Sam D’Cruz was a friend and neighbour. He lived by, among other things, arranging fake degrees for youngsters who were trying to go abroad for a job. Soon as he was out of jail the third time, he wangled a diploma in automobile engineering by paying Rupees 2000 to a free-lance broker, and then by shelling out Rupees 5000 to a government broker, he got a license of Competent Engineer for certifying oil tankers. When I met him, he was earning several thousand Rupees a month for certifying tankers without ever looking at them. Having been in and out of jail in his youth, he moonlighted as a police informer. A good man in the eyes of God, yet to atone for any unintended sin he could be committing during the course of his work and for squealing on his fellow-thugs, apart from beating up his wife, D’Cruz sent Rupees five thousand a month to the Pentecostal church in Chennai (Old Madras) every month.
The point is: Sam D’cruz knew which Muslims were building bombs, which Hindus had bought automatic machine guns from weapon smugglers, and how many policemen and officers were involved in each smuggling operation of weapons or drugs. D’Cruz held enough anecdotes in his cerebral kitty that he could have written the script for a never-ending television serial in Hindi or the local vernacular. Instead, he used them to regale us in our private club of Rum-and-cola buddies. Among the many true stories about police cases he told us was this one about a bear masquerading as monkey or was it a monkey masquerading as bear – I couldn’t yet grasp while recording this story almost ad verbatim.
Mangat Ram Sharma, son of Late Lala Tangat Ram, President of the local chapter of PETA – People for Ethical Treatment of Animals – went scouting in a reserved forest outside the City of Gandhi Nagar. Before he could pull the trigger of his double-barrel at a spotted cheetal, a notorious bear caught him from behind and hugged him to death.
The body bore tell-tale marks of a bear-attack, so pressure fell on the police to find the bear. The Chief Minister, whose election was financed by the victim of the bear-hug, who was also to finance the next election, called the Home Minister, and the Home Minister roared at the Inspector General, Inspector General at the Deputy Inspector General who in turn warned, cutting proper channel, the local Police Sub-Inspector that if he did not find the bear in the next 24 hours, he would be transferred to some town where there were no bootleggers and whores or, for that matter, elephant-tusk poachers.
The Sub inspector (SI for short), who had wangled the posting to Gandhi Nagar police Station at great personal cost and lived a happy and prosperous life at the expense of forest poachers who smuggled out rare birds and elephant tusks, was greatly upset. Occasionally when a Thakur (of the landlord-caste) beat up an untouchable Dalit to death or raped his wife or something similar happened, Sub Inspector Rattan Lal made a fortune. Naturally, he did not want to be posted out at any cost. He ordered his constables to go get the notorious bear – and after an afterthought – any damned bear. The thunder in his voice shook the roof of the police station.
The policemen combed through the forest all the way to the boundary with Nepal. When they found no bears, they chased monkeys – the larger ones with black fur. Some langurs who bared their teeth at the policemen and scratched or bit a few of them were shot and wounded, others went into hiding. None could be caught.
One of the monkeys, a lion-tailed macaque affectionately known as Kiki in the harem of his father, learnt what the two-legged humanoids were looking for. He knew the killer bear who once hugged and mauled his mother, so had a raw bone to pick. He made bold to land up at the police station to report that he knew the bear, and where he (the bear) could be found. He was promptly arrested.
“This is the one, for sure,” said the Senior Police Constable, so ranked for his vast experience.
Can’t find the culprit, catch the one on the pulpit was a favourite adage among the police.
“But he is not a bear,” moaned the SI, who woefully lacked Senior Police Constable Kuldip Singh’s seventeen-year experience in the same rank and the same posting and had managed to build a mansion in the nearby village and to bag a wine-shop contract for his son in the city. He made three times the earning of SI Rattan Pal who had to bargain with prostitutes, dacoits and killer zamindars for his monthly receipts. For Kuldip Singh policing was a hobby, for his boss Rattan Pal, it was his lifeline.
“Now, now, Sir, we will make him one”, said the Senior Police Constable with a suggestive twinkle in his eyes. The SI respected the old bandicoot’s thirty-five years of experience, seventeen years as a senior con, in the force.
“Then do the needful,“ ordered the Inspector whose eyes too bore a reflected twinkle.
Every police station keeps a constable with great agility and ability to roll human bodies under his boots, stretching the victim’s balls till they looked like ribbons, folding his right arm and pounding the victim on his back and punching him in the solar-plexus. Such a person in Gandhi Nagar Police Station was Kamlapathi Trivedi, a pure Brahmin who always bore, defying regulation, a blood-red vermilion dot on his forehead and a thin bundle of long hair at the back of his cropped scalp. Trivedi’s specialty was driving pins under the victim’s nails and rolling a heavy pestle over his body till bones cracked – the last technique he learnt while on a deputation to Kerala Police. Nobody believed his boast that he was trained in a distant Amrikyan place called Gantu-namo Bay.
So the same Constable was called for doing, as they say in India, the needful.
At lights out, Trivedi started working on extracting confession from the monkey, Kiki Macaque, that he was the killer bear. The exercise went on through the night. Nearby houses – Police Stations are housed in rented places in or near housing colonies for citizens’ safety – familiar to the screams and wails that rose from the police station every night, closed their shutters, wondering why this time the screams and wails were somewhat shriller than human screams. They didn’t dare investigate.
Next morning, the monkey Kiki Macaque and Constable Kamlapati Trivedi emerged from the pooch-thach (interrogation) room – both disheveled, woefully exhausted, and smeared in simian blood.
Any event in the state was a cause for a mob riot. Outside the police station, crowds had assembled wanting to tear apart the killer of Mangat Ram. They shook the barricades planted outside the walls to forestall such a mob attack. Hundreds of hired workers were brought from the city in Corporation buses which stopped outside the gate and disgorged protesters holding up ruling-party flags written with the slogan
Khoon ka badla khoon, jaan ka badla jaan
Hum marenge bhaaloo ko, marenge uski bibi-jan
(Blood for Blood, Life for Life,
We’ll Kill the Bear and his dearest wife.)
