Monday, 5 December 2011

Dadagiri in Dwarka

You must have seen countless films with this storyline: one person bullies an entire locality/village; those who he bullies keep quiet, not wanting trouble; others say let’s keep out of his way, or he’ll get after us next; he gets bolder by the day and finally crosses his limits; the victims stand up to him, but the entire locality turns against them and cows down before him. The victims are isolated and harassed in various forms.
Did you think it ever could happen to you?
I didn’t.
But this has happened to me and a couple of others.
And we stand alone.
On November 19 this year, around 9.30 pm, the guard of the gated locality I live in came with a circular. It was from the present Residents Welfare Association (RWAs) and said an emergency meeting the following day (Sunday, 20 November) to discuss some serious issues had been convened and called all present and previous office-bearers to attend. My name was on it, though I had resigned on October 18.
I went to the meeting and what we heard there made our hair stand on end.
Two young men of the locality (one of whom is a major in the army), along with a friend, had been walking around in the campus around 2 am, chatting. The guard came and said he had received complaints and asked them to leave. They asked who had complained and that they would apologise. Meanwhile, one office bearer (let’s call him Mr X) started shouting at them from his house on the top floor, saying he was in charge of the security of the whole campus (there is no circular to that effect, though). There appeared to have been an exchange of words and then the boys started to return to their flat, cutting across the central park. As they reached the end of the park, Mr X (who had come down from his third floor flat) called them back. Let us allow for both sides not being entirely frank about their versions of the sequence of events that followed, but the short point was that Mr X hit the major with a lathi, the other RWA office bearers who had gathered by then rallied around Mr X. The younger boy had called 100 by then and at some point had received a call asking for directions. When they found the office bearers siding openly with Mr X, the younger boy said let us call the police and let them decide, the general secretary apparently said, ‘tum kya police bulaoge, hum bulayenge aur kahenge kit um logon ke gharon mein jaankh rahe the’ (we will call the police and tell them you were peering into people’s houses). (The general secretary completely denied this, but when the boys confronted him, he said it might have come out like that but that is not what I meant!!!) The altercation was somehow ended and one of the office bearers took the major to the hospital where his wound was stitched up.
When the boys’ mother came to know this, she demanded a general body meeting be convened to discuss this. `What wrong did my boys commit,’ she wanted to know. `And if they were up to something wrong, why didn’t the RWA call the police and hand them over?’ The RWA then convened the emergency meeting of only select people. Sixteen people attended that meeting.
When the boys had finished relating their story – Mr X was out of town and had to be called back, so he arrived late – others present at the meeting, feeling slightly emboldened by the mood, came out with more stories about Mr X’s bullying and intimidating ways. This changed the mood of the gathered people who thought what happened that night was a one-off incident involving Mr X.
Someone said this shows the person concerned is a permanent threat; someone else told the RWA office-bearers that if Mr X wasn’t checked he would become a problem even for those who were now backing him.
People discussed various kinds of action that could be taken against him. Finally it was decided that he would be expelled from the RWA and be barred from contesting elections for five years.
Mr X came and his version was heard. With an air of injured innocence, he said the young men were disturbing people at night and that is why he had objected to them and that he had hit them only because he feared that they were three of them and he was alone and he feared that they would assault him. (My comment: this guy is over six feet tall, extremely muscular and goes around flaunting his muscles in tight-fitting tees, while the two young residents were shorter and much slighter in build.) He said he later realized he shouldn’t have hit them and felt very sorry and that he had told his wife immediately on reaching home, and that he felt worse when he was told that the major required stitches for his wound.
Those assembled asked him and the RWA why the police hadn’t been called and the young men handed over in the first place. They demanded that Mr X apologise to the young men, undertake that he would “maintain decency and decorum of conduct” and that the decisions on his expulsion and bar on contesting elections stay. That very night a circular was issued to this effect. Everybody thought that was the end of the matter and the atmosphere within the campus would be peaceful and relations cordial.
Exactly a week later (Sunday 27 November), Mr X’s downstairs neighbour had to call the police at midnight or so. The police came and the case was allegedly turned against the neighbour. Earlier that evening, the Congress MLA had visited the block and Mr X had flaunted his closeness to him.
