Saturday, April 11, 2009
You never know what the day brings you. This was going to be a day with the police.
At the outset it needs to be clarified, that the household help system where I live, has some informal arrangements that click in according to circumstances. My long time household help (25 years), K, needed to pay a visit to her native place last year , and had offered me a substitute lady, who would do the work in her absence. A neighbor of hers, a widow, was not looking for regular work, but this short term thing suited her.
This substitute lady,(call her C), had 2 sons. One was married with children and lived with her. The other, believe it or not, was recently let out from jail, where he had spent the last few months as a result of being entangled with the wrong sort of folks doing worse things.
The women of C's family, C and her daughter-in-law, worked houses to supplement C's late husband's pension. The married son was a drunkard. The day C's jailed son was let off, she proceeded to her native place as she thought that way the fellow would keep out of trouble, away from his bad company.
That day, K came in agitated. Quietly started her work. Wrapping it up, she made a nice cuppa for both of us, and said she need my help.
"I need to go to the police. "she said.
I almost dropped the tea cup.
C was back in the neighborhood with her jailbird son. The other son could barely sit vertical thanks to the alcohol. His wife, a waif of a woman , was trying to bring up 2 children in such a violent environment. The jailbird son started eyeing his sister-in-law. Invited her to go shopping with him for clothes for his little nephew and niece. She didn't like the look in his eyes, and demurred. C understood and suggested this plan be dropped. The fellow growled his displeasure. The evening saw the fellow take off with his sister-in-law and her elder son, who was tactfully sent along.
Late at night, my household help, K, saw the lady return in a rickshaw, almost carried by her son, barely able to walk. She was black and blue. So was he, a boy of 14. Apparently the jailbird had taken her to some relatives, made his advances, and beaten up everyone there in a fit of rage. The next morning he was back, unrepentant. His mother, non-plussed, shocked, but still holding on to a shred of doubt over what could have happened, kept quiet . The daughter-in-law would have talked, but was unable to do so, due to a swollen hurt jaw. The children were upset, frightened, and had grown up overnight.
K noticed all this, and also noticed the look in the fellow's eyes. There were young girls around, some going to school, some working. Heavy population density and inadequate facilities of living, meant you shared things and crossed paths often. You basically learned to mind your own business and carried on.
Now she was worried. If he could try molesting his own sister-in-law, he wouldn't spare anyone. She herself had two young daughters-in-law and one daughter, and she worried for their safety when she came to work.
"We need to make a complaint to the police, and have him kept away. No one will listen to me . Besides, if he finds out that I am the complainant, he will target my family some other time. Tell me what we can do. Maybe you can come with me. " she pleaded.
The police post is a fair distance away from my house.
Then again, the mechanics of registering a First Information Report(FIR) is complicated, in the sense, that for various reasons having to do with unnecessary paperwork over frivolous FIR's, the cops often discourage filing an FIR. To get official police action you need an FIR.
I would probably get more response from the cops if I went along with her. But I too wanted to keep away from anything "police".
But something had to be done. If K had the guts to plan such action, she needed to be helped. Immediately.
We contacted the molested lady's brother and informed him, hoping he would file a complaint. But as is many times the case, he expressed his inability to do anything. He didn't want to get involved with the police, least of all against a jailbird chap, who misbehaved . A poignant example of how a married daughter is lost to her birth family and must suffer in her marital home.
Then I had an idea.
K and I went to the road outside our Institute where traffic goes totally haywire due to some long term road construction going on. This means, that, there is a reasonable amount of traffic police there.
Sometimes there is some police boss person, wearing a different uniform , a few more badges, and sunglasses , over am angry disgusted face, standing outside the police vehicle, twirling his cane, as he leans on the jeep.
One of the benefits of cribbing to the police about unruly motorcycle drivers, and how the police don't catch and fine them, has meant that the cops know me by sight, and often shake their head with a bemused expression as I approach them. They have seen me use my whistle at cars that don't stop for us to cross the road, whenever the light turns red. I know they have their whistles, but I worry about being run over. Mumbai has a very bad population-police ratio, which is probably why it is not worth their while to throw the law at me.
We were lucky. An officer type was there. In his usual pose. He raised his eyebrows as we appeared. Noticed K with me. At first he did his typical curt police attitude. Then as he heard us out, his eyes took on a look. We explained the situation, and asked if he could arrange to send a police detail to C's place, and generally make it look like the cops were looking out for her son. They were to act official and warn him about being resent to jail, or dispatched out of city limits (called "tadipaar" ), write fake notes and stuff. But something to put the fear into the fellow, and give some reassurance to the neighbor women.
He sort of shook his head. This wasn't what traffic police did. God knows the traffic management needed even more cops. How were things to work if they also handled the crimes in that area ? There were other cops for that ......
But those of us who have lived in Mumbai, and have a sense of experimentation about getting solutions, don't give up easily. Both K and I looked at him, half beseeching, and half appealing to his innate sense of superiority as a law enforcer out to save society. The raging sun, the rivulets of sweat pouring down our faces, the continuing whoosh of traffic, and a possible fear that we would stick around there till he did something about the problem, probably forced him to act.
That afternoon, when K reached her locality post lunchtime, there was a police jeep with a few constables (who otherwise yelled at the traffic offenders). The officer sat on a stool outside C's house, with the family in front. The constables glared. C's son was brought out of the house. His eyes widened on seeing the police, despite his stupor brought on by a violent loss of energy. Police canes were rapped on the ground. Voices were raised. Indian penal code sections were mentioned, and the fellow was properly warned.
The next day, saw C and her jailbird son leave, to return to the native place. The entire neighborhood and K's folks breathed easy once again. Young girls were safe.
A few days later, K ran into the cops while crossing the road on her way to my place. They asked if there was still any problem. She shook her head, folded her hands to thank them. And hurried away.
We talk about democracy. We talk about elections. So called "people's" candidates tour these localities where K and C live, hands folded, garlands swaying at the neck, sunglasses hiding their disgust, a groupie holding an umbrella overhead against the harsh sun. The peoples' candidate assures new taps , sanitation blocks, maybe a new school, with a meal scheme. After the big show, he goes away, and someone later comes around to distribute sarees and clothes, free.
Years have passed. We have electronic voting machines, psephologists on TV, people campaigning in helicopters and planes, fancy cars, candiddates with false educational qualifications, birthdates and the like, crores (millions) declared as assets; we even have shoes to throw at someone we don't like.
Life hasn't really changed for K. She has her material difficulties , with 10 people staying in 1.5 rooms. She has learnt to laugh about the promises made by the election candidates.
These fellows have wile. But she has guts, and a sense of wanting to do her best for her neigborhood. Which is why she stuck her neck out in this case.
Guts. Sticking her neck out.
She has her community support.
But she will never be an election candidate.
For one thing, she speaks the truth. For another, she doesn't have that kind of money. And yes, if she gets hit by a shoe , she will probably hit back with her sandals, but wont, as that's the only pair she has.....