‘That night, I discovered the latent power to fight injustice upfront’

Illustration: Mayanglambam Dinesh
Illustration: Mayanglambam Dinesh

The incident goes back some 29 years. At that time, I was posted at the Agastyamuni development zone in Chamoli district. I finished a departmental meeting to set off for Rudraprayag, some 20 km from where I was. It was evening already, and it can get terribly difficult to get transport in the hills, and as my luck would have it, even the ubiquitous white Ambassadors were proving hard to get. Just as I was wondering whether I should forget about going and spend the night at Agastyamuni, I saw an old colleague walking past. He also used to live in a village in the vicinity. When I told him about the lack of transport, he told me of a driver in the area who could be of help. My friend called him up and the driver turned up. A short while into the ride, the driver stopped for petrol. Shortly thereafter, our attention was drawn to a commotion involving some cops checking on cars and asking for the the car’s papers.

After a rather long 20 minutes or so, me and my colleague saw our driver coming back fuming. He had been fined for overloading when he had just two of us on board! The driver was muttering to himself and hurling the choicest of expletives at the cops. Both of us almost simultaneously asked him as to why he agreed to pay the fine. He said that the cops were insistent and what’s more, nothing other than greasing their palms would have satisfied them. My friend did not like the meek surrender very much, and even as I and the driver tried to resist him, he insisted that we should get back to the petrol pump and assert ourselves before the cops. His word prevailed and we were soon back. My friend took the reciept for the fine and confronted the inspector who retorted rudely: “Who are you to tell me what is to be done?” He then told his subordinates to ‘act’, seize the car and take us to the police station. “I will cure you of your vigilantism in an instant,” he thundered.

I was numb as hell, and the driver too was clueless. But my friend refused to give up. “You must learn to behave. Do what you want but before that I would like to talk to the superintendent.” He then proceeded to do that at the petrol pump.

The friend’s gumption did the trick and the inspector soon came to his senses, literally grovelling for cover. He turned to me and said, “Please ask your friend not to get so worked up.” Even as my friend was busy inside the cabin trying to establish contact, the inspector took the reciept, tore it into pieces and sheepishly told the driver, “Now you can relax… I am not imposing any fine on you after all.” I went inside the cabin and saw my friend still creased up in worry and anger and trying to desperately get through to the superintendent. He looked like a man possessed. I literally had to cajole him to forget about making the call and get back into the car. It was already 10 pm then. My friend very reluctantly came out, and still wanted to go ahead with his complaint, and it was only after repeated entreaties from me and the driver that he agreed to forget about his anger. I was looking at him with a new found look of admiration: in the space of that eventful hour or thereabouts, my friend had taught me the importance of asserting for basic rights when confronted by brazenly corrupt policemen.

We all returned to the room without exchanging a word, but my friend had instilled in me a powerful lesson that day. One must confront injustice as soon as one encounters it, and not look for easy, squeamish ways out of such situations. The importance of countering such instances of high-handedness got firmly internalised in my mind for the first time in life, and even so many years on, I have not forgotten the valuable lesson taught by my persevering friend.

(Translated from Tehelka Hindi)


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