Under my byline

Officers on the beat

Posted in Living by Rrishi on 13 October 2009

BS blog 9

As if there weren’t already reason enough to fear and doubt rather than respect the police, this past week offered a fresh bouquet of police crimes. ContentSutra lists four random instances from around the country, two of which happened in the Delhi region.

The website quotes NewsX admin head Veshakha Gulati thus:

Noida local administrators and armed police did come to the NewsX office and tow away cars, even those parked within the yellow line. Their approach was unnecessarily highhanded and rough. … They damaged employees’ cars and refused to take responsibility for the same. The officials also did not explain why so many armed policemen were required to get cars towed. While we are aware that some parties have suggested this police action was a kind of intimidation attempt, we have no reason to believe this. Fortunately, senior UP govt and Noida officials were very helpful in settling the situation. [What does that mean?]

Why were the cars towed? The word on the street is that this happened because NewsX had run an investigation into “an unofficial tax liquor vendors were being forced to pay”, whose proceeds were allegedly trickling up to the very top of the UP government.

I’m familiar with this sort of thing: near my office some time ago, my car (then without a press sticker) was towed away by the Delhi Traffic Police from an authorised, ticketed lot because, the parking attendants told me, the monthly cash gift had not been made on time. The contractor brought my car back, but I received no ticket. Both the left front window motor and right front suspension were damaged.

But immeasurably worse than this simple greed and high-handedness is what was allegedly done to the young American journalist whose experience was reported on the front page of the Times of India. Here’s a link to various stories on the event. And here’s a link to a scan of Joel Elliott’s statement describing the encounter.

In short, Elliott says he came across a gang of four police officers beating someone on a street in Nizamuddin late at night; intervening, he received some baton hits and then ran; trying to hide in a parked taxi he was caught and beaten some more; he was taken to the nearby police station and intermittently beaten all night; the US embassy was not informed, nor was he allowed to contact anyone. He spent two days in hospital; the photos of the damage to his body are terrible.

Of course, the only surprising thing about this kind of incident is that an American was involved. Inevitably someone will pay some sort of price, and life will go on. It probably won’t be the price that Elliott has demanded: a thorough enquiry, removal of the officers allegedly involved, and $500,000 in compensation.

Below one Indian Express story on the incident is this possibly well-meant but certainly misguided comment from a reader: “Cops should only pay compensation appropriate for a third world country. So many Indians have suffered much more at their hands. That money is more deserved by poor Indians.” Well, what is compensation appropriate for a third-world citizen? And surely more than money, “poor Indians” need a police force that deserves their respect?

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