Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Traffic police: beggars and thieves

In all my life in Delhi, I’ve been stopped 5-6 times by cops for violation of traffic laws. There hasn’t been a time – not ONE – when I was not blatantly asked for a bribe. And there hasn’t been one time where a cop seriously asked me to pay for a ticket.

Yet, my recent brush with the Delhi traffic police was an eye-opener and positively appalling. I was stopped for speaking on phone while driving. The cop sits in my passenger seat and, in his finest threatening baritone (an unbroken pan-cultural cop tradition), informs me that the charge for this heinous crime is a hefty Rs.1000. So far so good. I was in a bit of a hurry, so I promptly produced the money and asked him for the ticket, fully expecting a couple of groans of disappointment from the cop and then a ticket and then freedom. But this one was a particularly resilient vermin. He asks for a “compromise”, since 1000 bucks is a lot of money, he’s nice and he can offer me a better rate. I flatly refuse to give him a naya paisa without a ticket, and ask him to either let me off with a warning or write up a ticket quick coz I’m in a hurry. He’s rather surprised and thinks I don’t get it: “See, you don’t understand. With the ticket, it’s Rs.1000. Without the ticket, it’s Rs.500.” I say that I understand very well but I don’t pay bribes. He smiles and plays his trump card: “Do you know that your Rs.1000 will go to the Indian government?” The implication is clear – honesty and stuff is nice and idealistic, but the Indian government’s a corrupt enterprise. Do you really wanna shell out that kind of money to this outfit? Though this was no new insight, I found it quite disturbing that an employee of the government machinery, one whose job it is to enforce a certain set of rules installed by this machinery, speaks of it with such disdain. Anyway, I got impatient at this point and asked him (in a milder vein) to hurry up or to fuck off. Still hopeful for his pocket money, he tells me that he’ll have to call his senior officer to make the ticket and it may take quite some time. I ask him to fuck off. A few minutes later, Mr. Senior Officer makes his grand entry. This one is a slicker and more polished beggar than the last one. His way is different – he cajoles and uses emotional wiles. Sir, he says, “Think a bit about us too. Holi is approaching. Do you want our Holi to be dry (Hamari Holi sookhi hi jayegi)?” I reply in a rude affirmative. He repeats his pleas a few times, and finally relents. “Well, if you’ve made up you mind, I guess I’ll give you a ticket.” I guess there is a wee bit of the cop left in him, or at least the ability to fake it, as he responsibly adds that talking on phone while driving is dangerous both for me and other drivers on the road.

I feel spent and positively ashamed that my city has come to this. Never thought I’d close to say this – I miss those rude, cocky American cops.

7 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

i dont know who you are but you obviously not proud of being an indian. your incident wid the indian traffic police was surely typical day for the policeman... but u havent said anything about why this situation exist... its good fun to sit and write such incidents and laughing about how 'great' your country is... but it is truely sad to have such citizens//./ enjoy your humor and try keeping it for your eyes only...

2:26 AM

 
Blogger Misanthrope said...

well, at this point, i can't say that i'm proud or unproud of being an indian. in any case, i don't think there's anything inherently desirable in being proud of your country just because you live there.

why the situation exists is a different question altogether, and i didn't feel the need to explain it. however, i do think i'm doing my bit to improve the situation simply by not giving bribes to these cops.

2:28 AM

 
Blogger Pragav said...

Haraamzaade, I'm glad you didn't pay the bribe. I encountered a similar situation in Delhi and was shocked when the cop made my ticket for Rs 3,500 instead of Rs 1,000 because i refused to pay the bribe. Anyhow, took 10 mins off to read your blog since you blatantly advertise it. Even if i don't agree with some of it, I got to say it is a good blog. Hope all is well in Delhi and you are getting accustomed to living in the real world (i meant working). Take care,
Pragav

9:26 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

om

bravo on the petty acts of obeying the system...

but let me ask, why this faith in the system? anonymous number 1 obviously has no clue as to what (s)he is talking about, but (s)he accidentally stumbles on a good point...

it might be important for you to explain why that situation of bribing exists in order for us to be convinced that it is a good act not to bribe... it very well could be a neutral act...

what if a system with black money and that kind of corruption could be self-sustaining... it wouldn't take too much math modeling to try and come up with one... then bribing might not be that bad...

also, should i believe that all of misanthrope's money is white?

in any event, by believing in the system... and people (to follow your example, etc) i don't think you are the kind of misanthrope you claimed to be...

2:12 AM

 
Blogger Misanthrope said...

thanks for the heartfelt congratulations on my act of obeying the system.

i don't have much faith in the system as it exists now, but i have some faith in the idea and betterment of the system. for instance, similar systems exist in the US and i think they are reasonably effective. i think we should move toward that.

of course there are many systems with black money and corruption that are sustaining. even with the filthy system of india, it is undeniable that india is on a steep growth path. so even this level of corruption if being absorbed without a bottom line loss to the nation.

but u seem to be saying that a single act of bribing has different "badnesses" according to differing levels of extant corruption. i agree with u somewhat, but i would still maintain that that single act of bribing is bad since it is contributing toward the harm, small as the harm may be.

misanthrope's money being white or black has nothing to do with his act of obeying the system and the argument under the microscope. even if his money were all black, that's a separate but more interesting and nuanced act of corruption and deserved separate treatment. in fact, i think i will write another blog soon about a related topic.

your argument casting blame on my misanthropy is quite fair. i shall work hard to perfect it.

3:02 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

om

so do degrees matter or not? if they don't, then misanthrope's (hypothetical) black money is an act of corruption under the same microscope, and then it seems like misanthrope is commending himself for doing something that he hasn't actually done (contingent on the fact that he has black money)...

if degrees do matter, then misanthrope is patting himself on the back for nothing... because the 1000 R bribe is nothing...

as for the point on extant corruption... of course, extant corruption matters... it tells us what is actual corruption, because i'm not sure i should have a concern for "law on the books" when real law is so different... the same question can be asked wrt morality... is Hindu morality the morality of Manu or the morality of real people?... i dont care much abt Manu... does it really tell me anything about Hindus? even if it does, does it tell me more than socio-anthropological evidence... i dont think so...

12:17 AM

 
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