Punished for being poor?

At around 5.00 am one morning in 1989, I was travelling by an auto-rickshaw from the railway station to my house. I was upset that the auto-rickshaw driver had demanded Rs. 20 more than the night fare, and I was releasing my frustration by muttering to myself. All of a sudden, the driver asked, “Sir, many people say Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi has taken a bribe of Rs. 64 crores from a foreign weapons manufacturer called Bofors to give them a huge order from the Indian Army. See what our nation has come to!”

I replied, “I’m not an admirer of Rajiv Gandhi’s. But, I don’t think he has taken the bribe.”

The auto-rickshaw driver persisted, “Sir, some highly respected newspapers have published documents which show that Bofors has definitely paid this bribe, and that this bribe is meant for Rajiv Gandhi.”

I replied, “Maybe a bribe has been paid. But I don’t think Rajiv Gandhi has taken the bribe. Some other people may have taken the bribe by misusing his name.”

At this point, the auto-rickshaw driver said something I’ve never forgotten: “Sir, even after reading the reports in highly respected newspapers, you are not willing to say that Rajiv Gandhi MAY have taken the bribe. On the other hand, a few minutes back, you were condemning me for asking only for Rs. 20 extra fare. Why this difference, sir? Isn’t it because he is an upper caste, fair-skinned, English-speaking man belonging to a wealthy and powerful family and, most importantly, the Prime Minister of the country, but I am a lower caste, dark-skinned, non-English-speaking, poor auto-rickshaw driver? Let me tell you, sir, the policemen at the railway station harass me because I drive the auto-rickshaw in the night shift. I can get away from them only by bribing them. I charge extra fare only to compensate for those bribes. Powerful politicians make money by cheating our motherland, but people like you respect them. You will shake their hands, maybe fall at their feet! I am trying to earn a living by working honestly, but you treat me as if I’m a criminal. Sir, I’m not a criminal. The bitter truth is, my poverty is my crime!” I had no reply.

I remembered this incident after reading this report in The Times of India about Umakant Mishra, which was sent to me by a blogger friend.

In July 1984, Umakant Mishra, who worked as a postman in Kanpur, was accused by his seniors of stealing Rs. 57.60. He was suspended from his job, and a criminal case was filed against him. After over 300 hearings over 29 years, he was declared innocent in November 2013. In the meanwhile, he remained suspended from his job for almost 26 years till his retirement in 2010. He and his family suffered financial problems and social stigma. They think that their future is destroyed.

Umakant Mishra and his family have suffered immensely, for no fault of theirs, for Rs. 57.60, which was not a big sum even in 1984. Even if he was guilty, this punishment is unfair.

Compare Umakant Mishra’s case with people who get away with massive corruption, sexual crimes and worse only because they are wealthy and/or powerful enough to influence the police investigation in addition to having the means to hire highly paid lawyers who can get them proved innocent in a court of law.

Was Umakant Mishra punished for being a humble postman, not a powerful and wealthy politician or businessman?

25 thoughts on “Punished for being poor?

  1. A crime needs to be prosecuted. A petty theft should have taken a week to decide. What kind of system we have that requires 300 hearings for petty theft.

  2. The postman was rightly absolved for an alleged piddly Rs.57. What happens when Kingfisher gets away with blue murder by not repaying thousands of crores and not depositing taxes collected, leading to suicide?

  3. The Haryana Govt. transfers honest IAS Khemka for the nth time and UP suspends Durga Shakti. Gadkari’s drivers and cooks being made dirctors and shareholders in fake companies is not taken up by the Congress because the BJP chose to remain silent on Robert Vadra. A case of “You scratch my back while I scratch yours” syndrome, eh!

  4. Wow, I just read that article and don’t even know how to react. If our legal system is so bad that it takes 25+ yrs to solve something like this case, then I am not surprised that the real criminals are so confident that they can get away with anything. Thanks for sharing this sir, real eye opener.

  5. There is a saying in my mother-tongue Malayalam, “Kallane kittiyillengil kittiyavanne pidikkukka”, which translates to “If you don’t get the thief, catch hold of whoever you get.” This country and our legal system runs on this entirely. What a waste of a life time! Will anyone be able to give him back his lost years and compensate for the suffering in terms of finances and the stigma? Pathetic!

    • This is one case that has come to light. I’m sure there must be many such cases.
      In some cases, to get away from the pressure to solve the case, the police just take some person into custody, beat him and threaten him into ‘confessing’.

  6. Interesting and thought provoking! There are no definite solutions. The only thing which a good citizen can do is to not succumb to the temptation of paying or receiving bribes.

  7. Very thought provoking. The high & mighty get away with murder literally while the poor pay for non-existing crimes. What surprises me is that neither the print or the TV media took this up besides just a byline. May be the AAP & elections were a bigger story for them. Or maybe even TT of T.

  8. Unbelievable! Yet, alas, I know all too well how this goes on – all over the world but especially in Asia. None of us, it seems, can avoid living in double standards; abusing the poor while turning a blind eye to the powerful.

  9. Pingback: 30 Final Days of Bangladesh – Day 14 – History Repeats | kenthinksaloud

  10. What I am impressed about is this: that the auto rickshaw guy argued his case so beautifully and gently. Did you pay him the Rs.20? I would have paid him more.
    That postman’s case is heart-breaking.

    Congrats on your 100th post, Pro!

    • Vidya, he argued his case so beautifully because he spoke from the bottom of his heart! His words were full of truth and anguish. Yes, I paid him the Rs. 20. That had already been agreed upon.

      What is most heartbreaking about the postman’s case is the media and we seem to be more interested in the fan that Tarun Tejpal wants in jail rather than in the bleak future that this postman and his family face.

      Thank you for your wishes on my 100th post. Incidentally, this was your 50th comment on my blog!

  11. 29 years for Rs 57!! Gosh! I believe what the auto driver said is true. Being poor is a crime in our country. the rich can get away with bigger blunders but poor are harassed for petty things!
    Congratulations for the first century. Looking forward to many more! Cheers 🙂

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