What follows is a first-hand account of police harassment that a friend faced in Gurgaon recently. It is altogether terrifying and yet slightly calming because it is a story that inches towards resolution, it doesn’t leave me guessing to imagine the worst, albeit not without haranguing sweat and stress. I still don’t know if the resolution is the ‘correct’ one. One can only hope that whatever it is, it is not something that encourages a repeat. But I share it because in his words, “it’s important to know that all is not well out there, but also that all is not lost”. I also share it because a lot of us don’t know what to do in these situations, and its never too late to figure our systems out for real.
“I had an incident with the Gurgaon Police early on 24th August morning, between 2.15 and 2.45am. I was riding into Gurgaon on the motorcycle with a friend of mine. She was an assistant editor with a national magazine. We were accompanied by three of her friends, two guys and a girl, in a car. We had all met up to bid farewell to my friend, who was moving to Bangalore in a few days to take up a new job. The two of us on the bike crossed the last Delhi Police checkpost at the border on MG Road and stopped on the side, just before the first theka on the left, so that our friends in the car behind could catch up with us.
Just then a golden Alto, with tinted glass and windows rolled up, slowed down and stopped a little in front of us on the side. Within a minute, our friends arrived behind us, so we decided to get back onto the road and keep moving. As we were crossing the Alto, it started moving and swerved in front of us to cut us off. We stopped and so did our friends’ car. They rolled the windows down and we saw it was two policemen in khakhi Haryana Police uniform. They said, ‘gaadi side mein roko’ and started to get out of their car. So I stopped on the side and asked my friend to get into our friends’ car which was stopping on the side, while I talked to the cops. The cops started asking for id and vehicle papers. I gave them my PAN card and bike RC and she gave them her Press Card. I told them that she was reporter and that was her card, and she started walking to the car when suddenly the older of the cops started running after her and just as she reached the door, he grabbed her by her shoulder and yanked her towards him.
I lost my cool at this point of time, because by law he wasn’t allowed to even touch a woman after 6pm, especially in the absence of a policewoman. I shouted at the cop, without abusing, asking him how he dared to touch her. I told him he had provided her id, so how could he treat her like that. The other people in the car also got out and there was a yelling-match. The other cop was calling my women friends ‘saali’ and ‘randi’ and trying to raise his hands on them and the guys were trying to intervene. I was shouting at the older cop who had grabbed my friend in the first place. Some locals had gathered, and these cops were inciting against us, alleging that the girls were prostitutes and the guys were their pimps and they should hit us all.
I raised the fact that they were in a civilian car and they didn’t have their name-badges or numbers on them. So I told them to show me their id and tell me their name and rank. I said they could have been anyone in a rented police-uniform, and I had no way of knowing that they were police. Or they could be off-duty in which case they had no right to stop us for random checking, when we were not breaking any law. I told them to call a patrol jeep or to take us to the thaana. The older cop took out his cell-phone and seemed to be making some calls, but the PCR never arrived. I kept asking them which thaana they belonged to and to give me their rank and names, but they kept refusing, evading by saying ‘kya hum chor lagte hain?’. Then I called up the Vasant Kunj Police Station SHO, because I had the number, and I told them of the situation and asked them if these cops were allowed to manhandle a woman when there was no policewoman with them, and after id was provided. The Vasant Kunj cops on the phone said they were Delhi Police and this was not in their jurisdiction so they couldn’t do anything.
By then, these cops were a little ruffled because things weren’t exactly going in their favor. The younger cop took the Alto and drove it a little distance away, parked it off the road and came back. By then my friends managed to get into their car and drive away, for the safety of the two women, because of how these cops were acting funny. They stopped a little distance ahead and were waiting for me, and trying to call me on the phone. The older cop returned my papers and ids to me and then started shouting at me because I was still insisting he call the PCR. He then started saying, ‘tere paas saboot kya hai?’ and started hitting me. I kept blocking his blows, and yelled at him asking him how he dared to hit me for no reason. He started calling the locals also and started saying that I let the ‘randi’ get away. He said that I’d picked her up from a disco which was why they had ‘run away’ from the scene, while I kept saying I’ve known her for six months now, and she is a dear friend of mine and a respectable and well-employed woman too.
A couple of the locals also got involved, in spite of my asking them to mind their own business, and started manhandling me. So now it was two cops and three-four locals against me, right outside the first theka on the left, on MG Road. I didn’t hit back because the cops were in uniform, and I didn’t want to get lynched if I injured one of the locals while fighting back. I kept blocking their blows as best as I could, as they continued trying to hit me, pulling my t-shirt and my helmet. This went on for a few minutes. Finally, I realized I was getting pushed further into the darkness, so I broke free and ran out onto MG Road and stood in front of oncoming traffic. I kept shouting into each vehicle that stopped that these guys were hitting me for no reason. I didn’t think anyone would stop to help me and true enough, noone did, but it did intimidate the cops and the locals because some people were slowing down to get a better look at what was going on. After a while they stopped manhandling me.
I kept yelling at the cops and asking for their name, registration number, thaana, etc, but they kept refusing to give me the information. My friends were waiting some distance away in the car and kept calling me to know if I was ok and whether they should come back. I told them I was and told them to get to safety. I called another friend and he told me to get the number of the car that the cops were in. So I rode up to the where the Alto was parked, took pics of the numberplates and rode away. On my way out, I told the cops I’d see them again at their own thaana.
I got back home after that. I wasnt hurt seriously - got away with a bump on the head, some pain in my ear, a few scratches on my neck, a slightly bruised lip and a small swelling on my left elbow from blocking the blows. The worst bit, however, was the agonizing feeling of helplessness at having to undergo all of this for no reason whatsoever. I couldn’t fall asleep until many hours later.
