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P.S. Mandawli: Manufacturing Crime and Criminals

July 20, 2008

Mandawli is a police station area in East Delhi and covers the area I live in. As such it is the field of my ‘ethnography’. The reader may however put the name of any other police station in Delhi – rather India – and the story, I can bet, will read as true as ever. Let Mandawli then be the name of all the dens of YS Dadwal’s men (YSD being the police commissioner Delhi, who famously claimed yesterday that ‘Even in New York women are not safe…’). PC Dadwal also has the distinction of claiming, against the growing feeling of insecurity among Delhi’s denizens, that crime is actually declining in the city! A Jansatta report yesterday, however, cites many ordinary people as saying that they are more scared of the police than of criminals.

17 July 2008: The Times of India (19 July) and other newspapers reported the death of 18-year old Umesh Kumar ‘who was picked up by the police for questioning’ two days ago and who died soon after returning home at night. The incident was of Swaroop Nagar in outer district, Delhi. Umesh did not live to tell his story but his friend, Atul, ‘who too was picked up by the police said: “The police took us to Ibrahimpur police post and started beating Umesh after which he lost consciousness.” Umesh, from all accounts was not a hardened criminal – just one of those whom the police decides to make into a criminal in the long run. Unfortunately for them, he died.

17 July 2008: Young Sampat (early twenties, name changed) is asked to report to the Mandawli police station. Apparently a routine matter of ‘haziri’. He has to report to the thana whenever he is called – and he can be called any time. Reason: He is now a ‘history sheeter’. He was arrested a year and a half ago on the alleged charge of theft of motorcycles, along with a couple of others. Three people had been named in one of the three FIRs that were produced in court (two merely being FIRs of reported theft). The case has been going on since then. Eventually, two cases had to be dropped for want of evidence and in the third, the only one whose FIR actually named three people, others were let off. Sampat, whose name figures nowhere, in none of the FIRs, continues to be ‘tried’. Apparently, or so the police told Sampat’s lawyer, they recovered some stolen bikes from him. In the meantime, the police decided that he was a dangerous criminal and to be put on the ‘history sheet’. Now whenever there is any theft in the neighbourhood – or any other incident for which the police has to answer, Sampat and a number of others like him are picked up and a press release is prepared and the ‘case is cracked’.

In Sampat’s case, the police has been trying to do something else. Rather, two things: one, it has been trying to get him to become an ‘informer’(a mukhbir) to use him to get ‘intelligence’ on criminal activities. Second, it has been using him (and many others) for other more honourable purposes. Right from the time that he was sent to Tihar jail (they call it judicial custody!), some constable or the other would come to their house at any odd hour of the day or night and ask: “Aur aapki kya seva karein?” (What service may we do for you?) The poor hapless family members never understood that they were only asking for service: They would let off the son without charges (after all he is not named anywhere) if only they were sensible enough to…But poor folks! They just didn’t get the ways of these people. “With you, For you, Always”: With a motto like that you can’t possibly ask for favours; you can only give, no? So, the family didn’t get it and so here he is: still an asamee, while the others, actually named in FIRs but with more seasoned parents, finally let off!
So they picked up Sampat on 17 July. No, picked up is not the right word. He was asked to report to PS Mandawli for ‘haziri’. He did and was detained. Sent to Kalyanpuri PS for the night with two new charges under section 107 and 150 CrPC. Once again, surprise surprise! They let off the other two (co-accused in the earlier case) as their parents made it, yet again, in time. As a humourous aside, inside the Kalyanpuri PS, cops asked him repeatedly: “Daaru piyega? Chicken Magvaein?” I promise a dinner to anybody who can decode the meaning of this magnanimous offer. PC Dadwal might be able to tell us how much budget they have for history sheeters and criminals’ dinner in police lock-ups. Maybe he might want to tell us that they serve whiskey and chicken in New York prisons and lock-ups as well!

Meanwhile, a side story. About six months ago, while Sampat’s case was going on, one other young lad (age, about 21, let’s call him Arvind) who is very closely known to me, was walking down the road in front of our housing society complex. It was around 7 pm. Not very dark. He was accosted by a group of three/four young men on motor bikes. They slapped him and took away his mobile. Arvind went home and narrated the story to his parents and they came out with him to the spot where the incident had occurred. With nobody there, they waited. Looked around. And just then, two mobikes zipped past them with these fellows. Twice this happened. Clearly the boys were quite confident that nothing would happen to them in the PS Mandawli area. And how right they were. For, the third time Arvind’s brave mother just latched on to the zipping mobike and they managed to get hold of one of the guys. They call 100: With You, For You Always. No Reply. Again. No Reply. And then they come ‘online’, take the details and hang up. For almost one hour nobody surfaces. They call again and say: We have got the guy, please do come. Clearly, the first time round they had not realized that the guy had actually been caught. Sure enough the ‘gypsy’ appears within fifteen minutes. They are all taken to PS Mandawli. From the person of this captured fellow wads of currency notes and jewellery and chains etc are recovered. While they are there, Arvind’s parents notice some people who have come to register their theft complaints and some of them seem to recognize their ‘chain’ or other jewellery. After this, the evidence you would imagine, is quite clear, prima facie. It takes however the whole night for the police to register the complaint. No one present wanted to be the one to register it. Hmmmm…. Interesting Mr Dadwal. Maybe that’s how NYPD does it as well?

Meanwhile, the Jansatta with Amalesh Raju’s byline published on 19 July a front page anchor: “Badmashon se kam, Police se zyaada darte hain log”. The report is about areas like Vikas Marg, Laxmi Nagar, Shakarpur, Pandav Nagar, Vinod Nagar, Mayur Vihar, Kalyanpuri and…..Mandawli. His report based on interviews with a range of people from traders and small shop-keepers to ordinary students shows this verdict to be unanimous: All they do is come for their weekly booty and harass. Badmashes only appear, according to these folk, once in a while. But these guys are there, With You, For You, Always! Amalesh Raju’s report tallies with my own ethnography and I hope to keep you posted on further results on PS Mandawli.

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