The air was celebratory like the occasion of Durga Pooja when several colourful idols of the beautiful and plastic-bejeweled mother goddess astride a ferocious lion, some huge and some tiny, were drowned in the local lake. They demanded that the police hand over the killer bear so they could drown him in the local lake or hug him to death the way he dealt with beloved Mangat Ram-ji.
When that demand was rejected outright, the leader of the procession looked for any police jeep to burn. None could be found because with wisdom borne out of experience, the only jeep, three motor cycles and five bicycles had been hidden away the previous night. Exasperated and deeply disappointed, the leader instructed his followers to burn any jeep, car and public bus within a radius of four kilometers. The drivers of the two buses that brought them to the scene tried to turn around and speed away, but were caught and beaten up. As an afterthought, it was decided to spare the buses so the leader and his hirelings could be transported back home later in the evening, Only their windshields were smashed. No fun in demonstration without destruction. Soon black smoke and flames rose up from several streets, a few explosions of bursting of fuel tanks resounded in the air. One small car, a newly made Maruti-Suzuki, flew in the air, hovered for a few moments like flying saucer as the excited town watched , and fell like a crashing airplane. Men clapped their hands in joy. The leading sloganeer came up with a new verse:
Bhaloo thu tho fansi chhadoge,
Mangatram ji tum Amar rahoge.
(Bear, you will be hanged, Mangat Ram-ji will never die).
Kamlapathi Trivedi, as soon as he recovered from the exhaustion of rolling, kicking, nail-pulling and punching the monkey all through the night, realized that he needed an urgent bath before his morning worship of Lord Ram followed by a recital of forty odes to placate the monkey-god Hanuman. The odes were more important because the monkey whom he rolled and banged and whose nails he pulled out was of the same race as of Hanuman-ji. The crowd outside had thickened; there was no question of his being able to go home for a bath.
The monkey, though of Lord Hanuman’s tribe, was in no shape for a bath. He sat licking his own blood and mourning under his breath.
At 9 AM sharp, the Sub-Inspector of Police (SI) Rattan Pal, the highest officer in the vicinity, and the one entrusted with the arduous job, entered from the backdoor to avoid being mauled by the crowd out in the front. Promptly, as if on cue, the telephone rang.
SI Rattan Pal picked up the phone.
“Shamsher here,” growled the voice from the other end. “Did the bear confess?”
That was DIG Shamsher Singh IPS, Deputy Inspector General of Police.
Rattan Pal suddenly felt piddly, but held himself. He called out to Trivedi who promptly put his head out through the door of a one-tap bathroom of the rented two-bedroom house which housed the police station that the llandlord wanted to get vacated and was promptly discovered with two kilos of ganja in his house. Thereafter, he gave no trouble and the police stayed put.
Rattan Pal twisted his neck around like a movie ghost and asked aloud: “Pandit-ji, did the bear confess?”
Though a lowly constable, Trivedi deserved to be addressed Pandit-ji because he was a twice-born Brahmin. Once born from his mother’s womb, then born again to a superior status when he was adorned with a looped sacred thread and taught a secret mantra of from the Vedas and initiated him into the study of scriptures. The ceremony assured him a place in heaven and a higher status among ordinary men on earth, especially Shudra-castes who should wear no such thread. He wore the thread around his torso like a cross-belt that reached out from his left shoulder to his right hip.
Trivedi had just answered the nature’s call, so to answer his boss’s call, he only showed his hairy torso and head through the gap when he opened the door just a little. He was almost nude, only hiding his bare essentials with a strip of wet loin cloth which failed to hide his abundant pubic hair. His sacred thread was slung over his left ear to avoid the other end touching his crotch and thereby losing its sanctity.
“Sa’ab, the Sister fucker keeps lying he is a monkey, that his name is Kiki and that he had only come to report a bear-sighting.” Sensing the inspector’s frown in disapproval of his nudity, Trivedi closed the door till only his head was visible. It showed his short antenna of a few strands of knotted hair behind his cropped head. The antenna was meant to speed a Brahmin’s communication with gods above when he chanted the sacred mantras.
Rattan Pal ignored the fact that Constable Trivedi did not wish him Jai-Ramji ki (Victory to Ram) which also reminded him that he hadn’t wished the DIG either. Too late now; but he hoped that the DIG did not notice the lapse.
“Could you not make the sister-fucker confess that he is a bear?” He screamed into Trivedi’s face that stood out between the door and its frame as if it was a decapitated head.
“Sa’abji, I swear on Lord Ram, I broke every bone in his body. He is out there in the pooch-thaach room, his bones jutting out, his body bleeding all over, his balls flattened into a ribbon. Yet the mother-fucker lies that he is a monkey – some kind of a Maa-kak.”
Every police station, however small, had a torture room, named the pooch-thaach (enquiry) room with its stock of broad, coarse leather belts, knuckle dusters, pestles, nails, pliers, hammers, pounders, the works except a wooden cross or a quartering wheel whose secret mechanism the old British masters never revealed to their Indian subjects. When not in use, those valuable tools were hidden away in a secret corner of the pooch-thaach room.