That evening, I went to the Civil Hospital in Gurgaon with a friend, and got a medical exam done and a report made, to record that I had been injured by physical assault. The next day morning, I visited the DLF Phase 1 Police Station, under whose jurisdiction the incident had occurred. I had already gotten the number of the SHO from a friend, and he seemed to be a reasonable man who listened to what I had to say over the phone patiently. I met him at the Station, along with my friend and another of the guys who had been with us that night, and we related the incident to him all over again. The SHO asked my friend to narrate her version of events and after some cross-questioning, he was satisfied that we were telling the truth. He had us file a complaint and said that he would commence investigation. He explained that he would not be able to file an FIR right away since the nature of my injuries were not grievous, but at the same time, he gave me a signed copy of the complaint to register that it had been received, and told me that it was a legally admissible document and if I was unhappy with an FIR not being filed or dissatisfied with his preliminary investigation, I could present the complaint in Court and they would order an FIR to be filed for the same. He asked me for four days time to track down the car and identify the miscreants, listen to their side of the story and then present them to me for identification.
Four days later, I spoke with the SHO and he reported that the car had been traced and the culprits identified. He had even listened to their version of events, where they agreed that they stopped the vehicle for checking, and then after that they said they tried to stop the girl because they thought she was escaping, and then after that they said that we abused the policemen because of which the locals got angry and started hitting us. The SHO said that he believed our version of events prima facie, and that those policemen were wrong even in their version because it was their responsibility to protect us if the locals were turning hostile. He said that he was prepared to write a report which could lead to departmental action like suspension/pay-cut/delay in promotion. He asked me to come in to identify the two cops, so I fixed a time on Saturday morning (1st September). I was satisfied with the progress thus far, and decided that I would decide my further course of action after meeting the cops who had misbehaved with us.
For me, this wasn’t about what happened that night any more. I couldn’t undo anything that had happened. I just needed to know that there were at least two less cops out there who were roaming power-drunk and abusing the authority that their uniform gave them. It could have happened to anyone else, and if these guys weren’t taught a lesson, they might do it to anyone else again.
So I went and identified the cops on Saturday. They were already at the station when I got there, and the SHO had roundly abused them for what they had done. They belong to DLF Phase 2 Police Station - ASI Parshadi Lal and Constable Sunil Kumar, and are regularly posted on the border checkpost on MG Road (Gurgaon to Delhi side). The ASI was around 55 years old and had just another two years of service left, while the constable must have just been a couple of years on the job.
I spoke with the SHO and then after that to the cops. I berated them for what they had done, and they had no justification for whatever they did. They admitted that what they had done was wrong, and they said they would not repeat such misbehavior again. They were in a position where they were completely powerless, because all I had to do was inform the SHO that I wanted to take the matter forward, and he would have made a departmental report which would have resulting in loss of pay or pension/demotion/suspension. I had a choice, whereby I could do that, or drop charges against them if I was satisfied with their apology and hopeful that they would change their behavior.
The way I looked at it, if I pressed charges, action would be taken against the two of them. One school of thought would say, yes, it would serve them right and such policemen deserve to be stripped of their uniform. Also, this might reduce the probability of such an incident happening with other innocent civilians, both because these cops would not be present to harass them, as well as because they would serve as an example to other cops in their immediate surroundings. But there’s also the argument that if they were punished, all that would become of them is that they would be bitter with the outcome, and probably their only take-away from the incident would be that they got screwed in the end for one mistake that they made, and the mistake would probably even pale in comparison with the ‘injustice’ that they perceived was meted out to them. And the only people who would actually suffer would have been their families who would be deprived of whatever income from these people.
The other path was to drop charges after giving them a stern warning. They seemed reasonably terrified of the consequences of their action now that they had been caught. I could probably hope to show them a better way, where I didnt choose to bust their balls in spite of having the power to do it. After all, for me, this was about abuse of power, and if I used the power I now had over them in a manner detrimental to them just because I could, then there really was no difference between the way they acted on that night and the way I would be acting, causes and justification aside. So yeah, I hope that they have seen the error of their ways, and since the SHO from Phase 1 called the SHO in Phase 2 and informed him about the incident, probably some more cops there know about the incident and will think twice before they do something similar.
So all things considered, I decided to drop charges at this point, and close the matter. I know that some of you may probably feel I should have gone savage on them and made sure they were dismissed from service or similarly punished, but like I said, that course of action did not seem to achieve what I had set out to do. True, to let them off with a warning also might not guarantee the desired outcome, but I felt it was the right thing to do because there was a better shot at behavior change, in my opinion.
The positive from the whole episode has been the conscientious, speedy and unbiased action of the SHO DLF Phase 1, Inspector Surender. The man seems to know the constraints that bind him in terms of indiscipline in the force and the struggle of enforcing 24 hour duty with a bunch of policemen who are too few in number for the population of civilians that they are trying to police, and yet he strives to take an unflinching stand for what is ethical, and for what is right by the law. Kudos to the gentleman, I salute him! I can truly say that he has restored my faith in the Police force. As long as there are policemen like him (and we met some more like him at his station, which reiterates my belief that we can inspire people to do the right thing by doing the right thing ourselves) in the system, there is hope for us all.
I hope that we all did the right thing. I know that I’ll be watching those cops every time I cross the border checkpost, and I hope I’m not disappointed by how they behave in the future. I hope that someone who goes through or has gone through something like this will draw succor from our experience, and rally to fight for what is right and hope that justice is served, like it was in my case. I hope this changes the way some people behave in this city. Hope is all we have. Like that line from Shawshank Redemption goes, ‘hope is a good thing, probably the best thing, and good things never die.’”