I came up with this topic for this week’s 2 on 1 Friday post as just last Friday, I was in a meeting where we discussed the law and order situation in many parts of India and discussed in length the phenomenon of “Encounter Deaths.”
Like in all such issues, there are two sides to the story and what is not mentioned in the news report is the gross understaffing of police forces throughout our nation and the long judicial processes that take for ever to punish criminals and even allowing some of them to commit further crimes by granting them bail. The public puts pressure on politicians to solve the problems created by these criminals and the encounter killings solve many of these issues. Human Rights organisations and the liberals however cast other aspersions like calling them caste/religious killings but, they do not seem to come up with solutions to the problems that I have mentioned at the start of this paragraph.
The discussion reminded me of my own encounters with the police, one, unpleasant and the others surprisingly very pleasant and result oriented. Since this post is about the unpleasant ones, let me restrict myself to that encounter.
It was late 1975 during our national emergency period that this happened. I was travelling from Kerala to Tamil Nadu in a company owned car that was being driven by a company employed driver. We had crossed over into Tamil Nadu when we were stopped by a police officer and a constable who asked us for documents and we produced whatever they asked for. While this was going on, the constable took the driver aside and asked for a bribe and the latter came across to me and conveyed the message. Since we were not doing anything illegal I refused to oblige and my nightmare started.
We were taken to the first police station inside Tamil Nadu and the inspector made an entry in the case book there with an offence which was non bailable. I insisted on contacting someone to get me a lawyer and was allowed to make a phone call from the police phone. Those were days without the modern cell phones and even that little consideration was made to appear as though a big favour was being extended to me. The officer noticing that the car was registered in Kerala and under the impression that I may not have contact inside Tamil Nadu was stumped when within an hour of my telephone call, the most famous lawyer from Coimbatore landed up at the police station to bail me out while the recipient of my phone call was able to contact the Director General of Tamil Nadu Police to instruct the police station to release me on bail despite the matter being an non bailable one. I heard the wireless instruction while still in the police station and the officer for the first time felt that he had perhaps taken on more than he could chew. In the meanwhile, my driver and I had spent six hours in the police lock up.
Having already registered an offence the officer had to go through the motions but we had to move higher court to force the police to register a case and prosecute as they were not prosecuting knowing that they would lose the case. I couldn’t however, keep the matter without resolution and forced the issue.
After four hearings including the one at the higher court to force prosecution, the Magistrate heard the case, heard the witnesses, inspected the documents and took five minutes to record a Not Guilty judgement and also passed strictures against the officer concerned. All this was possible, I suspect, because by the time that the final hearing came up, the emergency had been lifted and things were different.
For a while, my lawyer and I contemplated suing the officer for defamation and wrong confinement but, because I was already posted out of Kerala to Mumbai by then, and had already spent a small fortune on the matter, I decided not to pursue the matter any further.
There were however some very disappointed rival colleagues who were hoping that I would go to jail which would have affected my growth in the company.
I am sure that Shackman will have some equally interesting anecdote/s and I request you to go over to his blog to read what he has to say on the topic. Thank you.