of unrest, riots, etc, where minorities are often the main target of mob violence.

The latter need to feel reassured by the presence of the paramilitary forces and are more likely to do so when the forces are seen to be neutral, fair and inclusive of all communities and at all ranks. While adequate numbers of minorities’ personnel will not by themselves instil confidence among the people – the actual conduct of the forces and their neutrality in a situation of conflict is far more important – an inclusive paramilitary force does play a role in moulding perceptions. More minority women in the decision-making ranks will enhance the capacity of the paramilitary forces to deal with sensitivity gender issues within the organisation and in troubled civil unrest situations. 

Successive governments have promised special recruitment drives to draw the minorities into the security forces. However, these seem to have not worked. The government needs to probe the reasons for the low representation of minorities. Are they reluctant to join because the security forces are seen to be biased against them? Or are they keen to join but being kept out by prejudiced recruiters? The problem needs urgent attention.