Deputy Inspector General of Police Shamsher Singh, IPS, had overheard the entire conversation. Sweat glistened on his forehead, the incompetence of his abject subordinates induced an urgent need to rush to toilet. But this was not the time for such niceties. He knew that the Home Minister was listening in on the other line; there will soon be calls from the Chief Minister himself. Killing of the President of PETA, out on a secret hunting trip, was no simple rape-and-murder case that could gather dust among a mountain of files cast away on slotted-angle shelves. Mangat Ram was the highest contributor to the ruling party during elections. All that he ever wanted in return was the continued state presidentship of the state’s branch of the PETA (which gave him a free run on the forests), weekly full-page government advertisements to his daily Din-Rat Samachar (Day-night News), chairmanship of the state board of cricket with a chance to go to the Board of Cricket Control India and a seat in the state planning commission. Known as a truly great soul and benefactor of the poor. Mangat Ram’s wife had threatened, amidst long wails, that she would expose the government if her husband’s killer was not caught and hanged in the next seven days.
To make matters even worse, there was an article in the opposition’s mouthpiece newspaper implying that Mangat Ram was eyeing the Chief Minister’s chair and that the government had deliberately released a man-eating bear during Mangat Ram’s inspection visit for ensuring the preservation of rare birds in the forest. It was due to Mangat Ram-ji’s strenuous efforts and frequent visits, said the op-ed, that cheetals were no longer endangered, that elephants held on to their tusks, the Adjutant Stork (sacred Garuda, a dscendent of the flying vehicle of Lord Vishnu, the Supreme God-head) and Brahmin Shelduck were being sighted again. Though nobody had ever heard of a man-eating bear, the article created a storm among conspiracy theorists and opinionated busy-body circles that circulated in way-side tea shops. The CM had every reason to worry, and hence to be furious. Those tea-shop gossips held the key to election success.
“Sir,” pleaded SI Rattan Pal to the DIG. “The Pandit I got here for the job, maff karna (pardon me), is a chuthiya; the killer has not confessed, but is now nearly dead.”
Chuthiya had a sexual connotation, but normally was included among the more decent profanities. It was taken to mean imbecile, ignoring the first syllable, which meant female genital. It was not too bad a word you could not use while speaking to such a big superior
Rattan Pal continued:
“There is a huge crowd outside roaring for the blood of police more than that of the monkey – I mean bear. There is no water in the fire hydrant or else we could drench the mob and cool tempers. All the tear gas we had was used up on the Eid procession that threw stones at a way-side Ganpati temple and the Ganpati threw back soda bottles – the affair ending in the death of three Mussalmans and two Hindus. If we don’t make the monkey- I mean bear – confess and he is taken to court, there will be a repetition of the killings – this time between Thakurs and Dalits. You need to send the reserve police, five tankers of water and lots of tear gas. Or the police station will burn down and we will die inside.” The fear in his voice was palpable.
.As an after-thought that Rattan Pal believed was an inspiration that came to him, he asked:
“May we, Sir, by the way, throw the monkey at the mob and let them tear it apart?”
“Idiot,” roared the DIG. “Won’t they all realize that what you caught is not a bear? They will tear you apart instead, not the monkey, not the dalits.”
Dalits was a recently introduced dignified name for the traditionally undignified low castes, the same way as black people became African-Americans in the US.
Rattan Pal’s mouth gaped open in the sudden realization. He ordered a constable to drag the monkey deeper inside the secret room, and keep him in the shade, far away from any prying public eyes. Howls of agony rose from inside the enquiry room as the monkey was dragged.
“You people are bloody useless brother-in-laws,” said Shamsher Singh.
Rattan Pal was shocked and humiliated. The word Sala, meaning brother-in-law was an expletive worse than being called sister-fucker. Sala is the brother of one’s wife; hence the word implied “I will screw your sister.”
“Who is that chuthiya hitman of yours?”
SI Rattan Pal, still nursing the hurt of being called Sala, said:
“Trivedi, Sir. Police Constable Trivedi.”
“A fucking Pandit for a hitman in a police station! Oh God, next there will be a Brahmin hangman, and I won’t be surprised. This sala Pandit could be a Chaturvedi for all I care. Totally useless. Bloody chuthiya. Can’t get a confession out of a monkey even.“
The name Trivedi meant a Pandit who mastered three Vedas, Chaturvedi was one up, for he was supposed to know four Vedas. Shamsher Singh, being a high-caste Hindu, knew the hierarchy in the religion. Perhaps it was dinned in at his IPS (Indian Police Service) training.
Shamsher Singh was aware that the Home minister was still holding on to the other line, and listening in. He could hear the hard breathing. He paused to raise expectations on the part of the Home Minister. Then, after a pregnant pause, he exploded:
“You guys are useless. Buck-wash. I’ll use my Ram Bann and get the monkey – I mean bear – to confess!”
He ground his teeth, hoping that the Home Minister will not notice his slip-up in mentioning monkey – the word was meant to be a state secret.
Ram-Bann was an arrow with which Lord Ram, the incarnation of Supreme God Vishnu, killed 14,000 forest dwellers in one night to please sages who wanted a free run on sacrificing wild deer to please Indra the god who wielded lightning for his weapon, the wind god, fire god, twin gods and several other gods. After the Rakshasas were thus decimated, the sages were able to continue their sacrifices and to decimate a lot many spotted deer and offer their fat to the fire-god, chanting uninterrupted vedic chants, winning accolades from the poet sage Valmiki who wrote a whole epic in praise of Rama’s killing prowess among his good deeds. Celestials stood above the clouds and threw down confetti of lotus petals. As on earth, mass killing raised much excitement in the heavens. Gods were praised for their weaponry and tagged with the names of their victims – male, female or animal.
Since the killing of 14,000 with a single arrow, Ram-Bann was used to mean something deadly and beyond compare.
SI Rattan Pal waited. He felt a snigger coming up from his throat, but didn’t dare jump the gun and challenge what the DIG’s Ram-Bann was.
“I’m right now asking the DSP of Bhagalpur to send Saligram Mandal to your police station. He will teach the monkey to confess and not flinch about admitting that he’s the killer bear.”
