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sanjukta

Sanjukta Parashar is an IPS Officer in the Assam cadre.

Living life as a police officer in Assam won’t do your life insurance premiums any good and here’s why…

Assam is a North-Eastern province in India, that sees its share of sporadic strife and insurgency in the form of separatist movements that had been born during the Maoist uprisings of the 1970s and continue to plague the region.

Assam is also the joint where most of India’s land-based oil reserves are situated. Couple that with Assam’s proximity to China and Bangladesh, both of whom cannot be counted as the best of India’s friends, then Assam turns out to be a key province, to be stabilized and guarded.

As in most multi-cultural societies where one ethnic group enjoys the majority, the Assamese have always felt left out of the Indian mainstream and quite rightly so.  The powers that be in the Indian government choose to notice the existence of states like Assam, Manipur and Tripura only during the general elections. Add to that a considerable amount of ‘ethnic colonization’ with the forced settling of Hindi-speaking Indians and their families there and if you were Assamese, you would be pissed off too.

The strife has resulted in over a 100,000 deaths so far and shows no signs of abating. It is one of a few internal cysts that India has successfully managed to hide from the outside world. The neglect and economic exploitation by the Indian government are thought to be the main reasons behind the growth of these insurgencies.

The largest of the insurgent groups, the United Liberation Front of Assam(ULFA) seeks to establish a sovereign Assam through armed struggle. The Indian government has banned the organization, classifying it as a terrorist group, while the US State Department has slotted the ULFA it under “Other groups of concern”.

In this milieu lives and works, young Sanjukta Parashar, who also happens to be an active blogger, whose page I just discovered. Her writing sounds forceful, maybe even a bit too forceful, but all the same, a cop’s view of the general state of law and order and the hair-trigger relationship that they have with the ordinary public, is worth hearing about from the horse’s mouth.

Her latest post, titled ‘Misunderstanding‘ , is about the negative perspective that the general Indian public often harbors, of the Indian law enforcement agencies and their officers and how the public needs to introspect more, rather than dump the blame for the current state of affairs on the cops.

This is not however a misunderstanding. Rather, it is a refusal to understand each other, that has created this ‘us and them’ mindset in India. To a lesser extent, it manifests itself in the developed world too, as can be seen in the ongoing agitation over extra-judicial killings of unarmed blacks in the US.

At the root of the divide in India is corruption and like a snake, it can be eliminated only if the head is chopped off. In this case it would be the Indian lawmakers, who are among the most corrupt anywhere in the world. Chances are that the very person whom a Director General of Police reports to is corrupt himself, a bent two-bit politico, there to make as much dough as he can.

On the other hand, take corruption in Canada, where I live – at the street level at least, it is practically non-existent. Over here, no traffic cop will stop you and shake you down for Rs200. Let me give you an example –

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The other day, I didn’t halt at a stop sign and sure enough, there was a squad car on my tail, its flashers on. If a cop car following behind your car puts on its flashers, it is a sign for you to pull over. You have to slowly coast your car onto the shoulder, if it is a highway, or you’ll take the first right turn and slowly bring your car to a stop.

When you get pulled over, you must remain in your car, with your hands in clear view, on the 11 and 1 o’clock positions on the wheel. Never ever open the door and try to get off, unless you like to have your lungs filled with that element which has a chemical symbol ‘Pb’ and atomic number of 82.

I’m bad at chemistry, so I just remained in my seat, my eyes peering into the rear view and side mirrors, trying to get a better glimpse of the officer. It was a lone female cop. I watched as she checked up on me on her on-board computer. Then she opened the door and got off, adjusting her holster and clicking the safety off her Glock34 in one fluid motion. Simultaneously, her left hand traveled in one practiced motion to her waist and felt for her taser to check it was there.

Yeah, over here, a cop can never be too careful. Guns are so easily available, you could get blown away just like that. The perp will get life and maybe do 12 years, be a model prisoner and be out before he is past his teens.

The officer who approached me was blonde and lithe, with startlingly blue eyes that had none of the typical imperiousness of a cop but a frank openness in them. Not for the first time did I wonder at the sheer beauty that the Lord has bestowed on Caucasian women.

The Officer walked unhurriedly over, her eyes flickering over the immediate vicinity and the traffic flow, alert and ready. She stopped just short of my driver-side window, staying close to my car, so that if I had a gun, I would have to twist my torso more than 90 degrees to my left to point it at her.

“Licence et le certificat d’immatriculation s’il vous plaît, Monsieur,” (Your license and vehicle registration, Sir).

Flat even voice, not threatening, just flat.

“Qu’est-ce que je fais, Madame?” (What did I do, Ma’am?)

“Licence et le certificat d’immatriculation s’il vous plaît, Monsieur.” Over here you don’t question a cop, if you don’t want to get hand-cuffed (at best).

I reached my left hand through the window and held the documents out. She reached over and took them. Five minutes passed as she strode back to the squad car and entered the details into her computer.

“Do you know why you’ve been stopped?” She was back and had stationed herself exactly at the same spot just behind me. Her voice was cool and level, neither friendly, nor unfriendly. She had switched to English.

“No”, I said. And then, to lighten the tense moment, I blurted,” Shucks, there goes my overtime pay.” (I was on my way to work on overtime). Not wanting to leave it at that, I put my foot farther into my mouth – I pressed on,” What can I do? Its in my nature. You know how immigrants are. They never learn.” And I grinned at her.

Her face softened and she laughed. Cops know all about overtime, yeah. And about immigrants who think that they can zip in and out of traffic the way they almost certainly did, back in their native countries.

An instant camaraderie was born. She had ascertained that I was funny. Her body language told me this. Had we been in a bar, I’d be taking her home after the drink and beginning the process of getting acquainted with the spirals of her DNA.

“You crossed the stop sign over there.” The officer pointed at the stop sign, barely visible in the distance.”I was going to issue you a ticket for $259 and three demerit points for the infraction.”

In spite of there actually being a quota for tickets, given out every morning to patrol cars, she handed me back my documents,” Be more careful next time. Pay attention, Sir. Your lack of attention might kill someone.”

Her voice had softened perceptibly. It had softened for three reasons – one, I had a clean driving history and no police record and two, the fine and demerit points would make me poorer and she felt sorry for me, fully aware that when you’re driving, sometimes your mind is on something and you forget to pay attention and then, shit happens. And last but not the least, I made her laugh.

That’s another thing I need to tell all my male readers. If you need something from a woman, make her laugh. Not slapstick, silly, some real hoomah.

“Have a great day, Sir,” She smiled again. I am not objectifying her but I began imagining her in a ghagra-choli with a bindi and ochre smearing the blonde hairline above, her pink feet encased in alta.

I waited, while she walked back to the cruiser, switched off the flashers and drove off.

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Why the difference – between here and India? Before you start saying money, salary has little to do with it. A Canadian cop’s starts at $42000/year. That’s not much higher than an Indian cop, if one considers purchasing power parity. $42000/year in Canada is like Rs42000/year in India.

I guess it is a sense of pride and self-worth that sets the Canadian cop apart from his Indian counterpart. And before you protest, I hasten to add that it is not due to any character flaw in the Indian cop. It is due to an essentially corrupt justice system.

In that cesspool, there are still lotuses such as Sanjukta Parashar.