They said, "We'll put the fear of the police in you". And then they did
Eleven years ago, when I first came to Delhi from Dhanbad, my naive friends warned me about the cruelty of city girls.
Little did I know that the real dangers of the city were its own protectors: the dogs on the street and the men in khaki uniforms. Innocuous as they may seem in the daylight hours, the night reveals their darker shades.
'We'll put the fear of the police in you'
As the door of the police car slams shut and we are pushed into the station, I stagger into the realisation that this night will be horribly long. I can't remember the exact sequence of events that led to this moment. But here I am, down on the floor, as another boot hits me squarely on my backbone.
I look at the other side of the room, where my friend lies in the grips of two other policemen. The terrifying screams of my friend's sister echo through the station, as I try to find a footing to get up. Wearing only one shoe, the other one having been lost on the way, I struggle not to be dragged into a separate room. Like ravenous vultures, 10 policemen have descended on us.
When the SHO arrives, we assume that some sense of human decency will finally kick in. But to our utter horror, he further encourages his men to teach us a lesson. "We will put the fear of the police in you," he tells us with a malicious twinkle in his eye. His men need no further invitation.
Even in our drunken haze, we can feel the utter frustration in their demeanour. Their desperate need to assert their power, to feel in control, is apparent. We are entirely at their mercy, but they show none.
The argument that turned into a stand-off
Five hours ago, the evening started with us going for a party in Hauz Khas village. On our way back, happily drunk, our designated driver dropped us outside the gates of one of the Vasant Kunj apartment blocks.
There we were, waiting for our cab. Seeing a couple of drunk boys and girls irked the gatekeepers and resulted in an argument.
I was so drunk, I never realised when the argument turned into a stand-off. Our behaviour provoked the RWA members to call the police. The police, ever too swift to nab the drifting ones, picked us up in their car and took us to Vasant Kunj Police Station. A team of over 10 bored policemen in the middle of the night lay in wait for us.
"We will put the fear of the police in you," the SHO tells us. His men need no further invitation
So now here I am, lying face down on the floor of the police station, hoping that all this is just a terrible nightmare that I will soon wake up from. Instead, we are shoved into a police jeep and taken to Safdarjung Hospital for an alcohol test. Needless to say, the report shows that we are drunk.
Taking this as evidence of some absurd offence, they want to punish us. In all this inhuman interaction, my friend's sister ends up with a fractured foot. The police take us to another hospital to get her treated.
The might of the Delhi Police
Dawn breaks as we sit in the police jeep with chains attached to our handcuffs. The morning seems to have a sobering effect on our perpetrators. They talk jovially and accuse us of ruining their peaceful night.
I still plead with them and tell them that what they did was neither just nor justified. An hour passes and we still wait for my friend's sister. The sight of a police jeep with chained 'convicts' attracts sightseers. One even tries to record us on his cellphone. My friend gets really worried about his sister. No iota of trust remains and we huddle up outside the jeep.
My friend's repeated demands to see his sister annoy the policemen. The growing crowd further spooks them. They push us into the jeep. One of the constables slams his boot into my friend's back. He falls.
As I try to placate the SHO, he slaps me across my face. Blood trickles down my right cheek. The SHO is furious. "Now you will realise the full might of the Delhi Police," he threatens.
'Are you a eunuch?'
They take us back to the station, make us remove our belts (I have already lost my other shoe) and put us in the lock-up. The horde of constables walking past our cell bars spew venom. "Serves you right for letting girls drink," they say. "Ab kahan gayi teri angrezi (now where's your English)?," they taunt.
They charge us under section 107 and 151. Both charges are supposed to be used only in extreme situations, to prevent anticipated public violence.
My friend's shirt is torn, his hand is swollen. My left eye has a big red spot. We are bruised and battered like shipwrecked sailboats. I am too numb to feel anything.
We are then taken to Vasant Vihar court, and the police charges us with fighting among ourselves and creating public nuisance. The magistrate doesn't mince words, sends us immediately to prison for 24 hours. The constable asks us for the conveyance money.
A couple of drunk boys & girls irked the gatekeepers, leading to a standoff. The RWA called the cops
Locked in an unfriendly grip, we are taken to the hospital for a medical report. Prisons refuse to take new prisoners after 8 pm, so we hurry out without getting the recommended tests done. Prisons are allotted according to the first letter of one's name. I am sent to Tihar, the prime 'correctional' facility. My friend has to go to Rohini.
The board outside my ward says "we treat prisoners with dignity". When the guard opens the iron door, he asks me curtly: "Tu chhakka hai, ki chhakki (Are you a male eunuch or a female one)?"
The night of terror
That night and the early hours of the next day are spent in a state of terror. Unfortunately, I stand out from the other prisoners. I lie down on the only available spot on the floor near the cell door. I do not visit the wash room. I barely eat. I have stopped thinking. I just wait. I want to scream out that all this is just a mistake.
I am not violent by any stretch of imagination. I am not a hooligan. I have debated Freud and Derrida in the classrooms of JNU. I have romanced with Buddhism. I have travelled around the country looking for peaceful corners.
But nothing kills you like the desperation of being caught behind wired walls. Dal and roti on greasy plates, rationed water, jailed within jails, eyes following lines on ground, abuses from the guards, stripped, threatened to be raped, clerical mistakes that I had to memorise, exchanging slippers for favours.
The board outside my ward says "we treat prisoners with dignity". The guard asks: "Tu chhakka hai?"
'Hope you never come back again'
The next morning I climb into the navy blue police van and am driven to the Saket holding cells with other prisoners. The inmates who stay behind wave and call out to us: "Hope you never come back again."
Later, at Vasant Vihar court, I am given bail, but my friend, who didn't end up being transferred in time, has to go to prison for that night.
A month later, at our second hearing, the magistrate tells us bluntly: "Court ke chakkar nahi katenge toh sudhrenge kaise (how will you learn your lesson if you don't spend time in court)?."
It takes us another three-and-a-half months to finally get over with the case. We are found guilty of fighting and are sentenced to sign a bond to keep peace for a year.
The dark cloud which had been following me for three months finally dissipated on 2 November.
Now I feel, maybe, that being happy is possible again. Maybe I can finally rest.
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