It has been two long days for me, facilitating a group of decision makers of a national organization in Delhi. Now, finally, I am free and ready to step out of the hotel. My hosts have been kind to me; a rental car with a driver is waiting to take me wherever I may want to go to. Dhaula Kuan, where my brother-in-law lives, seems to be a good idea. I might get some comfort food there.
As I step into the rental car, I notice the driver, who seems to be in his early thirties, only as much as you notice someone you will probably never see again. We greet each other; I tell him where to and off we go. As he emerges on to the main road, a conversation begins. I ask him where he is from.
“I am from Himachal Pradesh. We are three brothers; my older brother is in the Army, the younger one is with the Delhi Police. I too would have been in the uniformed service; I nearly joined the Border Security Force but, well, fate came in the way.”
His is a landed family. Another family disputed their ownership of the land and, at one point, beat him up. “I was nearly dead. For six months, I simply could not get up. But who can kill if God is there to save you?”
Miraculously, gradually, he recovered. Then one day, he went to a village fair nearby and there, he ran into his tormentors. One of them walked up to him and slapped him across his face. In humiliation and anger, he returned home and took out his father’s gun. He went to their village and shot three of them dead. Point blank.
I look at the man’s face as he nonchalantly negotiates Delhi’s evening traffic. I am trying to be as normal as one can be, sitting next to a killer.
“What happened next?” I try to sound normal.
He was sent to the notorious Tihar Jail. The jailbirds welcomed him with evil-curiosity and subsequently with respect. The older ones asked him whether he would like to ride the motorcycle or play golf. Riding the motorcycle meant cleaning the toilet and playing golf meant swabbing the floor. He refused both and they let him be. The family had “taken care” of the cops, who then told the jailers, who in turn had told the inmates to leave him alone. “Is ladkeko tang mat karna” was enough to spare him hell.
After a few months at the infamous Tihar Jail, he was sent to the Juvenile Jail.
“Thereafter, I was in and out of jail on bail. The lawyer was amazing. He told my parents to get me married.”
“Married? But, how was that of any consequence?”
“I don’t know. But somehow being married makes a difference. The judges are more sympathetic.” So, he married and, in time, had two babies. Today, he is thirty two and his older one is already twelve.
All this time, he has been out mostly on bail. Sixteen years have gone by and the trial is still on. Meanwhile, he has learnt to drive. He has been driving cars for the typical Delhi car-rental agencies.
I ask him, “Now that you’re out of jail, aren’t you concerned about the family of the folks you shot dead? Aren’t they out there looking for you?”
“Oh no, as long as I am on bail, I am actually very safe. While the case is on, they know they simply cannot touch me. The cops have drilled sense in them. The day I came out on bail, they told their families that even if someone else hurt me, it would be their clan behind the bars for suspected revenge-killing. In fact whenever I visit the village, no one ever troubles me.”
“When is the next court appearance?”
“Next month, on the sixteenth.”
“What will happen that day?”
He shrugs. “Nothing.” There is a profound finality in his voice. He has figured out a system I have not.
We arrive at my destination and I step out of the car.
My head is muddled. Here is a self-proclaimed killer of three who has a license to drive a car. For sixteen years, his guilt is not pronounced and who knows how many more years before the matter is settled one way or the other? Meanwhile, it is perfectly okay for him to be out leading a normal life, drive people in a rental car, not to talk about escort vehicles for the police!
But then, don’t we have such people in the Parliament and outside, some even occupying high public office? Some of them have actually killed for gain as against this man who was all of sixteen and mortally tormented before he picked up the gun.
We have arrived at my destination. As I get out of the car, I ask the man to go get some dinner for himself. The taillights of the rental car disappear beyond the bend. I turn around and take a deep breath of the air of Delhi, capital of India. What, I ask myself, is the basis of a civil society? What is the meaning of law here and what is the idea of government?