On November 29, Mr X’s lawyer sends a legal notice to five of those 16 persons present  at the meeting – the general secretary, the two young men, me and a former president of the RWA – leveling various fabricated charges including that of defamation (that is the only charge against me). The former president – an extremely decent, mild-mannered man of high integrity whose views are heard with seriousness in the locality – has been accused of trying to assault Mr X and instigating others to do so. (The only charge that sticks is the one against the RWA general secretary for not following norms in convening the meeting and expelling Mr X from the RWA). We have to unconditionally apologise within 15 days of receiving the notice or pay Rs 21 lakh each to Mr X or else he will file a defamation case against us.
Now an elaborate drama to get the circular withdrawn starts. The young men’s father and the former president approach the RWA asking why only four people who attended a meeting called by the RWA have been targeted and what the RWA is proposing to do. I sense a trap and decide not to speak to the RWA about this. Instead I approach some people who attended the 20 November meeting. They say we are entirely with you, how can this fellow run amok like this, we will call another meeting and take a decision on this. But soon there is a growing mood to take back the circular and the expulsion (this is the trap I feared). People start avoiding us. We hear that others present at the 20 November meeting are being threatened that there are legal notices lined up against them also and will be issued if they come to our help. But nobody will speak openly about this, let alone go to the police.
On 2 December, the RWA writes to the persons named in the legal notice asking for their comments before further action is taken. Acting on legal advice, I respond merely by saying “I have taken a very serious view of the fact that out of 16 people present at the emergency meeting of 20 November 2011 I have been singled out for the said legal notice and am taking appropriate legal action regarding the same.”
(A word about why I was targeted. On 1 November, my car cleaner told me he had been barred from entering the campus by Mr X. I rang up the general secretary (GS) and asked how he could do that. The GS said the cleaner’s work was not satisfactory. I argued that Mr X cannot decide that. The GS called the president and Mr X and there was a heated argument, at which Mr X admitted to slapping an earlier car cleaner because he wasn’t satisfied with the quality of the work and that what he was doing was only to ensure better quality of service. I pointed out then – and later in a long email to the president, GS, joint secretary and a few other residents – that a few RWA members being dissatisfied with the services of someone providing a personal service could not be a reason to bar that service provider from catering to other residents.)
On 3 December the RWA issues another letter to the 16 present at the 20 November meeting asking them to tick on either of two options – whether the RWA go ahead with the court case or whether the case should be amicably resolved by withdrawing the earlier circular. If a majority of the 16 agreed with the second option, another circular withdrawing the first would be issued. This would be done after the legal notice was taken back, those who got the circular were assured.
There was a clear attempt to influence the vote by writing in brackets after the first option (financial implication involved/rift among members may erupt) and after the second (will be able to maintain a harmonious relation). The responses were to be given by the evening of 4 December. There was also no instruction to sign after ticking the option chosen, leaving scope for the vote to be rigged. 
Meanwhile, the father of the young men asked for a copy of the circular dated 19 November convening the 20 November meeting. The RWA has been stalling him.
On 4 December evening, a circular is issued withdrawing the earlier one, saying this was with the consent of the majority of those who had attended the meeting of 20 November. This circular was to be issued after the retraction of the legal notice. It was issued before, with no assurance that it will be withdrawn.
One of those who got the legal notice asked the RWA president why the circular had been issued before the notice was withdrawn. He was told oh, Mr X has assured that it will be withdrawn. The word of a person who promises before an assembly that he will behave himself and then proceeds to revert to his old ways is to be relied upon!
A fraud has been committed on us – those who stood up to be counted.
Thirteen people cowed down.
But there is an upside to everything. Yesterday I returned from the South Asian Bands Festival at 10.30 pm. I passed my next door neighbour and his wife on the staircase. This guy who always asks kahaan jaa rahi hain/kahaan se aa rahi hain) (where are you going/coming from) – to which I always say baahar (out) – didn’t say a word. Oh the joys of social boycott!!