In his well known black comedy, Andher Nagari (The Dark Town), playwright Bhartendu Harishchandra describes the Chaupat Raja’s (the defunct king’s) court in a famous scene. An old woman hobbles in, demanding justice for the death of her pet goat that was killed when a wall collapsed on it. “Hang the goat!” the Raja thunders. Upon being told that the poor creature is already dead, he shouts, “Well, hang the wall then!”
The Delhi Police, currently engaged in locking the entry points in many colonies in the city all in the name of providing security, would have fitted right in, in the Dark Town of the Chaupat Raja. Last week, I, along with my neighbours, happened to find that three out of the four gates leading into our colony had been closed without so much as by your leave to the residents. Phenomenal traffic jams and cases of road rage were in evidence over the next few days. The police were not anywhere to be scene at the ‘crime spot’, and the local Station House Officer (SHO), the residents were told on the phone, was out checking a case involving a young girl.
Late in the evening after he had presumably dispensed with the case, the SHO told me that the act of locking up the three gates was done at the behest of the local Residents’ Welfare Association (RWA). When quizzed, a member of the RWA professed to be shocked. She said that they had in fact gone to the SHO protesting against the messy ‘lock-up’ arrangement. Upon being told that this was to prevent criminals from entering and “killing us all” in the colony, the SHO had replied in disgust that in that case the police “may as well have closed all four gates and gone home”.
The Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) was politer but just as firm about the ‘ghettoisation’ of the residents. This, he insisted, was done because a lot of “those Bangladeshi types” were on the prowl in Delhi and the number of robberies and assaults was going up. It was a necessary measure to tackle crime. “But why lock the citizens behind gates?” someone protested.
“One gate is open, madam,” was the answer.
“But don’t you see how it leads to traffic jams? It is the narrowest lane in the whole benighted colony and two mammoth buildings are coming up at the entrance. It takes a full 20 minutes to come out of the colony into the main road each day now.”
“I am sorry, but it is for your own protection.”
“But we have not asked for it.”
“Your RWA did.”
“Well, they say they went to you not to ask for protection but to protest against your leaving only one entry point open.”
“All the better to supervise you all.”
“But what about the criminals on the prowl? Are you doing nothing about nabbing and locking them up?”
“Well, that is why we have locked three of the four gates to the colony.”
“But you can’t deny that they [the criminals] are there.”
“Yes, but don’t you see at least they now have fewer entry points.”
“But what about our rights to access our homes?”
“This is for your own safety.”
“So just because you can’t lock up criminals you have chosen to lock residents of our colony instead?”
“You got the point at last, madam.”