Last Tuesday, at around 8 in the evening, I got down at Uttam Nagar East Metro station. As usual , today too, footwalk was occupied by grocery sellers and other hawkers. The minor difference was that occasional presence of traffic officer, or I thought that he was an officer. Even though I had been advised several times to pick my battle, it’s hard for me to turn my eyes away and not act if something unjust is happening in front of my eyes. Moreover, this misuse of the public place had been a daily nuisance.
I asked the officer, “Sir, these folks who are selling things here, do they have a permit to do this?”.
His name was Ramesh Singh.
“You ask this from the officer in the police vehicle ahead. ”
“You don’t know anything about this?”
“Can you see this?”, he pointed to his shoulder. “There are no stars here. I am only a constable. I am doing whatever is in my power. I can’t challan them. All I can do is tell them to move. The officer in the official vehicle ahead is the SHO with two stars. Ask him why he doesn’t do anything.”
I didn’t have the time to do that. I started walking on to catch the next bus. The constable followed me. “What do you do?”
If I said Product Manager, it would invite follow-up questions. This profession isn’t so common yet. “I am an engineer.” No questions asked .
“You are young. As an elder, I am advising you to not get into these things. Certainly not in open. Everyone knows what’s wrong. They are all involved. They all want a pie. Being in uniform, I can’t speak too much.”
I was angry on this advice. But felt sorry to for the officer. He must be of my father’s age. He spent entire life in fear. Even today, in spite of being in the uniform, he hesitates in speaking his mind because he doesn’t find himself secured. His despair was very evident on his face. He wanted to say something more. It seemed that words had almost formed. But at this moment, his silence was way louder than any words he could speak.”
He looked around. Then said, “Listen. These people don’t value life. Nothing is dearer to them than money. If you come in the eyes of people, then what they can do to you , no one knows.”
“I wrote letters to all these – MCD, Delhi Police, PWD, Kejriwal”
“Good. Keep working like that in stealth. You don’t need to speak to anyone. You don’t need to go anywhere. You have your life ahead of you. Asking questions like that in open won’t do anything.”
I thanked him and moved forward. I understood that he was doing all he could practically.
As I turned around, I saw him following me. I didn’t know if I should keep going or stop. The crowd of hawkers and everything else had blocked the way ahead so moving further wasn’t an option anyway. And then as I tried to make space and move around I found he was standing next to me.
” We also want same things as civilians like you. Why wouldn’t we want to find a place to walk on the footpath when we pay taxes? Without the uniform, we also face same parking troubles as you do.”
His frustration with the system was very clear. Perhaps he never got the opportunity or right people to express it to.
“Our entire department was against Kejriwal. Still, I voted for him. Now ask him why he doesn’t do anything for here.”
An e-Rickshaw to Dabri was ready.
“I will remember your advice”, I thanked him again and got into e-Rickshaw.
PS: The name of the officer has been changed to protect the privacy of the constable.