|Sunanda K Datta-Ray: Corruption express|
|The extent of lawlessness dressed up as law in the country is unimaginable|
|Sunanda K Datta-Ray / New Delhi June 18, 2011, 0:21 IST|
It was around 3.40 in the afternoon on a gusty Friday and South-Eastern Railway’s Dhauli Express between Puri and Howrah was about to leave Bhadrak station in Orissa. An athletic young man who had got to Bhadrak from his village and paid Rs 82 for a ticket to Howrah ran up and down the train looking for a place to squeeze in. But the general compartments were tightly packed with the doors firmly locked from inside. Our young man hammered on doors and shouted through windows but to no avail.But around 35 passengers were huddled on the floor of the vendors’ van meant for luggage. There was no luggage and no guard and the doors were wide open to wind and rain. The train was about to leave Bhadrak, and the young man’s job as a condominium durwan in Calcutta would have been in danger if he didn’t get there that night. Moreover, the vendors’ van crowd was welcoming, and with no other choice, he jumped in as the train began to move.
He jumped out again at Kharagpur in West Bengal at about 7.00 p m but the rain was lashing down hard and all the compartments were still locked. No one would let him in. So it was back to the vendors’ until they reached Santragachi, 7 kilometres from Howrah, an hour later. That’s where the drama began. Four or five men boarded the vendors’ van, announced they were plainclothes policemen, pushed the passengers out and handed them to Railway Protection Force (RPF) personnel who made them squat in an outside lock-up. Our man from Bhadrak tried to explain but they shut him up.
The RPF returned nearly three hours later to ask how much money each had. Some produced Rs 500, some a thousand: the money was seized and they were let off. The man from Bhadrak had only Rs 400, which they also took but it wasn’t enough to buy his release; he and 13 others were ordered back into the lock-up where they were given chapatis and sabzi to eat and told they would be dealt with in the morning. It was quite late next day, around 11.30 a m, when they were taken in a local train to Howrah and locked up in a cell.
A magistrate in a black jacket, white shirt and tie appeared later in the day and fined each prisoner Rs 300. Having already paid Rs 400, the Bhadrak man asked for the balance but the court mohori retorted that, on the contrary, he would have to pay another Rs 250 to be released. “There are so many of us, and we’ve been working all night for you!” was the explanation.
A personal disclosure is called for: my flat is in the condominium where the durwan works. I know him to be of impeccable integrity. He called me several times from Santragachi and Howrah, but when I wanted to have a word with one of the RPF officers, I heard the refusal. They would confiscate the phone, they warned, if he didn’t shut up. Since our durwan had no more money and they wouldn’t release him unless he paid up, I sent my car and driver to Howrah with money. The receipt they brought back – High Court Form No. (A) 23 (Civil) / (A) 18 (Criminal) – was for Rs 300. He had paid Rs 650.
Such things happen all the time all over India. The difference between our police and Somali pirates can sometimes be a matter of scale. If Mamata Banerjee were suddenly to visit a railway station or hop on an unfashionable train, just as she drops in unannounced on hospitals and offices, she might see for herself the extent of lawlessness dressed up as law in her own backyard. Baburao Hazare, Ramdev and all their pious social activist friends should accompany her.
Incidentally, HAPPY JOURNEY is printed on both the Howrah-Bhadrak and Bhadrak-Howrah railway tickets. I hope it is so this time for my durwan for he is back in his Bhadrak village this weekend getting married.
Appeared in today's Business Standard