I have never had a single positive experience with the police.
Mostly, however, they’ve had minor — though pivotal — roles in my misfortunes. Like the cop outside Shyambazar metro station, who restrained me physically while the molestor who had slipped him a fifty sprinted away*. Or the local treasures, who demanded fifteen thousand rupees in exchange for a ‘clean’ police verification report when I applied for a passport**. Or the protectors of peace at Jadavpur and Lake Thana, who kept tossing the victim of a motorcycle crash back and forth, refusing to record the FIR that would clear him for medical treatment. The poor bastard died in my friends’ arms.
*I wasn’t objecting to the molestor on general ideological grounds. In fact, his constant pawing of school-girls on the metro had nothing to do with his final running away. Neither did his punch on a frail elderly woman’s bent back. Our trouble infraction was based on pure self-defence. He shoved me flat onto the platform, and then tried to push me down the metro stairs. I finally hit him when he rammed me against the iron rails outside the station and tried to slap me.
** When I refused to pay, the enraged inspector said he would show me what’s what. The station then reported that no one by my name lives, or ever lived, at the address provided. It took me eight months, ‘connections’, and hours of waiting to sort through this spiteful, juvenile trip-up.
But what I heard today would make even these shining standards look like the beacon of public-spirited efficiancy.
The friend of a friend and her colleague were pulled over by the Bangalore police for possible drunked driving. This inexplicable horror then followed:
Being the conscientious Bengali that he is, without any attempt to bribe the policeman, [my friend] offered to pay the legal fine and get his bike back. [But] Sub Inspector Govindappa of Shivajinagar Traffic Police Station, Bangalore (he refused to tell me his full name) and his badge was hidden behind a clever jacket, said the driving license was invalid. Why? Because “this Bengal license is not valid here”.
I have a West Bengal driving license myself and know fully well that Govindappa was in the wrong.
My friend, by now, harassed, angry and helpless, lit a cigarette… This is when Hitendra M.S. (Sub Inspector, Shivajinagar Traffic Police Station) showed how he is the “boss”. Shoving my friend he demanded the cigarette be stubbed. My friend asked why, and that it was not an offence, especially when there were other people around there doing the same.
Feeling every bit of the humiliation that my friend did, I chose to… tell Hitendra that he could not be behaving like that. I raised my voice and before I knew it, he was warning my friend about how I should not dare to tell him anything because, “ladki hai. Isko bol baat nahin karegi”. “(She’s a girl, ask her not to talk”. At this point, my friend outraged to the point of confrontation told him to stop involving me… this sentence remains unfinished because… he was hit. On the head, his face, his already broken jaw. Hitendra M.S., then R.T. Raju (Head Constable, Shivajinagar Traffic Police Station), then Govindappa and then, to my utter shock, some stray civilians. I call them civilians because they were not in uniform. I have no idea what kind of a nexus they are in with the police.
Blinded with rage, I tried to stop the policemen. At which point, all three of them and more, turned all their attention from my friend to me. Shouting abuses like “benchod” and “bhonsdike” (both very popular “north Indian” abuses”) they had their hands in the air, ready to strike the daylights out of me.
No female police officers, no offense, just power. Naked, routine, ugly. Power. They tripped on power.
7 hours and 3 police stations and many, many policemen later, we could not get a complaint written. 4 hours after the incident, we were handed a report written in Kannada (a language both my friend and me do not know) and asked to sign. When we refused, we were forcefully put in a jeep and taken to a hospital. It is only then, from the hospital in-charge, a retired Army doctor that we found what was in the report. It was a charge on me. For, “causing nuisance under the influence of alcohol.” I did not understand. What? I was the pillion rider, I was assaulted, and I went to them to file a complaint against their fellow policeman. How could I be the defendant in a potential case when I was the complainant?
I was told to make a choice. Either my friend and me gave them blood and urine samples which would prove we had consumed alcohol, a legal substance (we were told by the doctor that it didn’t matter. Drugs and alcohol were treated the same way) and be sure of being taken into judicial custody and eventually to conviction… Or, the other option was to drop charges, write an “apology” letter for creating nuisance and save our asses. I cried a little, at the gross injustice I thought we were treated with. But we chose to save our behinds. Right there, then, under pressure, fighting “them” instead of having “them” fight us… I chose to “apologize”.
This morning, Friday, September 07, 2012, my friend went back to the Shivajinagar Traffic Police Station to pay his fine and get his bike back. For the second time. Yesterday afternoon he was sent back because Hitendra wasn’t in. And my friend was not given a receipt with which he could get it back.
Hitendra made him wait. A long time. And in full view of the rest of the officers in the police station asked him about “woh ladki” (that girl)”. Told him “uske jaisa bees ladki mai palta hoon” (I have 20 mistresses like her). And that he was doing my friend a favour by returning his bike with just Rs.1,500 fine (for which my friend did not receive a receipt) and that they have so much power that they could have shot us then and there. I’m sure he could have.
Why, in a nation so apathetic about its own development — unless it involves shopping malls and brand-consumption — do we even bother writing about these blatant abuse of power? What use is it, after all? The victim of the incident above has made it clear that she does not wish to pursue legal recourse in a system as rotten, abusive, unregulated and self-protective as this. Then why bother?
Sentimentality, I suppose. After all, as the author above concludes, “You know how we are… We hate this country, but we love this country”.
And hope. I hope. The first stage of public accountability is shaking the public out of their cowering passivity and indifference. If people stop telling each other, “Oh well, you know, that’s how it is with the police” and instead start filing complaints, writing to the papers, blogging, and demanding judicial intervention, we just might make something of this country yet.