Good girls from good families never go to a police station, yes?

Today I went to the Kodigehalli police station. I entered. Made eye contact with the station guard and told him that I would like to do volunteer work at this police station for a week.  He looked at me strangely and directed me to the station writer. I have found these people to be the most approachable in all of the three police stations that I have visited so far. They have opened up easily and come forward to help me. In this case the station writer first tried to understand what I wanted to do there at the police station. I told him that through volunteering I wanted to understand how my local police station works- as a curious citizen. Are you required by university/college to do this or have you come of your own? Why do you want to work here? When I tell them that it’s of my own accord that I have come here- some look suspicious, some amused and ask to see my ID card. On seeing my ID card this station writer instantly trusted and started to tell me his life story. He told me that he had won an award for making this film while he was at college. He shared with me that he participated in many extracurricular activities in school. He said that he drew and painted. He said that he had acted in some Kannada film in 2005. However, life with the police now does not encourage any of these things he said. He said that he gets no holidays on Sunday or days of public holiday as he is on duty at the station 24X7. No holiday for Diwali/ No holiday for New year. I asked him if he gets any holiday at all and he said they are entitled to take about 12 casual leaves in a year, besides the option of availing emergency leave when required. However he said that it depends if the leave gets sanctioned by his station house officer i.e the Inspector of Police. He told me that I shall have to ask the Inspector of Police if I could work there for a week but meanwhile he encouraged me to ask him questions that I may have about the police. I asked him to describe what his day looks like. He told me that he works from 8 am to 8 pm. The conversation was cut short… the sub-inspector of the station came by and the station writer introduced my case to him. The sub-inspector seemed reluctant to speak with me or even smile. When I smiled at him and wished him the time of the day he asked me what my business was. He gave me a contact of the sub-inspector at Yelahanka Police station who is a lady and told me that she would help me. After which he told me to go. I thanked him and told him politely that I shall go to the Yelahanka station tomorrow and meet the lady sub inspector. I asked him if I could hang around and speak to some of the other police personnel around. He said that I can speak to the Head constable seated at the reception area. This head constable Mr. Bannappa only spoke Kannada and what happened for the next 5 minutes between us was speech with action + some hindi+ some English words. But he spoke only Kannada and our conversation wasn’t getting anywhere. It is at these moments that I wish I could speak and understand the language. Somehow. Magically. There were many other moments that I felt this too during my long day at the station today. Not very many police speak English. Most know only Kannada. I wonder how a foreigner or someone not native to the state like me will communicate our complaint to the head constable who hears complaints and files them. May be we could use action hero citizens who know both the languages to come to our rescue.

I was at the police station for about 5 hours today and I didn’t see any woman walk into the station except in the evening at around 5 pm when two women came in. They looked nervous. They looked hesitant. They came sat next to me and I struck a conversation with them. Both the ladies knew Kannada but one knew English very well too. There was a brawl amongst 3 men happening in the station at the same time. One of the men was bleeding. The police treated the bleeding one harshly. They slapped him on his head and shouted at him. I couldn’t understand the context but my eyes observed behaviour and actions. I don’t know what it was that they were beating him for, but my heart went out to him for the way that they beat him. I asked the lady if she could tell me the context of the case. But the ladies had just entered and did not get it yet. I asked them what they were there for and the lady who knew English told me that she was accompanying the other lady whose gold chain had just gotten snatched this morning. They were there to file an FIR with the police. The ladies were friendly and they enquired what I was up to at the station. I told them what I was trying to do. I jumped at the opportunity to ask if I could see how an FIR was filed since I had never seen one. The ladies said of course and told me that this was the first time that they were going to be doing it too. A policeman came by and gave the women an A4 sized sheet of paper asking them to write their complaint. They addressed the letter to the Inspector of the station and wrote their complaint with details that they could furnish and signed it with their name, address and contact details. While I was observing this, a policeman asked what I was doing there. I told him that I was observing how an FIR was being filed. He told me to come along with him and showed me an FIR file of a recent case. I read the complaint and thanked the policeman. Meanwhile the ladies had finished with the writing of their complaint. I asked them if I could speak to them and they welcomed me. The beating was still going on. I was reminded of one of my readings about custodial torture by Jinee Lokaneeta and her talk at my university. Was thinking if this were happening right in front of my eyes. But I had no way to find out. I didn’t know the case and the police were at their job. I couldn’t question their methods and their judgement when I knew nothing about the case or policing, knew nothing about how to maintain law and order and their job. So I stood there and did nothing.

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Then I left.

I spoke to the ladies outside- I asked if I could follow their case to see how the process goes on. They allowed me to and have given me their contact details. The police had told them that they will come by the shop tomorrow where the incident occured and give them a copy of their FIR complaint after getting it signed by the sub-inspector of Police. I enquired to know what stopped the other lady from coming to the station alone to file a complaint. The lady who knew English- Lalita said that the other lady needed support and help with filing the complaint as she had never done it before or even entered a police station before. Good girls from good families never go to a police station, yes? Even Lalita told me that it was her first time in a police station too. Both the ladies were around 40 years old. I’m pondering over what stops a lady from walking into a police station to file her complaint- ALONE. The entire day at the station a lot of men came by. They came alone. They came in groups. But No woman came into the station alone. If at all women came to file any complaint, they came with men (Husbands/Brothers and relatives usually) or with other women. The police station is supposed to be a safe place, yes? One where one does not feel threatened or at risk. It must be welcoming and warm and at the same time be firm at employing the law of the land. How did I feel yesterday at the police station? Did I feel safe? I did, yes. I was amongst men (mostly). But I didn’t feel threatened by any police officer. But, I didn’t feel too welcomed either, since my proposition was of a strange kind. Some police whom I spoke to were warm to me. Some were not. However when the police spoke to the men behind the bars their tone, action and gestures changed. I’ve noticed that there is a difference of behaviour with the different kinds of people who come to the station: With the ones who come to the station well dressed (a clean, ironed pant and shirt) viz-a-viz those who come dishevelled, may be a little dirty. This second category of people are mostly the poor. I’ve noticed a sense of authority at display upon these poor people. Those who allow themselves to be subjugated; seemed to me to get subjugated by the police. There is such a marked difference in tone and voice and volume when I am being spoken to at the police station and when a poor roadside street vendor is being spoken to. And I wonder why?

I wonder if its because of the clothes that I wear, the way I carry myself, the fact that I speak English? Or because I’m a woman? Why are we constantly being judged by our appearances? Why does the poor man not deserve to be spoken nicely to? Can we learn to see people around us as PEOPLE first and not by the descriptions of what they may be?