Thursday, September 29, 2011

Human Life Comes Cheap in India

It was like out of a scary movie plot. The cream coloured Bolero weaving into the toll plaza, was stopped by the young toll attendant and suddenly a gunshot ended it all. Twenty-two-year-old Umesh Kant Pandey would have never imagined that September 23, would be his last day, as he flagged down the vehicle of an intoxicated Vijay Veer Yadav. The place was Khekri Daula toll plaza, Gurgaon; the time an unearthly 12.30 am. When Umesh asked the Bolero driver to pay the toll tax, a paltry Rs 27, the latter whipped out his driving licence to prove that he was a resident of a nearby village, and hence, exempt from toll charges.


Umesh waved him on, and closed the little window, only to find that the vehicle had not moved. When he opened the window to check, there was an altercation and Vijay Veer shot him on his neck. The CCTV cameras caught the whole event, and television viewers watched in shock as the murder was played out again and again, of the hapless young toll attendant clasping his neck and collapsing on the floor.

While the cameras failed to shoot the registration number plate of the Bolero, a bitter malfunction indeed, it swung into action when Manjeet Singh, a friend of Vijay Veer’s came in, 45 minutes after the shooting to enquire about Umesh’s condition. The police were able to nab both the culprits. The two men showed not a trace of remorse. Vijay even had the audacity to proclaim to the police that he had been drunk and had shot Umesh in a fit of rage.

With apologies to the Great Bard, one does feel that ‘when ordinary folks die, there are no comets seen’. Umesh got married just four months ago, was the sole breadwinner and had two elder brothers — one who is mentally challenged and one who is physically challenged.

Will the brazen culprits be penalised? Will their punishment be stringent enough to deter similar acts of crime? After all, the transgression began with drunken driving and ended with the murder of an innocent. Why on earth would any law permit the handling of guns by arrogant, pampered youngsters, who have the temerity to go around shooting people, with no compunction for their act? Can any punishment bring back the peace of mind of a shattered family — a bereaved father, a grief-stricken mother and the anguish of a young girl who has just lost her husband, for no fault of his, or hers?

One headline proclaimed, ‘Delhi’s gun culture claims another life’. A headline that will soon be forgotten, as new and more horrific ones jostle to share space with it. Maybe we should think of new laws that make the carrying of weapons illegal. Maybe the temptation to show off overrides all civilised emotions and the trigger gets pulled.

Bigger tragedies have come and gone, more culpable culprits have been apprehended, even as they wait for the slow wheels of justice to creak on. But the common man bides his time, hoping against hope that miracles will happen. In the meantime, the world repeats the selfsame refrain. Human lives in India are cheaper than in other countries... a refrain that we can only hope will turn around some day. Unfortunately, as Plautus put it, “Things which you do not hope happen more frequently than things which you do hope.” Sad, but unfortunately true.

New Indian Express
29th September 2011