SI Rattan Pal Khatri felt knocked out. He could not help thinking of the public ridicule that would bring him and how other inspectors in the Police Club would needle him for his surrender to the SI Raghunath of Bhagwanpur, a mere Kurmi, way below his own Kshatriya caste – the warrior class from Mahabharat times. They would laugh in his warrior-class face that the hitman trained by him couldn’t get a confession from a mere monkey. He had heard of Senior Police Constable Saligram Mandal. Who hadn’t? The most notorious – or famous depending on who was asking – among the policemen of District Bhgwanpur – if not of the entire State..
Till two years ago, it was said, that the district of Bhagwanpur and its surroundings were in the grip of a horde of criminal gangs. Nearly every train that passed by was stopped and looted, bus passengers were unloaded, their baggage snatched, those who resisted were stabbed or shot with country-made pistols. They pulled aside better-looking girls as if they knew the law of Moses, and gang-raped them in public view. When trains and buses did not run in protest, they attacked houses; beat up the men and took away the younger women.
The bigger fish among the thugs was difficult to net, and those who were caught were soon released by orders from politicians in power. So most of those who were caught were Gangotras – a nomadic tribe with no land, no money and no job, declared a criminal tribe by the British a hundred years before and prevailing as such in police records.
The general consensus in the police department was that the law was an ass and the judges could not be trusted. If a few, guilty or not, were shot or seriously wounded, then the others would be too frightened to go in to loot and rape. The best technique in that line was called encounter – catch a few crooks – some of them hard nuts, others expendable dalits – and shoot them dead. While at it, a marksman would shoot and scrape the skin off one of the policemen among them to prove that the dead had shot the first rounds when they were confronted; the police acted in self-defence. The constable thus injured got an award and a small cash prize for his bravery.
A list of known, suspected and unknown criminals were soon drawn up. Names of Thakurs, members of the Zamindar Sena (army of landlords) and pick of hired killers in the employ of political bigwigs were struck off by the Superintendent before it was sent to the Inspector General for scrutiny and approval.
It was not the protests by the press or criticism of a few self-styled do-gooders that put an end to encounter killing. Government decided that expenditure on the police department was shooting through the roof. There was the perpetual cry for better salaries, senior officers kept asking for beefing up the manpower to justify their promotions. A matter of concern was the mounting cost of bullets.
“No more encounter except under direct orders from the CM,” was an order circulated secretly among the higher ups. The worker-class ranks up to Head Constables couldn’t understand why they were being given fewer live targets ticked off as Maoists for target practice; those in the inspector ranks had an inkling, those above Superintendent-level privately cursed the legislators who had money for raising their own salaries, but none for bullets, and none for giving the police officers a raise.
In the meanwhile, the rise in crime rate overshot the nation’s inflation rate. Every police station in the state was given a free hand to find their own solutions to stem the rate in their area, but without encounter killing.
Sub Inspector Raghunath Kumar Kurmi of Bhagwanpur police station hit upon the technique of meting out exemplary punishment, hoping for a hurried promotion to Assistant Police Inspector and a President’s Police Medal. Once the inspiration struck him, he used his constables to collect empty eye-drop vials from the government hospital. Not even the doctors dared ask why so many empty vials from the hospital’s garbage dump were being picked up by policemen. Another couple of constables were sent to secure for free a few acid bottles from the automobile shop nearby, which they did by twirling their mustaches and pretending to look for any criminal hiding inside their workshops.
When the accessories were collected, SI Kurmi explained the plan of action which impressed most of all ranks below him; the head constable said the plan was even better than any encounter killing he had witnessed. Only one young man, a rookie just out of police training school where they taught great principles of policing and psychological techniques of investigation, Constable Madhusudan Jha commented that he felt a nausea coming up. The plan was horrible, he said. His name meant Madhu-killer, Lord Vishnu the greatest killer of them all, but this Vshnu-namesake proved to be too soft a sissy, a spineless hijra (eunuch). Madhu-killer’s revulsion towards the great plan did not please Kurmi; he was told to go home and look after his ailing mother and get back only after she was completely cured. Shocked to hear that his mother was ill, and intrigued that his relations sent the message of her illness to the inspector and not to himself, which was cause for concern, Madhu-killer rushed to catch a bus to his distant village.
It was Saligram Mandal, then a low-level Constable who suggested bicycle spokes. A number of spokes was cannibalized from the confiscated bicycles disintegrating in the station’s junkyard. To the surprise of other constables, Saligram, who became the de facto leader of the operation despite his humble rank, chose only rusted spokes along with their fat metal caps. The empty eye-drop vials were filled with battery-grade sulphuric acid. When an ageing constable’s hand shook while filling the vials and acid spilled burning the knots of his knurled fingers, someone suggested the use of a rubber glove, which was promptly procured from an electrician’s workshop. SI Kurmi suggested sharpening both ends of the spokes. Saligram said that wasn’t necessary, that the metal caps of the spokes created more space for easy flow
‘You are not going to take them for a walk in the park,’ he said. Kurmi conceded the point.
SI Kurmi, being tenth-class pass and technically inclined, suggested that they first try the technique on an easy target. Prisoner No. 17, Daulatram, whose name meant Rich-God, forty seven years of age in the books, but already bent down, of unsteady gait on spindly legs, not much matter between his ears under a scalp with white dandelion-hair, and did not know what he was in prison for, was chosen to be the prototype.
“Daulat, do you know why you get caught so often?”
“Kismet,” said the Rich-God. “Bad luck. “I haven’t hurt an ant.”
“That’s the problem. Your eye-sight is bad, very bad. We will repair your eyes with Ganga-jal, the sacred water of Ganges.”
