Tuesday, January 25, 2011

In India bribes are an accepted norm


by punem sexsema-I was arrested and subsequently released by NOIDA police on Saturday. The whole incident was quite bizarre. We had gathered outside Registrar’s office in Noida to protest against corruption in that office. Gaurav Bakshi, an NRI had been asked for a bribe in this office about two months back for some work. He refused to pay the bribe and recorded a video of the babus demanding bribe. This enraged the babus. They assaulted him and his father (a retired IAF officer) and their camera was snatched away. Someone present there clicked the pictures of assault. Gaurav filed a police complaint with those pictures (culprits are easily identifiable in those pictures). Gaurav was offered Rs 8000 by the NOIDA police who tried to persuade him not to file a police complaint. However, he persisted.  Two months after the complaint was filed, the NOIDA police did not take any action.

Rather than give up, Gaurav collected all his friends and decided to protest. On Saturday, less than 50 people gathered outside Registrar’s office on the main road. All of us were shouting innocuous slogans – “Choosna band karo, rishwat lena band karo”, etc. We decided to take a round of the parking area and encourage people to stand up against corruption. However, the police stopped us. So, we stayed on the side of the main road. All of us demanded to know from the police, why were they shielding the corrupt, why they had not taken any action against corrupt people on Gaurav’s complaint? SHO present on the spot refused to reply.

At that time, one person came out of Registrar’s office and said that he a bribe of Rs 100 had demanded from him. Everyone asked the police officers present on the spot to immediately arrest the staff who had demanded bribe. But the police did not budge.

Suddenly, one of their senior police officers came, and without any provocation, on his orders, the police started assaulting people. We were slapped, thrashed and assaulted with batons. Gaurav was beaten up and put into a police van. Eight of us were “detained”. We were taken to a few police stations for the next few hours without being told why we were being transported around before we were finally presented before the city magistrate. At this point, we realised we had actually been “arrested”.

The city magistrate arrived and screamed at the police officer – “Muzrimon ko hathkadi kyon nahin daali?” Police officer replied – “Baahar bahut media wale khade hain.” The magistrate informed us that we had been arrested for violating public peace, for interfering with the work of government officials and for creating ruckus inside government building. We protested that we never entered any government building and we never met any government officer. The magistrate replied that it was for the police to investigate the allegations and the court would take a final decision. Some non-bailable sections were slapped against us. He ordered our arrest. We were bundled up in police vans and were sent to Dasna jail.

Midway, the police vans stopped. We were told that the vans had been asked to come back. “You will be released on bail,” one of the police officers told us, who was taking instructions on phone from his bosses. We said we will not apply for bail as we had not committed any crime. The policeman, perplexed, informed his seniors that these people don’t want bail. He was directed to still bring us back whether we wanted bail or not.

Back in magistrate’s office, we were released without bail. We learnt that the police did not know about our backgrounds when they arrested us. Once arrested, there was flood of enquiries from media and eminent citizens. And so, we were being released.

Isn’t it completely bizarre? Either we had done a crime or we had not! How could we be treated as hardened criminals just a few hours back, so much so that the magistrate had to order our handcuffing? And how could we be suddenly released and all charges against us dropped when they come to know who we were?

This means that the police can practically arrest anyone and slap any IPC section against him. The magistrate will blindly endorse arrest saying that the charges will be investigated later. How scary is that?

The magistrate met us after our release in his chamber. He warned us not to disrupt public peace in future. We told him in all humility – “We had not disrupted the peace of the public but had actually disrupted the peace of corrupt people and we will continue to do that even after our release. Don’t you find it strange that the police did not arrest those who had demanded bribe from Gaurav and those who had assaulted Gaurav and his father till now but we, who were fighting against corruption were arrested and produced before you immediately?”  We politely told the magistrate that we will continue with our activities even after release. Still he released us.

Who do we blame for this incident? In my opinion, it is the system that is at fault. The system places so much power in the hands of a few individuals that they simply go mad with arrogance. They lick their seniors and kick the public and they are accountable to none. I wonder whether it was any different during the British times?

Many people say that we have sufficient laws in our country, just that they are not implemented properly. I completely disagree with them. I have studied many of the laws very carefully. We are still being governed by the same colonial laws which existed in British times. They have not been changed. Many of these laws need to be changed.

Economic growth and ‘future superpower’ status is all very good but that doesn’t guarantee dignity for every individual. We need new and contemporary laws for a new India and to push for these, a citizens’ movement has been initiated.

Thousands of people will assemble at Ramlila grounds at 1 pm on 30 January 2011 for a March Against Corruption – not only to protest against corruption, but to demand enactment of a strong anti-corruption law drafted by none other than Prashant Bhushan, Justice Santosh Hegde, National Campaign for People’s Right to Information, Kiran Bedi and others. Please visit www.indiaagainstcorruption.org to read the complete text of this law. Many eminent citizens will be present in this march - Aruna Roy, P V Rajagopal, Harsh Mander, Kiran Bedi, Prashant Bhushan, Shanti Bhushan, Devinder Sharma, Rev. Arch Bishop of Delhi, Anna Hazare, Madhu Kishwar, Sunita Godara etc.

Similar marches will take place simultaneously in many cities and towns across India on the same day. Please join the March Against Corruption wherever you are to demand effective anti-corruption systems! punemsexena@gmail.com.
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