Had been in a taxi recently and ended up feeling quite literally as if I'd been taken for a ride.
The taxi driver told me he'd agree on a fixed rate if I preferred but I insisted that he use the meter. I had not come southwards, to town, for weeks and remembered that the base rate had gone up from Rs 13, but wasn't sure what it was now. The taxi meter showed a base rate of Rs 16.50, and then went whizzing up and up from there on.
I, of course, had no way of being able to contest that the meter had been tampered with, so at the end of the journey, I took a deep breath and paid what he asked for. THEN, he asked for an extra Rs 60 for luggage. All I had one one black bag. The pre-paid taxi stalls at the railways usually charge Rs 5-10 per bag. So I argued. However, I had made the mistake of giving him a thousand rupee note already. The taxi driver just pocketed it, and refused to give me back the correct change.
I found myself seething. I threatened I would call the cops. He just stood there, smug, and said, 'Go ahead then'.
So I took down his taxi number. Then, it struck me that the taxi may not be his, and I would only get the real owner into trouble. So I asked to see his license. He either didn't have one or would not show me one. All he showed me was a traffic police document, a fine receipt, which had a name but no identifying photo. I took it down anyway.
I tried called 100 but the line was busy for a long time. So I let it go for the moment. But I went online the next day and I googled the Mumbai RTO and went to the website. Came up with a complaint form, filled it in the details of the incident.
Then I went into town again this weekend and realised that the base rate for taxis is only Rs 14, not 16.50. It made me madder still. I was considering dropping into the RTO office, even if it cost me more money to go there and back than I have lost through being cheated. But I just wanted something to be done to that lying, cheating bully of a cabbie.
But just last night, I received an acknowledgement of the online complaint from the traffic cops. I don't know what this means - whether it will translate into action or not, whether the right person will be punished in the right way, or not. But I have to confess I am feeling pleased. It feels good to just have been heard by someone who is in authority, who is in a position to do something about wrongdoing. And then, I began to think about how much conflict could be avoided if only the police could accomplish this minimum - to listen, and to acknowledge.
I know that resolving stuff takes time. I know the cops don't have that much time. There are accidents and traffic management and speeding vehicles and drunk drivers and godknowswhatelse to contend with. And I know not much can be done, considering it is the taxi driver's word against mine. But even if that driver just gets hauled up, gets told off, as long as he knows that he cannot get away with cheating people so easily, I will be satisfied.
But I have also been thinking about the things that are told to us about cops - inefficiency, complaints, corruption and so on.
How many of us even bother to complain about something? I very nearly didn't, because everyone else seems to be shrugging it off and saying 'kuch nahin hoga'. My brother was the only one who urged me to at least try calling the RTO. And I am so glad I did. Because it has been established, finally, that - Kuch karoge nahin to kaise hoga?
What can the traffic cops do to stop cheating by taxi drivers if we don't tell them? They cannot be expected to randomly start harassing someone on suspicion. Even if they do catch someone doing something wrong, the passenger has to file a formal complaint, if they are to do things the right way. Sure, some cops accept bribes from people who violate traffic rules as well as those against whom some complaint has been filed. But it is not like nobody is trying to do anything about it.
I have been getting text messages from the Anti-Corruption Bureau, saying that if a Central government employee asks for a bribe, call on so and so number. How many of us make those calls? How many of us are even willing to call 100 or go online and get some information about which might be the right department to go to if you want to file a complaint?
The problem, of course, is that we are all people in a hurry and would prefer that the cops just slap around the guy who's been bothering us, rather than us taking the trouble to sit down and compose our thoughts and sign an official document. Essentially, we want the cops to act as bullies on our behalf. And once they start doing that, there's no end to it. Whether it is beating up a man who is harassing a woman, or forcing poor people out of their homes to make way for a new big-bucks project, or encounter deaths. It is mostly an extension and escalation of the same principle. It essentially stems from our unwillingness to do our own share of work to keep society clean.
The trouble begins, for us, when we find that we aren't the only ones with such expectations of the policing process. Other communities, other demographics, other wants. There is an eternal conflict of interests in society and the cops are supposed to be on everyone's side. It is not an easy place to be and I wish we'd remember to remember that more often.