>I was being driven to work at rush hour. The cars jostled for space on the unplanned roads of Lucknow, trying to make their way to their destination through a maze of more cars, cycle rickshaws, scooters, autos and pedestrians. We had reached one of the busiest crossroads of Lucknow where it takes about two green lights before your turn comes to drive past. Our car was behind the zebra crossing when the light changed from green to red and the driver braked the car to a jerky halt. He looked at the rear view to see if he could back up the car but in the dense traffic there was no way we could go in any other direction but forward.
Within seconds a brash traffic cop came up to the driver, furiously scribbling our car’s number on his notepad. “DL nikalo (Show me your DL),” he barked. (DL = Driving Licence). The driver, having been harassed for no fault of his in the past, asked why before . “DL nikalo,” came the reply. I interjected, politely, and asked the cop to talk to me. He refused to look at me and continued shouting at the driver. “Car ke paper nikalo (Show me the papers for the car),” he yelled. I interjected again, “What’s the problem?” “Aapse baat nahi karni (I won’t talk to you),” he barked back.
By then I was livid and I think I had started speaking in the same tone and pitch as this cop. I yelled at him demanding an explanation for why he’d been so insolent with us.
Our car was taken aside, to a traffic booth on the corner of the roads. Two other cops joined him in harassing us. The driver was wearing his seat belt, the car had its pollution check certification, we hadn’t jumped the red light and this wasn’t a routine check. What exactly was it that they were going to penalise us for?
I got out of the car, enraged at the behaviour of the cop. The last time the cops had been polite enough to tell me to choose which challan (fine) I would like to opt for, since they had decided to cut a challan anyway! This time, I wasn’t going to be polite in return. When the inspector asked the constable who had stopped our car why we had to pay a fine, he said we’d jumped the red light. I got even more furious. I was being challaned for actually following the signals. Had I actually jumped the red light, I would have been at work by now. But because my driver had stopped when the lights turned red, they thought they could harass us into paying up for no wrong of ours. I tried to reason but no one would talk to me, probably because I’m a woman, probably because I look much younger than I am – almost a college girl, probably because of both the reasons.
I had totally lost my cool by then – how can you ignore what I’m trying to say? – and was shouting at the top of my voice. I was angry – my heart raced, my head throbbed and I was flushed. From what I remember, I was telling the cops I wasn’t going to pay up for something I did not do. “Jo rule follow karte hain, aap unhi ka challan karte hain. Main paise nahi doongi. Kis baat ka challan kaat rahe hain? (You penalise those people who follow the law. I will not pay a fine for something I did not do.)” “Tumhare baap ki sadak hai kya? (You don’t own this road.)” I thought in my head.
They could no longer ignore me. If they had a target to meet (I think that’s what drives them to challan people randomly, without bothering to see if they’ve done any wrong) I wasn’t going to help them do that. I wasn’t going to pay a penny extra to this corrupt system. I pay taxes and get nothing in return, is that not enough? And the police is there to assist us, to enforce the rules, not to create their own.
I see how they must have seen me: this angry, young woman screaming her lungs out, creating a scene. And because these cops had no answers and probably because they hadn’t seen a girl who wasn’t some big shot’s daughter/wife/sister screaming at them, they did not quite know what to do. It must have taken them about a couple of minutes though to finally hold the car door open for me as they begged me to get in and go. “Aap jaiye (You can go),” they said. That wretched guy who had thought he could confiscate my driver’s driving licence changed his tone – from arrogant he went to polite. And just as he saw me getting into the car, he mumbled, “Zindaggi mein kuch kar nahi paogi (You won’t be able to do anything in life). “
Inside the car, shaken by my own reactions and left satisfied that I had stood up to three cops because I was right, I smirked and thought to myself, “Well, I’ve already done more than you ever could.”