Rules? What rules? Cops still rule the roost in UP
It was turning dark on the bumpy highway when about 12 men stopped the car. Two were in khaki and the rest in plain clothes. This reminded me of a former chief minister’s advice, “Never stop your vehicle on the highway on seeing cops or a police Gypsy at night. Dacoits prefer the cop’s khaki.”
It was around 7 pm and we were still in Balrampur, 160 km east of Lucknow.
A young boy of about 14 yelled frenetically, waving his hand, “Side laga, side laga” (park it on the side of the road). The driver stopped. Within seconds, the men had surrounded the vehicle. Some of them peeped in suspiciously while a policeman roughly told the driver to open the car boot.
The driver obeyed. The boot had a small suitcase and a laptop bag. “Open the bag. What are you carrying in it?” “Open the bag,” others also kept saying in chorus while the driver fumbled for words, “It belongs to her.” They kept staring at me as if I was some criminal.
It was scary for a woman travelling alone.
It was then that I intervened and asked, “You really want me to open my bag? You want to see my purse too?”
I told him about the Election Commission directive that clearly said a woman’s bag cannot be searched by male policemen, but he snarled: “Don’t teach me rules. We know who is what. You can go and write whatever you want.”
It was then the driver said, “She is from the media.”
“We can read people from their body language,” the cop said rudely.
Meanwhile, several buses and cyclists went past. Not one was stopped. No one was checked.
“Who else is there?” the cop again asked despite seeing clearly that I was travelling alone.
After what seemed an interminably long time, I was allowed to leave. Thereafter, I saw no police barricade on the 160 km drive from Balrampur to Lucknow.
Later, a source told me: “On seeing a police barricade, political workers in a Gypsy dropped a person along with a bag full of currency notes. While the cops searched the Gypsy, he went off on a cycle.” Many people subsequently told me that people fork out money to save themselves from harassment in such situations.
In the run-up to the election, the EC has checked noise pollution, painting on walls and expenses on banners and party flags.
But despite its strict vigil, it hasn't managed to tame the force that is mandated by law to protect citizens. Some things just don't change. Even in poll-bound UP.
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