Ever since then battery-grade sulphuric acid came to be known as Ganga-jal, water of the sacred river Ganges or Ganga
Old Rich-God suspected something was up, but to avoid a pounding with elbows on his painful back, he obediently lay down on the bare charpoy of bamboo frame and bamboo legs, woven with rough coir strings for bed. For reasons Rich-God couldn’t quite fathom, four policemen pinned him down hard on the coir strings. Saligram was quick; wearing the rubber glove on his working right hand, he drove the bicycle spoke hard and straight into the pupil of Rich-God’s right eye, gouging the cornea, shattering the lens inside. Even before the horror and the pain shot through the victim’s wearied nerves, Saligram pulled out the spoke, whose blunt end came off with some jelly-like stuff and blood. It happened with clinical precision, just like so many millennia ago, 12-year old Lord Ram’s arrow removed the nose and a breast of a woman named Tadaka. But for the blood and the jelly that marred the beauty of the roundness of the hole, Saligram had made a perfect opening. Rich-God howled like a pig in a village slaughter house; his back arched upward; his legs flayed, his manacled arms stiffened. SI Kurmi passed a vial of battery acid which Saligram squeezed into the hole he made. Rich-God tried hard to flay his legs while howling like the proverbial pig of the butcher shop.
Without further delay, Saligram went for the left eye while the policemen pressed Rich-God harder to keep him immobile. After a shill cry, Rich-God fainted. He fell through the broken coir strings on the floor and emptied an incredible volume of urine around himself.
Operation successful, Saligram, now in virtual command, called for the next patient. SI Kurmi was irritated by the air of authority that the mere Constable had begun to assume, but couldn’t help admiring the precision work. So he personally called for Prisoner No. 1 whom he called mareej (patient) No. 2. Since the coir strings were in tatters, and there was a pool of urine where Rich_God lay writhing and howling, it was decided that the next Operation Ganga-jal will be done on another part of the floor.
By eight-o’-clock in the evening, eight mareejs were operated with the capped ends of the rusted bicycle spokes. While those who underwent the surgery squirmed, rolled in their urine ( three on their poop) on the floor and howled in pain through the night, new ones were picked out early next morning. Several concerned citizens – among them community leaders, teachers and students who skipped their classes – dropped in to see what the tamasha – performance – was all about.
SI Kurmi stood on the edge of the veranda and addressed the crowd. He had learnt the format and technique of public speaking from the many politicians of ministerial ranks behind whom he had stood, his right hand on the butt of a revolver in its holster, as bodyguard when they addressed similar assemblies.
“Brothers and sisters,” he began although there were no women present in the crowd yet.
”We, who worship Bharat-Mata (Mother India) and the Father of the Nation, have been silently suffering when thugs and crooks, Gangotras and other mother-fucking scheduled castes have been committing dacoity in our houses, in buses and trains and dishonouring our mothers and sisters. You had been blaming us humble kotwals, doing our duty and trying to stem the crimes peacefully with only lathis for our weapon. The bandits are better equipped, they have the latest guns; dacoity and thuggery and rape are rising day by day. This can no longer be allowed to go on.”
He paused to catch his breath and to let the applause die down. Then he raised his voice and dropped the bombshell:
Kanoon andhaa hain, isliye gunhgar ko andhaa banana padega.
Law is blind, so the criminals will have to be blinded.
The applause this time was deafening. Some shouted Bharat-Mata ki jai! (victory to Mother India). Though Mother India was not at war, the rest of the audience echoed the slogan with much gusto. A modern-day sage had warned the world that he would behead any Indian who refused to shout Victory to Mother India whether of not the Mother was at war.
One young man who wore jeans and T-shirt and held a roll of newspaper in his hand asked:
“How do you know all those blinded are all criminals? Are they sentenced by a court to be blinded?”
A fat man in translucent dhoti and Gandhi-cap on his head tapped the nape of the young man’s head.
“Abe, goray, do you think the police are all chuthiyas? Are you teaching them the law?”
Gora meant white man, a pretender to civilization and hence the word served as an insult to any self-respecting brown man.
The young man, finding no support, pursed his lips and walked away.
“Gandu,” (Assole), spat the fat man in Gandhi-cap.
Eleven patients – four sentenced criminals and seven under-trials – were blinded that day. Mandal had picked up speed.
Eighteen, and counting.
The young man who asked the impertinent question and was dismissed as an assole determinedly cycled to the police superintendent’s office twelve kilometres away and reported what he believed to be a terrible atrocity against human rights going on in Bhagwanpur police station. He offered to give a complaint in writing. The Head Constable at the desk asked if he was the brother-in-law, son-in-law or father-in-law of any of those who were being given the acid treatment. When he answered no, he was locked up for the day for creating public nuisance.
On the third day, many more convicts and undertrials for Ganga-water surgery were brought in from other police stations in prison-buses protected with steel grilles. They were warmly received by SI Kurmi and his platoon of constables with Saligram Mandal in the lead. The constables graciously helped the older convicts get down from the high floor-board of the bus.
While Saligram was spoking the cornea of the nineteenth patient from among the visitors, a free-lancer came with his box camera and requested permission to take a photograph of Operation Water of Ganges.
“Gladly,” said the Sub Inspector. Excited at the prospect of being photographed and appearing in print like a minister yet dutifully focused on his job. Constable Saligram tilted his torso at an acute angle so the photographer could get a good shot of the spoke going in directly into the cornea of Kittu Chamar, a railway pickpocket from next town whose caste was that of a lowly shoe-maker who should have stuck to his low-paying ancestral skill. Four constables strenuously pinned the man down on the floor with one hand each, brushed their hair with their fingers of the other hand and adjusted their collars, hoping that the camera would catch their determined faces. Sunlight streaming in through the bare window gave a good view for the camera. Four photos were taken from slightly different angles while Saligram kept the spoke poised in Kittu-shoemaker’s eye.
“Write in your papers how hard is our work to correct these terrible criminals.” Said SI Kurmi. The free-lancer nodded.
