Picked up for riots in Dhule in 2008, he now trains Muslim youths to be cops

FP

A wintry morning in 2008 changed 45-year-old former footballer Raees Qazi's life forever. Qazi, a successful local businessman and social activist, was picked up by police from his 20-room house on charges ranging from attempt to murder to criminal conspiracy during that year's Dhule riots.

Dumped in jail and dubbed a SIMI agent by the local media, Qazi could have ended up as an addition to the statistics of Muslims in Maharashtra's jails. Muslims are 10.6 per cent of the state's population, but account for 32.4 per cent of its prison numbers.

"I knew I would be released because the charges were all trumped up. I was, however, restless about why there was such hostility amongst the police against the Muslim community," Qazi said.

So when he got out after a harrowing 55 days in jail, Qazi decided that instead of being bitter about the episode, he would do something positive — he set up a coaching centre to help Muslim youths from Dhule join the police force. In the three years since, his centre has trained over 750 Muslims, of which 25 have joined the police force as constables and are posted across Maharashtra.

"I had read the Sachar Committee report which stated that there were only 1.5 per cent Muslim cops in Maharashtra. I thought increasing the number of Muslims in the police force could at least help rein in the hostility a little," Kazi said.

He set up the centre under a government scheme in which the state minority department helps set up training centres for pre-recruitment training. Set up in 2009, it has a staff strength of eight, who give the youth written, physical as well as oral training.

Kazi said more and more youth are coming forward to join the system. "Many of the Muslim youth who hail from poor, uneducated families thought joining the force was a glass ceiling they could not break. However once they came for the training, they felt it was not so difficult," he said.

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