NEW DELHI – There are scarcely any Muslims working in India’s 10,000-strong external intelligence agency, and neither Muslims nor Sikhs working as bodyguards for the country’s top leaders, according to officials and media reports.
Mainly Hindu but officially secular India has its first Sikh prime minister, Manmohan Singh, but his community is not trusted enough to guard him, according to Outlook magazine this week.
The magazine said India’s minority Muslims were not trusted by the security apparatus because of fears they could sympathise with the country’s mainly Muslim neighbour and long-time foe Pakistan.It said none had been recruited by the country’s external spy agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), since 1969.The domestic Intelligence Bureau (IB) had decided to recruit Muslims in the l990s, Outlook said, but the organisation still only had a ‘handful’ of Muslim officers.A government spokesman declined to comment on the report.An intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Outlook was wrong to say there were no Muslims in RAW but right to say there were scarcely any.Nor were there any working as bodyguards in the Special Protection Group (SPG) assigned to protecting current and former prime ministers and their families, he said.‘It is an unwritten rule in the SPG that they cannot recruit a Muslim or a Sikh,’ he told Reuters.A.S. Dulat, who served as RAW chief from 1999 to 2000, said he did not recall coming across any Muslims in the organisation but could not confirm the Outlook report.‘If we do not have any Muslims obviously this is a handicap,’ he told Reuters. ‘If there are no Muslims, there must have been a reluctance to take them in. It is also not easy to find that many Muslims.’
‘Need for Muslims acute’
Sikhs have not been used as bodyguards since Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her personal Sikh bodyguards in 1984 at the height of a Sikh insurgency, Outlook said.Dulat said Sikhs had come ‘under a cloud’ following Gandhi’s murder, but found it hard to believe they would still be excluded from bodyguard duties today.The status of India’s estimated 140 million minority Muslims is the subject of intense debate.Leaked excerpts of a specially commissioned report, due to be published this month, have shown Muslims are significantly underrepresented in government jobs and in the judiciary but overrepresented in the prison populations in many Indian states.There are just 29,000 Muslims in India’s 1.3-million strong armed forces, according to the defence ministry.But Outlook magazine’s report will also raise concerns about whether India’s intelligence gathering will be effective without Muslim agents and officers.‘The need for Muslim officers in intelligence-gathering is acute,’ another former RAW chief, Girish Chandra Saxena, was quoted as saying. ‘There are very few people who have knowledge of Urdu or Arabic. The issue has to be addressed.’India is not alone in failing to recruit Muslims to the top levels of its security and intelligence apparatus.America’s Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) are still reportedly struggling to recruit Arabic, Urdu and Farsi speakers five years after the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.
Sikhs constitute nearly two percent of India’s 1.1 billion population and the army is currently headed by General J.J. Singh, a Sikh.