Satisfied with his catch, the free-lancer scooted away without thanking the police for their strenuous effort at eliminating crime. He quickly got several prints of the photo done and sent one each to Hindu Times, Bharat Samachar, Din-Rat Samachar (owned by Mangat Ram, then very much alive) and airmailed one to the bureau chief of BBC in Delhi, not forgetting to quote the royalty he expected for the photographs.
On that day ten more men were blinded. Once Mandal’s hand slipped while pouring the acid, which flowed down the man’s face creating a string of burnt bubbles down to his chin..
Next morning the news of Bhagwanpur blinding with the action photograph were splashed on all the newspapers – Hindi, English and even far-away Tamil. Opposition stomped into the well of the legislative house demanding an explanation for what they called the inhuman police brutality. The Chief Minister and the Home Minister sat beaming, knowing that the opposition was simply playing to the gallery, they were as pleased with the Ganges-water operation as were they. When the speaker hammered his desk till it cracked, and the opposition stalwarts’ windpipes seemed to have lost all power, the Home Minister got up to speak.
“Brothers,” he began, ignoring the speaker whom alone he should have addressed as per protocol and ignoring the three lady-members present in the house, “We know what is the crime rate of Bhagwanpur district and its surroundings – a legacy from the time when opposition were in these chairs.”
Members of the ruling party thumped their desks and shouted “shame, shame.” Opposition stood up as if to boycott the proceedings, but sat down on cue from their leader.
”None of us is safe; not even my dear brothers from the opposition who fed the thugs milk and bread. (Shouts of Shame, shame!). Our mothers and sisters live in perpetual fear of losing their most precious property – their ijjat, their honour. A woman who lost her precious property of ijjat is like a dead corpse, zinda lash, and like a widow, fit only to be thrown out of the society and to beg in the streets. Do we want that happen to our mothers and sisters, daughters and nieces? The railway minister in Delhi has threatened to stop all train services through our lines. The courts take twenty years and award a lame sentence after the witnesses are dead and the criminal is still at large. So I say that operation Ganges-water should go on. If you feel that the Bhagwanpur operation is wrong, I am willing to resign.”
“Then resign !” shouted the opposition leader, hoping for a reshuffle in the cabinet when he could switch parties and bargain for the chair of Home Minister..
“No, no, we are not saying it is wrong. We should blind every criminal and would-be criminal in the district till the place is safe and trains can run. Only the other day I missed a lavish wedding in Calcutta because the trains were not running. I suggest the speaker announce an adjournment so the members can witness the brave police officers in action,” said the opposition leader’s deputy who had an eye on the job.
A white man whom SI Kurmi called Marak Tooly Sa’ab from Englishman’s television came to investigate, accompanied by a smiling superintendent of police as his guide. Since the white intruder’s visit was known in advance, past victims of the operation were shut out and away from sight; their mouths taped shut. With the scorn-tinted respect due to any man of white skin, Marak Tooly was shown around with due caution and introduced to the convicts whose turn had not come. All of them parroted, their eyes belying their fear, that only a few of their brothers were operated for cataract and that they were all well and had gone home to recoup.
Yet the BBC report on television the very next day was a scathing attack on the police brutality which, the report said, was common in India. Since there were only a few black-and-white televisions in the state, all of them in the houses of the rich and infamous, BBC and Mark Tully’s crisp accusations, spoken in deliberate Hindi accent, made little impact. While the Madrasis down South expressed horror and newspapers in general wrote blood-cuddling reports, they softened the effect with an equally ruthless description of the rampant crimes in the state.
In all 42 men and two women – both prostitutes who refused free service and monthly payment to the constables on regular duty in Friday Street – were blinded. Old Daulatram Rich-God, mourning and wimpering through four days on his prison floor, thankfully died and was secretly buried. When the atmosphere within the assembly and outside got overheated with the description of the brutality, SI Kurmi, Senior Police Constable Kuldip Singh (who was on leave through the four days when the operations took place) and seven constables including Constable Madhusudan Jha who had returned with the good news that his mother was hale and hearty, were suspended. The home minister promised a departmental enquiry into the circumstances of the blindings and the consequences thereof and benefits if any.
Two weeks later, the Deputy Superintendent who had been appointed as one-man commission of enquiry filed a report that Operation Ganges-water , though technically wrong, was enormously successful, that crime rate had come down by 55% in the district and its surroundings. In accordance with the recommendation, Constable Saligram Mandal was promoted out of turn (since he had only 17 years of service in the rank of Constable) and made a Senior Police Constable. SI Raghunath Kumar Kurmi was promoted to the next rank of Assistant Inspector of Police. Other sepoys were simply re-instated with good remarks in their records. Constable Madhusudan Jha forfeited seven days’ salary and received a written warning for being absent without leave for those many dayson the false pretext that his mother was ill.
Since then, Senior Police Constable Saligram Mandal was known as Havidar Ram Bann Sahib. Saligram relished the new name with its holy connotation and the Sahib honorific, and marched about with a couple of bicycle spokes in a scabbard and a bag of acid vials in his hand. His name sufficed to make confirmed criminals as well as new undertrials confess and sign or place their thumb-prints on whatever papers that were shown to them. Rarely did someone in Bhagwanpur dare spread a rumour that crime rate was the same as it ever was.
So it was that, two years and six months later, DIG Shamsher Singh got the heaven-sent inspiration to fetch Senior Police Constable Saligram Mandal, aka Ram-Bann Sahib, to extract a confession from the bear masquerading as a lion-tailed macaque. Ever on the attention to take such an order, Saligram picked up his scabbard full of bicycle spokes with their metal caps, a pouch with half a dozen vials of battery-grade sulphuric acid and a single rubber glove and set off to the Gandhi Nagar Police Station in specially sanctioned police jeep where the assassin of Mangat Ram was held.
