Indian Police – Friend or Foe?

I’m sure that the majority of you reading this have good faith in the police forces around the world, and if so, good for you. For the most part, they do uphold the law, keep crime lower and places safer. However, I have always felt slightly less inclined to like them.

My father taught me from a young age that police are generally not to be trusted. Some of my earliest memories are of driving around in my dads car and him suddenly shouting ‘DUCK! HIDE!’ whenever a police car drove past. This was all fun and games of course, but it did teach me a valuable life lesson. That men with great power often abuse this privilege they are given. If you are reading this Dad, thankyou!

Unfortunately, throughout my teenage years living in the UK, I’d had my home burgled multiple times, I was mugged on the street, attacked at random, and the one that still hurts the most, I had my cherished mountain bike stolen. Twice.
Not a single one of these crimes I reported to the police were ever taken care of. They would come round to our invaded home, sometimes days after the incident, ask a few pointless questions, then be on their way. Some even had the cheek to ask me if I was involved. That’s right. They asked me if I had stolen my own bike. How some of these people are in a position of power, I’ll never know.

Most of you won’t know me or ever meet me, but I’m a hard working guy that just likes to keep his head down and out of trouble. I was however, cursed with what people are now calling ‘resting bitch face’. This is where my natural face, makes me look like a right moody bugger when I’m not smiling. This is somehow perceived, to the police in the UK, as being up to no good. Anytime I would go out and try and enjoy myself, the police would approach me. I’d always get pulled over in my car for looking ‘suspicious’. And I’d never be given a more solid reason than that. I’m a nice guy, I promise. After years of this treatment towards me, and none of the actual crimes against me ever being sorted, I decided to keep my distance from them. If I ever had any problems, I’d try to sort them out myself.

Once we arrived in India, I knew I couldn’t avoid the police so easily. With a population of 1.3 billion people, you’d better bet they’ve got a force to tackle it. If you ever go to India, the police won’t need pointing out to you. They’re not like the sly and cocky ones from the UK. They stand proud and walk tall, asserting themselves amongst a crowd of 10,000. They all don an immaculate beige uniform and beret. Ironed to perfection, with a single ruler straight crease running down the centre of each trouser leg. Each man has a mustache bigger and more elaborate than the last. Groomed so that a single hair isn’t out of place. All armed with a large bowie knife and a fully automatic weapon. It’s quite a sight to see. The first time I laid eyes on an Indian policeman, I knew he commanded my respect more so than in the UK. Just to look that sixty’s slick on a day to day basic is enough to turn any head.

Whilst travelling through India for just over 5 months, we encountered numerous police. But for the first time in my life, they were approaching me with nothing but kindness. Some of the downright coolest looking guys I’ve ever seen would come up and greet me with a handshake. Ask where I was from, where I was going, and what I thought of their remarkable country. We’d discuss food and cultures. On buses, trains and crowded streets. They’d ask if I need any help with anything, then most would want to take a photo with us. Slinging their assault rifle over their shoulder to do so. Not a bad experience when comparing it to my usual meet and greets with the police. Although, these were all in the more rural areas of India, where tourists weren’t so common. In the more popular areas, it was a different story entirely.

One beautifully sweaty summers day in Anjuna, Goa. We were taking a bike ride to the local vegetable stools to haggle over our potential dinner for the evening. On the way home, Zara’s arms wrapped tightly around my waist, both drinking in the sun and cruising through the stunning scenery of the back lanes, we came around a corner and saw two suited and booted officials. They waved their hands to signal for us to slow and pull over. Greeted with a firm handshake, he then immediately stepped past us and inspected our bike. ‘Do you have your drivers licence?’ he asked. Of course I didn’t, I’m in India, why would I? Pulling a scrappy notepad from his pocket, he wrote down the number 2000 and showed it me. He said, ‘This is what you are meant to pay, my friend!’ and then with a wide 100 toothed smile and a well trained wink, ‘but for you my friend, I can do it for 1000, and you can be on your way!’.

The famous bribe I had heard so much about was finally happening. Like I said, we’d just been haggling over some 30 rupee vegetables, so as you can imagine, we didn’t have that much cash to spare for our corrupt new friend. As they were plucking other tourists off the road to no doubt give them the same story, me and Zara exchanged a glance. We both knew we didn’t have that much money to spare, and even if we did, it was 3-4 days worth of meals for us. There was only one option. ‘Ahhhh my friend! I cannot afford this! How about 100?’. He thought on it for a second, and struck back with a good counter offer of 800. Still not good enough for us. A haggling war commenced in the streets and we eventually settled on a more reasonable 250 rupees. I reluctantly handed over the notes and he folded them up and tucked them straight into his top pocket. A not so warm handshake and pat on the back later, we were off. Remember guys, everything in India is up for negotiation, even the police.

Over the next month in Goa, we saw the same guys pulling the same routine. Often driving up a road, some other Indian locals would point in the direction they came from shouting ‘BHENCHOD! BHENCHOD!’, which translates to ‘sister-f**ckers’ in Hindi. This is usually a good heads up of there being police further up the road. We’d spin around and take a different route, warning others as we went. Everyone seems to looks out for each other in India. Its a country that runs off love and doing something small to help someone else. It’s nice to be part of that, especially if it’s against corrupt policemen.

My overall experience of the police in India was far better than any country I have ever been too. It’s just a shame that there are still people that join up to protect this planet and make profit off the power that comes with it. Almost all of the police in India proved me wrong, and were truly memorable guys. But it only takes one bad copper to loose trust in the whole system.

Friend or foe? You decide.

If you want to find out more about how we spent our 5 months in India, click here.

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