Imagine what it might be like to be a high-ranking police officer in north India today. There you are, a bright boy, good at both sports and studies, adept at languages, and also perhaps science or economics. You do well in school and college and then sit for the Public Service exams. You want to contribute to society, you want a steady job and you also want an interesting life. So you opt for the Indian Police Service. You pass and are sent for training. You graduate and get commissioned into a State cadre. After donning your uniform you salute the Tiranga and take your oath on the Constitution of India. Its a proud day for you.
As your career progresses, there are more ups than downs. You are a good officer, brave, intelligent, but some cases go wrong maybe there are a couple of deaths in custody not your fault directly, just that your subordinates got a bit over-enthusiastic. However, these are handled; you handle it for your boys and your superiors handle it for you and all is good. You crack a few good cases, manage a few tricky situations and you climb up the promotion ladder. You are a smart guy and very much a team player; your colleagues have their needs; so do you; so yes, you take your normal share of bribes but nothing too outrageous.
An honourable man
And you know which side your parantha is buttered so you also do the bidding of whichever politicians happen to be in government; but again, nothing too extreme, almost always within limits, as far as possible keeping the law and general ethics in mind, not to mention preserving your self-respect. And of course the strong possibility that the people you are persecuting today might be in power after the next elections.
After a long innings, you find yourself in the upper echelons of your State police force. You didnt get here by being naïve but neither did you make too many compromises or so you feel. Essentially your honour is intact and you are a good man or so you feel. The roulette wheel of politics spins and there appears in the country and then in your State a very different kind of regime. In many ways it looks and acts the same as other governments, except these people push the legal and moral envelope to such an extent that it goes into the shredder.
The chief minister of your State proclaims he is giving orders that criminals should be shot without trial. Quickly you realise this is not empty rhetoric Shri CM-ji actually expects you and your colleagues to produce a body count of extra-judicial killings.
Thats when it begins, The Time of The Towels. You do what your boss tells you to, knowing full well that this is not effective for actually countering crime. Even as the executions increase, so does the crime level in the State, but certain powerful sections are happy, never mind boring legalities and ideas of justice. You suddenly understand that neither the CM nor anyone else in his party is worried about ever being replaced by a different government. You are working day and night but you also find the scope of your duties has widened.
The CM travels constantly. Among the things you must ensure is that each place he stays at is supplied with towels of his favourite colour, a chemical orange. A couple of times, the towels end up a different colour and you nearly lose your job.
Dreams in orange
Currently, you are focused on making sure your men shoot down innocent working class Muslims as often as possible: coming out from namaaz, crossing a maidan after work or school… no signs of any trouble but no matter, boom! You are also co-ordinating with leaders of the Friends of Police gangs that accompany your men as they regularly rampage through poor Muslim neighbourhoods, smashing up businesses, looting shops and entering houses, threatening and molesting the women.
Its a dirty job but someone has to do it. If you dont, several of your colleagues are waiting to pounce on your post. If you show a sliver of unwillingness, you know this regime is psychopathically vindictive and you will suffer. But at night, when you wake up from your nightmares, the dreams are not about shooting down small boys or forcing people to cremate their dead instead of burying them. The dreams are about folding towels and stacking them in neat piles in time for the CMs arrival at some guest house. As you sit up in bed, wiping your sweat with an orange face-cloth, you realise, yet again, that this is where youve arrived as a senior police officer in the Republic of India.
The writer is a filmmaker and columnist