“Jesus, we’re going to end up in an Indian police station for the night,” I said sotto voce to my friend, Asha.
She was sitting upright behind the steering wheel of her stationary car. A five-foot-nothing policeman towered over her and shoved a breathalyser through the open window.
“Blow,” he said to Asha.
Asha and I had been out to dinner. We had shared a bottle of wine.
The policeman glanced down at the breath tester. “Over the limit,” he wobbled his head. “Licence?”
“Sir, I don’t have it on me,” Asha said.
“Fifteen hundred rupee fine,” the policemen said.
“I don’t have any cash,” Asha turned to me.
“Neither do I,” I looked at her worriedly.
“Sir, I live round the corner,” Asha said to the policeman. “I’ll go home and come back with the money.”
The policeman’s head oscillated on his shoulders again, this time at a faster rate to show agreeance.
Asha drove off (under the influence of alcohol and without a driver’s licence), grabbed some cash from home, drove back (still tipsy from the wine), and handed the policeman two-thirds of the requested fine. “I only have a thousand rupees,” Asha lied to the constable. Ah, the art of Indian negotiation.
The policeman stuffed the money into his pocket. No receipt was given. Asha drove off.
This is not the only story of police corruption I can recount from my time living in India. I have watched a relocation agent bribe a police officer to obtain my resident permit. I have witnessed policemen meeting on street corners to divvy up cash collections. I have seen street hawkers paying off policemen in order to continue plying their trade illegally. My neighbour would bribe the local police whenever he wanted to throw rowdy, late-night parties at his house without interference. His parties were notoriously loud, because as a Muslim he would not permit consumption of alcohol inside his residence. Apparently a fully stocked bar in his garden was not going against Islamic belief.
Double-standards, bribery – it’s all part of life in India.