He was received with cheers and Jai ramji Ram-Bann ji calls to which SC Saligram Mandal responded with a political-style wave that half looked like a blessing. The public, this time at least half of them women, who surrounded the police station to get a darshan of the hero, exulted and screamed
Ram-Bann-ji ki jai, Bharat Mata ki Jai.
Victory to Honourable Ram-Bann, Victory to India. The last victory call was needed because one had to wear his patriotism on his sleeve.
Sub Inspector Rattan Pal Khatri resisted the temptation to join the crowd of lesser policemen who had crowded on the veranda to greet the hero. However, since his very professional future depended on the visiting Ram-Bann, he received Saligram’s salute by standing up, putting on his cap and returning the salute as smartly as taught in the training centre and never practised ever since.
“Aap hamara ijjat rakhega,” he said in bad grammar that was common in the local dialect. You must save our pride.
“Arre Sahib, yeh hamra duty hai . Hum hazir hoom,” answered Saligram with feigned modesty, and in the same bad grammar of the local dialect which meant he was doing nothing big, only reporting to carry out his duty.
Kiki Macaque the monkey was no Alpha male in his gang, but was tolerated, even treated affectionately by the leader. The chief, who was also his father, was grateful that although Kiki had grown to full adulthood, he did not try to fight him and snatch away his harem. When he was told that Kiki was going to the police to report bear-sighting, the chief jumped up and down, banged the ground with his knuckles and howled like a baby macaque. He knew how terrible were the ugly, tail-less two-legged humanoids, and tried hard to dissuade Kiki, his son, who was foolishly hoping for a reward from the hairless brutes known for their cunning.
“Don’t go, son, please come back. Those double-leggees have fire-spitting tea-trunks and metal sticks. I heard from my cousin in Ranchi hills that they now have a new terrible weapon called ganga-jal.” Those prophetic words had trailed off behind him as Kiki Macaque hopped away, hoping to get a reward for reporting the sighting of the bear who had attacked his mother, mauled and nearly killed her.
“I’m going to be a police informer, not a banana-thief. Why would they spit fire from their tree-trunk on me,” he had shouted back. As the old monkey-chief’s voice had trailed off, for some reason, the thought of ganga-jal gave him a mild shudder. Not long ago, an aunt in his father’s harem had gone to steal sweet jalebis from the forest ranger’s plentiful table. Since snatch-scratch-and run was her regular routine, this time the ranger’s maid was hiding in wait for her. The moment the aunt put in her face through the window, the two-legged beast threw a water-like thing on her.
“I threw ganga-jal, threw ganga-jal on the monkey,” cried the maid, clapping her hands in glee. Whatever that meant, the aunt ran back howling, and fell down before she reached the home-tree. Father Macaque came down to pick his favourite wife and was horrified, The skin of an entire side of her face had peeled off; one eye had fallen off its socket and dangled. It was still sizzling and smoking.
“The two-legged beast put ganga-jal on me,” were her last words.
So Kiki-macaque knew what exactly ganga-jal or Ganges-water was, he had dreamed of his aunt’s face several times and woken up in terror. Once the nightmare had almost made him fall from the top branch of a tree which was his favourite sleeping place.
Unable to straighten his excruciating back, Kikki-macaque dragged himself over his own congealed blood to get to the door for a clue what they could be planning for him next and what all the furore outside meant.
“No reason to worry, sa’ab. I’ve brought the tool that will get you a promotion. Even his grandfather would confess he’s the killer bear. I have brought the ganga-jal.”
A shock flashed through Kiki Macaque’s broken spine. He made up his mind then and there. The pain all over the body, flattened testicles and broken bones were one thing. He did not want to die the way his father’s favourite wife died.
As soon as Saligram sauntered in with his confessional tools, the monkey raised a broken hand with some effort.
“I confess I’m the killer bear,” he squealed.
Saligram stood stunned. Rattan Pal, who overheard the confession had his eyes nearly popped out. He rushed in to the interrogation room and almost slipped on congealed blood.
“What did you say?”
“Bring your papers. I will put my thumb-print on it. I am the bear. I do not want ganga-jal.”
Senior Police Constable Saligram Mandal was a wee-bit disappointed. It had been more than a year since he used the spokes and the acid. He was looking forward to refreshing his skill.
Kiki Macaque the monkey, his black fur and white mane sticking to his body with congealed blood, put his thumb impression on a confessional sheet of paper in the blood that flowed from under his pin-holed nails. He offered to scrawl a signature as well, but a monkey’s – he meant bear’s – signature will become suspect in the Court, advised SPC Kuldip Singh. Since everyone agreed with that wise line of argument, his signature was not sought.
Town butcher Muhammad Kasab was brought in to cut off the monkey’s tail which he did with a single practised stroke. Bleeding was arrested and the wound was bandaged by a quack who was promised safe passage. Since a barber could not be found, Kiki’s lovely white mane was cut short to fur-length and Painted black by SPC Pandit Kamlapathi Trivedi, who was sulking for being ignored and not trained on the Ganga-jal operation. “Not a Pandit’s job, I’m not a Na-ee, a barber” he murmured while snipping away the plentiful white mane. By ten at night, Kiki Macaque minus his white mane and long proud tail was ready to be taken to a magistrate.
Since Courts do not trust a confession obtained by police interrogation, and since the courts had retired for the night, the monkey was wrapped in a gunny bag and taken to a magistrate in his house. Magistrate Class II Khushwaha hid his glass of cheap flavoured rum labelled as whiskey on the floor behind his arm-chair, and assumed the best official posture he could muster under the circumstances.
“Do you, in the name of God, swear that you are a bear?” he asked.
The monkey howled a grunt when the Constable guarding him pinched a sore spot on his bottom , close to where his tail used to be.
“Good. Did you hug Mr. Mangat Ram Sharma, Son of Tangat Ram, the President of PETA and great benefactor of the poor and the needy?”
