Public Perceptions of Security in India

27 Dec

Public Perceptions of Security in India

The term “Security” has traditionally been perceived and understood from a military perspective and even more so from that of the state. There is however a growing awareness of the need to view other and non-traditional dimensions of security which affect the lives of the citizen. The concept of Human Security which encompasses the well being of the citizen has been accepted as more relevant to the present times. As a consequence, Human Development indices are now the primary barometers of human security. Security is a matrix of components which add up to the comprehensive security of both the state and citizen. These security components include external and internal threats besides economic, environmental, societal and political threats. These combine to place the citizen’s focus on freedom from fear, danger and threats.

The Indian citizens’ perceptions on the totality of security available to them provide an insight into the new and wider ideas of security. In order to assess the citizens’ perceptions of security, Centre for Security Analysis (CSA), Chennai commissioned a study in 2003 to understand and interpret the common man’s perception on various dimensions of security threats. In addition to macro level security threats from external and internal sources, the micro aspects of security included dimensions such as environmental security, political security, societal security, personal & physical security, and economic security. The sample for the study had 2024 respondents drawn from four metros and nine mini metros across four geographic zones and were further categorized by gender (two categories), income levels (four categories), and socio-economic classifications (four categories). The initial data collected from the respondents were subjected to detailed statistical analysis and interpretations which are expected to aid policy makers in framing effective responses to these perceived threats. While M/S AC Nielsen designed the sampling methodology and collected the data from the field, the questionnaire for the survey was prepared in consultation with the Centre for Security Analysis.

Traditional Security Threats

The responses indicated that the threats from External and Internal Security factors were ranked the highest. These two factors were also seen to be highly co-related indicating that the two were interdependent. A high risk perception on one of these security aspects would consequently lead to high risk perception on the other. The respondents in the northern region viewed the threat of external threat to be highest.

External and Internal Security

Since the external and internal security threats were highly correlated the respondents of the northern region viewed the latter also as the maximum. This was followed by the respondents’ in the Western region. The eastern and southern regions appeared to perceive internal threats slightly lower in comparison. The possible reason could be higher exposure to bomb blasts and terrorist insurgency activities in the northern region as compared to the southern part of the country.

Non-Traditional Threats

The trends indicated by the micro level factors were slightly different compared to the macro level factors. Among the four zones, the perception of the respondents from northern and eastern region on Personal Physical Security Threat was very high as compared to the respondents from south and the west. This was primarily ascribed to fear of theft and robbery, as well as media reports of murders and assaults. The responses from northern region on this count have a high co-relation with their responses to external and internal threats.

Majority of the respondents (75%) appeared to feel highly insecure or somewhat insecure with regard to the present state of Environmental Security. The threat perception in northern region was higher than the other three regions where the views were more or less similar. The Economic Security perception was dominated by the eastern region followed by northern region. The western and southern regions found this as a lesser threat.

On the other hand the Societal and Political Security observed a diametrically opposite trend as compared to the other micro factors. About 60% of respondents claimed to feel highly secure or somewhat secure in the present day society. Out of this, a majority of respondents were from the northern region, while eastern region appeared to feel more insecure in comparison. In case of Political Security, a small proportion (25%) of the total respondents appeared to be concerned about the political scenario in the country in terms of perceiving it as a security threat. By and large, respondents did not perceive any serious threat to their political security.

Overall Security Perceptions

The overall analysis of results indicates that there is less uniformity in the perceptions of people from different regions, different income levels, and socio-economic classification (SEC) levels on external and internal security threats. This lack of uniformity in perceptions is also seen in other facets of micro level issues relating to economic, personal & physical, and environmental security. It is also evident that the perceptions of external security threats appeared to be driving or influencing perceptions relating to environmental, physical or economic security dimensions in different regions. The highest uniformity in perception was indicated for political and societal security dimensions. In fact, they were negatively correlated to external, internal, economic and environmental threats.

New Insights

Some interesting facets also emerged on the security perceptions. The first concerned the Gender Dimension. In every area of security, male and female response showed a similarity in responses. In other words, on issues of security, both genders of the population respond together and in similar fashion. The second insight concerned the security perceptions at different Income Levels. An interesting factor observed among different income levels is that respondents in the lowest income category did not perceive any of these risks as very high. However the respondents in the two mid income categories who numerically dominate the overall sample size view things slightly different but generally agreeing with the overall view. It is evident that the lowest income group is more concerned about their day to day basic needs than giving much of importance to various security threats and treats such threats as an inevitable part of their existence. The third interesting dimension is the high threat perception in northern and eastern zones of the country. South and western zones of the country view themselves as better off in security terms. These perspectives are due to reasons of physical dangers, economic growth pattern, quality of governance and societal cum political stability. The fourth interesting fact is the uniform view across the country that Political Security – the freedom to pursue political beliefs is of a high order. It is a reaffirmation of India’s success as a democratic and secular nation.

Value of the Study

This is the first analysis in India specifically on public perceptions of security. This study was commenced towards the end of 2003 and procedural factors have enabled its publication in 2005. The General Elections of 2004 and its results showed the relationship between perceptions of security and political choices made by the citizens. That a state can be seemingly secure in military, economic and political terms, even as its citizens consider themselves insecure in different ways, gets reflected in the arena of political economy. That the security of the state and the security of its citizens are inseparable has been confirmed by this analysis. It indicates that neglecting either would be unacceptable. The neglect of non-traditional dimensions of security can be politically costly to ruling establishments. The citizens allocate a considerable weight to issues of security in economic, environmental, societal and political terms. A better understanding of public perceptions on the wider meaning of security will assist in effective policy planning, development programmes and monitoring of their outcomes.