At 90 years old, Julio Ribeiro has had an illustrious career. He has served as the director general of police in Gujarat, as the Punjab DGP during the insurgency in the 1980s, as the commissioner of police of Mumbai, and as India’s ambassador to Romania. In 1987, he was awarded the Padma Bhushan, one of India’s highest civilian awards. He retired from the Indian Police Service in 1989. Since 1994, Ribeiro has worked towards building communal harmony in Mumbai. In this regard, he was instrumental in the formation of and work carried out by the Mohalla Committee Movement Trust—an umbrella body of several local committees spread across Mumbai that have worked towards developing peaceful inter-faith relations in the city.
In a conversation in early September at his Mumbai residence, which later continued over the phone, Ribeiro spoke with Abhimanyu Chandra, a PhD student at the University of Chicago. They discussed, among other things, the current situation in Kashmir, the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat, and prejudices held by the police. He said that while a communal bias against the Muslim community has long existed among India’s police forces, it has come to the fore under the regime led by Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party. Partly as a result of this, Ribeiro noted, there is an increasing fear among India’s Muslim community. “That is not a good thing for governance,” Ribeiro said. “I can’t understand how any government can govern an alienated community.”
Abhimanyu Chandra: Given your experience in fighting unrest and insurgency in Punjab, could you comment on the Indian state’s actions in Kashmir?
Julio Ribeiro: My own view is very clear: the militaristic policy is not going to work. The way that we are going hammer and tongs at them—going at it with force is not going to work. Terrorism is not solved with force alone. Force is to be used only against brainwashed people. But the large mass of people has to be won over. The only way to fight terror is to bring the great mass of people behind you. And that is done by maintaining their dignity, by ensuring that justice is given to each person.
AC: As a former senior police officer, what do you think about the current use of the army and the police in Kashmir?
JR: The army has never been trained for fighting its own people. They are trained to fight the enemy. If you are saying that the Kashmiri Muslim is an integral part of India, you have to treat them like that. The army is important there because of the border. If you use the army also for action where you are fighting your own people—that is to be avoided.
AC: You are currently involved in efforts towards nurturing communal harmony in Mumbai. How are communal relations in the city today?
JR: There’s always an undercurrent. We are sitting on a tinderbox. One never knows when [something might happen].