“Did you leave him in the forest trail to die after the cold-blooded murder?”
“Isn’t it true that you were captured by the brave policemen against claw-and-nail resistance on your part, and that you had not surrendered nor gone by yourself to report to the Police?”
Ouch. Grunt. Ouch. Grunt.
The magistrate personally ensured that the monkey’s hand was held by the Senior Police Constable and made to press his thumb on the confession sheet. The blood from his fingers and nails had been wiped clean earlier, so an ink pad with the regulation magenta ink was used. The magistrate signed with a flourish that the confession was made by the self-admitted bear of his own free will, and that neither physical force nor mental duress was applied to extract a confession.
Seventeen witnesses were produced in the criminal court against the monkey who had by then begun to believe that he was a bear. They swore that they were present when the bear – yes, Your Honour, the same bear that they earlier identified in court – had hugged to death Mangat Ram Sharma, benefactor of the poor and needy and lover of animals,. Prosecution did not ask the witnesses why they did not intervene. The court-appointed Defence, whom the monkey did not pay a Rupee yet and it didn’t look like he would pay any, did not ask any question nor raised any objection.
One of the witnesses, whom the judge recognized as one holding a frequent-witness card, testified that he had personally been attacked by the same bear a few months earlier. He showed the Court a deep scar on his exposed chest to prove the point. The judge vaguely remembered that the same witness had produced the same scar in another murder case a month or so before.
One needed to go by the evidence, not moral code, the judge wrote while sentencing the convict to death. This is a rarest-of-the-rare case, stated the judicial order, since the bear not only committed the crime, but masqueraded as a monkey and tried his best to destroy evidence. With the possibility that he could be in line for elevation to the higher Court in mind, the judge emphasized the rarest-of-the-rare phrase in the sentence, which he knew was a favourite phrase with Their Lordships of the Supreme Court. As a ffinal stroke to please te Supreme Court if the accused dared to appeal, he closed the judgment with these words:
“The circumstantial evidences withstanding, the credibility of the witnesses notwithstanding, this court is satisfied that the Collective Conscience of the Nation will only be satisfied if the accused is sentenced to the harshest punishment under the law. Hence you will be hanged by neck till death.”
Newspapers screamed foul. One produced an old photograph with a caption, “Are you blind? How can this puny monkey who is not a bear hug the massive Mr. Sharma to death? Do bears have white mane and long tail?“
Three days later, the journalist who made that report was found hanging from an iron beam on the ceiling of the only public toilet in town. A poet who wrote a soliloquy in verse on the plight of the poor and the helpless in Mother India was shot on the footsteps when he went to pick up the morning newspaper. The Deputy chief minister told the press that shooting the poet was certainly against the law, but all those who lacked patriotism deserved to be eliminated. The shooter was never found.
The editor of a weekly news magazine who published an article written all by himself from pirated data and photographs, but gave the names of his three data-entry operators as those who did the research, was arrested on a money-laundering case. A young woman who was named by the editor as one of the three researchers was raped in an auto-rickshaw by seven men, six of whom had earlier appeared in the witness box for the prosecution.
The Supreme Court on appeal conceded that a bear with a series of criminal records hugging a man to death was rare, that his masquerading as a lion-tailed monkey without tail and fooling the long arms of the law and the court was even rarer. For the sake of Collective conscience, the appeal was dismissed.
The Prime Minister in a nationally televised speech roared: “Let all those bears masquerading as monkeys beware. We know what you are up to. We can deal with you. For every citizen you hug to death, we will hug ten”.
A canned applause rang through television speakers. The screen showed a few faces showing victory signs to the television camera when they were given a sign from behind the camera.
The President, as was the custom, returned the recommendation to reject the killer’s mercy petition for re-consideration. When it came back with a request to advance the hanging date ahead of 479 other convicts on the death row, he acquiesced. At the age of 87, and two more years to go for an honourable retirement with a banquet and eulogies from the Prime Minister and the press, the President did not want to shake his rickety throne.
That night the convict on death row No. 480 was given a plate of peas, a cob of corn and a cup of honey which was the regulation last meal for a convicted bear, but which Kiki did not touch, wishing he had a last meal of bananas instead. At 4:30 AM next morning he was woken, shackled, and dragged to the backyard of the prison and made to stand on a wooden platform. Magistrate Khushwaha asked him if he had any last words or a message for the members of his family. The convict bared his teeth.
When they put the noose round his neck, it was noticed that his legs did not reach the platform. He was far too short when standing on his hind legs; he stayed suspended even before the plank was withdrawn. DIG Shamsher Singh, recently promoted to IG for his commendable services, directed Head Constable (recently promoted from Senior Constable) Kamlapati to quickly fetch a few planks of wood or a few bricks. Trivedi couldn’t find planks or bricks, so he brought four leather-bound gold-printed books from the Jail library: Constitution of India, We The People by Nani Palkhiwala, My Experiments with Truth with its author’s name and photograph defaced, and Animal Farm by George Orwell. When the books were piled on each other with My Experiments with Truth right at the top, the convict’s paws stood firm on it.
The hangman, who got paid Rupees 55 for each time he put the noose around a convict’s neck and pulled a plank from below, and had not been paid since the last hanging 15 years ago, grumbled that his was the only job that never got a raise during the last 125 years; that 55 rupees in Angrez time was a fortune but less than a pittance now, and that he was only doing his ancestral duty. He closed his eyes, said a short prayer to his goddess, and kicked the books. The convict, still a monkey with his tail hacked off and mane cropped and painted black, shot a stream of urine that missed Magistrate Khushwaha’s face. A gust of wind exploded from his behind, his legs shook for a few seconds, his head tilted and was still.
“I know the bear, and I knew the monkey”, concluded Mr. Sam D’Cruz.
 Holy vision