A biker's death in Delhi
It was quite a shock when I read the news that a young chap on a motorcycle was killed early on Sunday morning in Delhi.
Bikers die in India every day, and the papers write short articles reporting this every single day without ebb or break. You may not like it as a member - unwilling or otherwise - of this vast Indian community but in time you get de-sensitised and stop caring. Well, you care, but you don't give it all that much thought.
But this time, young Karan Pandey was shot in the back by a policeman. The report says Pandey was part of a large group of bikers stunting at Windsor Place when the cops arrived. The plan would have been, more or less, to tell them to pack and leave or that the police would pack them up and leave them in the lockup for the night.
But the youngsters didn't listen. The report says they pelted stones back at the cops and eventually, someone took a shot at deflating the tyre of the motorcycle Pandey was riding pillion on. With a live bullet. A miss, they say, is as good as a mile; but when a bullet takes out a human being instead of a rubber tube, a miss is a catastrophe.
If you see the comments you'd be surprised. I would have thought that the opinion would be unequivocal that the death of a young boy of 19 amidst a rowdy scene was unacceptable. That this could have been a punishable offence, that he deserved to be arrested, tried, punished. But that the arrival of live bullets in this situation was a bad move on the part of the police.
This isn't actually the case. The argument saying the police overstepped their bounds with the live ammunition is at best a subtext - usually bolstered by the rather simplistic suggestion that the Delhi Police should have switched to non-lethal suppression, like water cannons or rubber bullets. I agree with the suggestion, but I'd find it very hard to believe that the Delhi Police would have the resources required to have non-lethal force arrive as backup within minutes to diffuse the situation. This isn't an insinuation of incompetence as much as a matter of the Delhi Police doing the best it can with its limited resources and, in this case, making a mistake for which Pandey paid the ultimate price.
Why am I so forgiving of the Police? I'm not. I think the Police made a massive, massive mistake drawing guns in this situation. But I have had close friends whose parents were in the Police and I know this: you might not like the khakhi-clad man because you think he's lazy, unhelpful, sleazy and takes bribes. But more often than not, despite the image, they are helpful. And their jobs suck. The hours are long, pay is scant and job satisfaction is laughable as a concept. And if you pay peanuts, you're going to get monkeys.
To return to the reactions and comments, a majority of people have either commended the police on killing the unruly youth or suggested that this unruly behaviour on the part of the bikers has gone on long enough and that this was inevitable.
That scares me. I've written in the past that every time one of us climbs on a motorcycle, we are part of a large community and our actions shape the outward image of our community. That image isn't doing very well right now. It appears that most of us are anti-social, unruly, rowdy, chain-snatchers, eve teasers and incorrigible molesters of innocent mothers and sisters. It's not a brush I'd like to be painted with or a group or profile I'd like to be identified with on any level.
But how did it come to this? Who is at fault? I don't think there is a clear answer. Parenting has a role to play in this. On both sides too. As parents we've failed to teach our kids to have patience, to have the courtesy to wait our turn, to do a good job of whatever we do. We've taught them to jump queues, to push our way to the front if need be, to respect authority but be willing to chai-pani our way ahead if need be and to become doctors, engineers, MBAs, consultants and IAS officers. Which means the kids lack respect for authority, but more importantly, they don't have a clue about how to respect someone else's property or right.
The road is a public place. Which means we all follow rules so we all can use it as safely and with as little inconvenience as possible. Does this sound like your commute to work? It doesn't, right? Because you don't give the guy ahead his space and, in turn, the guy behind you does the same to you.
The policeman not only has these same values in all likelihood, he also has little or no incentive to do his job well. How many of you know people who said they want their kids to grow up and be policemen? I don't know one single person so inclined. How good a policeman do you think a chap is going to be when his growing years were filled with advice on becoming a doctor/engineer/MBA/consultant/IAS officer? In his head he hasn't succeeded at becoming a policeman, he's failed to become a doctor/engineer etc.
And what of the parents? How can it be okay for your 19-year old to be out in the dark, scary Delhi at 2am without your knowledge? How come you didn't even know your kid was hanging out with a group of friends who had motorcycles? What values did you inculcate that he didn't realise this was bad news?
A member of my family often complains that the government needs to ban this, outlaw that and so forth. This person seems to believe that external coercion is the sole way to keep our unruly society behaving like humans. I don't agree. One cannot legislate and enforce everything. Some of it has to come from within.
But this is all talk. Fact is, a mother has lost her child. Nothing can justify that or fill the void in that home.
I believe that the policeman who decided to use live ammunition made a grave error of judgement. That while the unruly boys weren't listening to authority, the situation didn't call for lethal force. I believe that human life isn't valued enough in India at every level and this is one more case that illustrates how insensitive we have become to how fragile life is and how important it is to protect each and every one of it.
I also believe that the young boys who were the source of the provocation should have their driving licences cancelled for life, imprisoned and then fined eye-wateringly. The motorcycles should be impounded, their registrations cancelled and the physical bikes, crushed and scrapped. The families should have to bear the loss of the vehicle they so callously allowed to be misused. The parents should know they've made a mistake and it needs to be corrected. The penalty for being caught riding and driving again after the cancellation should be even more severe.
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