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Monday, 17 May 2010

Two Drunks Brawling

From the darkness of the bus I moved the curtain over just enough to point the telephoto lens out at the two brawling drunks.

One of them passed out on the floor was really wasted, he just wanted to go back to sleep while the other one beat him, slapping his body and head, standing on his ankles, pulling him across the ground by his hair, and at one point stamping on his head with his boot.

Funny, you might think that an Indian drunk was wearing boots. But this was part of his uniform. A police uniform. The second drunk was a policeman. What he was doing was nothing short of torture, and for no other reason than the sadistic pleasure of being in a position of power and able to get away with it.

Around him 3 other officers watched the dis-coordinated drunken beating dispassionately and after the 10 minutes that I had been watching one made a half hearted attempt to stop it, but it continued.

I got dressed and confronted the officer. I asked him for his name and he took off his name tag and hid it in his pocket. His reactions were slow enough I was able to grab it, release myself from the officers pathetic lock and take a photograph of it. It’s Hindi so I have no idea what his name was.

Twenty minutes later the SHO arrived on the scene and asked me why I had taken the officers badge. I quelled any idea that he could somehow blame me for the confrontation by showing him the photographs I’d taken and telling him I’d be emailing them to my numerous contacts in the Newspaper.

The drunken officer was there too, but had given himself time to sober up and the overpowering whiskey smell of his breath had now been cleaned away.

As it happens I have 3 breathalyser kits which were freebies from the Mobility Tech expo in Milan, sitting in the glove box. I don’t know why I kept them, but remembering they were there I grabbed one and challenged the officer to blow up the bag. He refused and I asked the SHO if he would order the officer to do it. He didn’t.

There was much discussion amongst the officers and I went back to bed. Next morning I made an official written complaint to the SHO, much to his bemusement: What would I care about a street drunk getting a deserved kicking?

So there you have it. The great Indian police. So full of procedure and self importance. Drunk on duty, sadistically flexing their power over someone too weak, and powerless to defend themselves, both physically and by their ability to access their rights. And while one acts, the others are complicit, firstly in the activity, and perhaps later in the cover up.

India is desperately short of police officers. Some regional offices are 30-40% down on staffing levels. The reality is that most Indian police officers are at best incompetent, at worst smart enough to know how to use the system to their advantage. There is no sense that their role is to serve the community, despite the inane slogans posted in the stations. A junior officer in Pushkar told me that his salary was 15,000Rs, but on average he topped it up with about 3,000 from bribes, and that as he got promotion he expected both incomes to rise.

I have no doubt the Bhimtal SHO, in Utranchal, will sweep this under the carpet as I am just passing through this small town and there is no need to follow it up, and that’s why I am posting the photos online (see the gallery), and mailing them to Anvinash and Avijit at the Times of India. I hope they will publish them.

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