Our Views, biases and thinking is evolving based on our living experiences and our ability to reflect on them and learnings we take away from them. So now in the past week most of my reading has moved away from COVID to #BLACKLIFEMATTERS, I have been thinking about what has shaped my thinking about this and as I looked back in life my encounters with Police seems to be a big influencer.
I do not recollect which year this was but somewhere in 84-85 fits, my recollection. My mom was out of town and so I was sleeping along with my dad and then we woke-up next day and realized few things went missing my watch which was under my pillow, my dads watch and a ring etc. We lived on the first floor of independent house and there was sunsade in the portico and from that you could get into Balcony of two bedrooms and from the balcony you could open the Balcony door from the adjacent window and I had grown tall enough by then to be able do this a few times we got locked out (in 70s our landlord who grow to head TNHB one day had installed automatic door lock which was a nuisance). So we go register police complaint and police conclude someone accessed the house thru this route and also probably used some kind of power to leave us unconsious. After maybe 4 months we get a call from police saying they have arrested the person who used to do painting job and have recovered sometimes. My dad was busy and I was assigned to go with our house keeper to identify our items and that is my first recollection of stepping to Ashok Nagar police station, which used to run down tached roofed place in 80s.
My next encounter happened in 1992, I was pretty badly messed-up with DBASE Lab project, so there some sort of college holiday and I left for Karur to use small Computer center my Friend Gopal was running. I we get a frantic call and my brother had travelled from Madras to Coimbatore to try to locate me. One of my Friends had eloped and Police had found my Parents address and were trying to locate me to enquire. Once contact was established they asked me to travel to Madras and my father had promised to make me available for police enquiry. My parents were worried and my dad had tried to reach out to his friends and it so happened in his social circle my friends uncle who had lodged the complaint was very well known to my father and so they eventually connected and as I was travelling to Madras, uncle called the police inspector and had mentioned he would personally bring me to police station. So in the morning me and my dad to went to uncles house in T Nagar and then from there we went to thousand lights police station, the police spoke to me for 20 minutes and since I was really clueless about what happened they sent me home. When we returned home my dad mentioned I might have got trashed if not uncle stepping-in as this was high profile case and when got caught-up with my friend 6 months later (their story would rival any elopement movie made in 90s) and when I learnt what all happened, this thought that I had narrowly missed getting thrashed by police got re-enforced and probably shaped how I view police in India.
My next encounters were in US, one LA I was late to meeting a friend and was driving near Westfield Mall in Culver city, when I jumped a light and as I was clearing the intersection saw patrol car to my left in intersection and my hear beat jumped and pretty soon saw the cop car in my rear view mirror. the officier came and informed me I jumped light and eventually gave me $330 ticket, which was mind blowing amount in 1999. Later in Traffic school which I attended to make sure ticket stays off record, I learnt that you should exit the intersection before signal turns red and signal is time based on speed limit (40 – 4 seconds, 30 – 3 seconds). The instructor also mentioned #1 cause of road fatalities in LA was people jumping lights and hence very high fines. After the first one, I have been lucky to not get ticketed subsequent 6 more years of driving in US and frequent travel in bay area.
Next time was when returning back to Boise after vacation and my friend was driving my car and we were about 50 miles away from Boise when High patrol flagged us down and ticketed my friend for speeding.
After I returned to India in 2005, I had been ticketed by traffic cops for speed limit and using mobile phone while driving and almost every time I have just paid the fine and moved on because it was very clear what they were saying is true (though 60km speed limit on OMR strech seemed ridiculous). Next time I stepped into police station was retrieve my friend vehicle that was seized in non-fatal car accident and the fact that they were harassing him for not paying bribe made that whole visit very unpleasant. My in-laws had a problem with person who had contract to construct their home and so we had to go to police station to lodge a complaint, which was mostly a non-event.
So as you can see being from very privileged background, my encounters have been brief but every encounter makes my heart beat accelerate and almost always uncomfortable. In the meantime police in India has transitioned to becoming tool of governing class and elites and they often use unlawful force to discharge duties, which has gotten worse in past 10 years. The poor underprivileged view police as oppressing force and avoid them and now even upper middle class in India avoid entangling with the.
As the eternal optimist, I was always hoping we can professionalize the police and make them upholders of law, and most often would look for options in the west mostly US. What is truly concerning is US policing which I thought had become more professional and accountable had in the past 20 years moved in the opposite direction.