Thursday, August 6, 2009

Dealing with Dirty Cops in India

Indian Police StandingIt's a big coincidence that BBC broke the story on police brutality in India yesterday morning because I was going to write about my experiences with them the day before. It's not news that police in India are corrupt. Offenses go from asking small bribes such as “chai money” to beating people and killing them. While it's understandable that police harass and ask for bribes because they're not paid properly, it is still annoying to the general public.

I would've let it go if it was a one time case but this is the second time the police picked on my driver. First off, I don't really have a great opinion of the police force in India. The only people I respect are the ones who are higher up officers – because they believe in justice and getting the perps to face consequences. I've also seen them in action on a stake out so I know how they behave. I've heard so many stories of what cops do to get bribes and have personally witnessed such things. It's really ugly and disgusting.

Since it was Tuesday, most of the markets and shopping centers in Gurgaon were closed. There wasn't much traffic on the street. I went to Galleria Market to run some errands and told the driver to pick me up after an hour. I called him up after I was done when I got to our pre-arranged pick-up spot. He said he was coming but I didn't see him at all, so I started walking the block and kept an eye out. In the distance, I saw a white car that looked like the car we came in and two cops surrounding it. Now, my eyes are not in a great condition – due to the over use of electronics such as the computer, iPods and PSP, I can't really see that far. And since my pup chewed both of my glasses, my eyes seemed to be working fine until two days ago. As I approached the car, I saw that it is really our driver and the cops are really talking to him. The driver was behind the steering wheel calling the guy who runs our car service.

Our driver happens to look Asian because he's from Sikkim a state in the Northeast part of India. We like him because he's on time, prompt and knows where he's going most of the time. If he doesn't he'd check with the guy who runs the service. We like this service because it's very efficient, and we have a great deal with them. They'd replace the car if the AC's not working, they get you to the place you need to go on time, and they're available for pick-ups and drops at odd hours like 1 am for the airport etc. The guy who runs it is flexible and it's pretty much a two men operation with two cars or so. They both don't speak much English but we get by. I like the driver because he's aware of security issues, protective and can maneuver out of bad situations. (More on that later.)

I immediately looked at the cops – a skinny tall one and a fat short one. I recognized the skinny cop with khaki uniform because he tried picking on us last week until I came out of the ATM and asked him whether I can help him. He said something about parking and let us go. This time again, I asked them what the matter was. One cop said he was on the cell phone, another said, it's because it's a no-parking area. The skinny one scrammed immediately right after that. I guess he realized it's no use dealing with me. He also had his name tag on his uniform. I tried reading it and tried memorizing it. The fat short cop, also in khaki didn't have a tag. He seemed like he wanted some money out of this deal and told me to sit in the car. I sat, put the bags that I was carrying away and assessed the situation. The fat cop then got into shot gun position and we drove three feet down the road where other cops where sitting.

There were two cops in khaki on a Gypsy (great little jeep car that's used mostly by police and government officials) and two traffic cops on plastic chairs in front of the Gypsy. I knew that already because I just passed by them. The fat cop got out and handed the papers to the traffic police. You can tell they're traffic police because they wear white and blue uniforms. I called Will at home and spoke to him about the situation. I just wanted to be on the phone and talk to someone about it. He asked me if I wanted him to come down to Galleria. I was a bit alarmed because this is new territory for me. I've heard enough horror stories of Gurgaon cops. At least officers in West Bengal spoke English. I told him that it was not necessary and that I'll be calling my lawyer friend soon. I got out of the car while I was still on the phone and walked over to the traffic police. I got off the phone, I lifted my sun glasses and told them, in English that he was on the phone because he's picking me up. I told them that I just passed by them and that they did see me. (I know they were watching me because I look like a foreigner. Nobody wears all black in India, especially not tourists.) Besides, people stare at people all the time here, especially if you're a woman and obviously a foreigner or worse yet, you're white. One of the traffic cops on the chair mumbled something about parking and looked at the papers. I looked at the cops on the Gypsy and they didn't seem to care about what's going on in front of them. Only the fat cop seemed eager to squeeze something out of the situation.

I walked back to the car to get my lawyer friend's number and called her up. She's handled mostly human trafficking cases but she's familiar with dealing with the police and procedures. I walked back in front of the cops while I was on the phone again. I spoke to my friend about the situation, and told her in front of them what has been happening. I made sure they heard me even though the conversation was all in English. The fat cop looked up, worried. Then they let us go, my driver called and I was back in the car as she was telling me what to ask for from the cops if they asked for money. They didn't even get to that part and let us go. By that point I told her that we're on the way and that they've let us go because I've been stern and have been on the phone a number of times. I also told her that this might be racially motivated since the driver is Asian and this is a second time we've been stopped in the same area. Indians are very race conscious and if you're white or Asian you tend to stand out.

My friend said that if they ever asked for money, ask for a slip or receipt of some sort. Tell them that you're willing to pay the fine but you're not willing to pay through illegal means – that you'll pay through the proper channels. She also told me to learn Hindi fast so I can yell at them properly. It's just another day dealing with dirty cops as far as I'm concerned. But it's a widespread and well known problem. What the Naureen Shah from Human Rights Watch said was right, India needs reforms for its police forces if they want to be a proper “democracy” and properly modernize the country.

Photo by: mvcorks

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