“I have an arrest warrant in your name!”
Imagine if these words are spoken to you despite you being a law abiding citizen.
Okay I may have broken some traffic signals unwittingly but no serious misdemeanour.
But these exact words were being spoken to me.
How did this happen? Let me fill you a bit about the history behind it.
I teach in a medical school and devote my evenings to a charitable trust hospital. I have worked there for the past 20 years and I have developed a loyal patient base.
Mondays are normally very busy days in the hospital. There is a tall stack of out patient cards on my table arranged in order of who came first and I examine the patients in that order.
One such busy Monday I was examining a patient and a young man barged into the room. Taking him for a patient trying to cut que, I admonished him for his lack of etiquette and patience. I firmly told him to wait for his turn. He tried to say something in his defense but I was peeved and cut him short. He gave up resisting and meekly retreated and I went back to examining patients completely forgetting the incident.
After I had finished seeing all the patients, he again opened the door and politely asked permission to enter, which I responded to the affirmative. He looked like the garden variety of patients I see regularly, except for being tall and well built. He must have been in his twenties with short hair combed sensibly.
He approached my desk with a piece of paper in his hand and very apologetically proffered the paper to me and said “Sir! I have an arrest warrant in your name!”
Surprisingly it did not alarm me rather it sent me into a state of déjà vu!
I have been through this before!
I had a flashback to my days as an overworked surgery resident in Ludhiana Punjab.
I had the good fortune of being in Punjab during it’s most disturbed period in history. There was a violent separatist movement going on. I will not go into the politics and justification behind these movements, suffice to say ‘today’s terrorist could be tomorrow’s freedom fighters’. Depending on whose side you are on.
It could be considered as mixed fortune because you had to duck bullets whizzing by and bombs exploding all around you. There was the division number 3 Police Station near the hospital which was a favourite place to plant a bomb. There was Fieldganj vegetable market where we did our vegetable shopping where motorcycle borne terrorists opened fire randomly into the crowd. There was the RSS Shakha assembling in a park in Kidwai Nagar and terrorists opening fire on them.
But every cloud has a silver lining and I could help the innocent victims and also gain experience treating trauma patients. I’ve seen bullet injuries of almost every part of the body. I will spare my readers the gory details. Since I left Ludhiana I have not treated a single bullet injury case.
It was bad luck for the innocent victims who was the common man trying to eke out a living.
Not all the trauma could be blamed on terrorist, there were a fair number of personal vendatta cases. Fights between neighbors and familes turning violent, Bride burning and other domestic violence.
Along with the treatment we had to do the paperwork. An FIR (First information report or FIR) to be filled and sent to the neighbouring police station, informing them that such a case has been admitted. The Police would come to take a ‘statement’ from the victim, but before taking a statement they would ask a resident to certify whether the patient was fit or coherent enough to give his or her statement. The resident had to sign on the Police records stating whether the patient was fit or unfit.
After the statement was taken the police would make another visit and ask for an injury report. This again was provided by the residents, certifying that he had examined the patient and the injuries were listed, with the dimensions. The mode of injury were mentioned, i.e. blunt trauma, sharp object or penetrating. Finally the type of injury, whether it was simple, grievous or dangerous to life. All this would be part of the police record.
The consultants studiously avoided getting involved in the paper work though they were active in the treatment. Later the readers will realize why.
Not all cases would reach the courts, they would be settled amicably by the concerned parties. However if it did reach the court then the Judge after sifting through the paperwork done by the police, would issue summons to appear as expert witness to whoever had certified the fitness or issued the injury report or had his signature on any paper in the police records.
These summons had to be personally served to whoever it was intended. The job was given to a constable of the Punjab Police. He would personally roam the entire hospital ferret out the concerned resident and hand him the summon. The residents would warn each other about a summon waiting to be served so hide! Sometimes you could see a resident running with the cop in hot pursuit waving the summon in his outstretched hand and shouting “Haanji Daktar Sahab!” (Loosely translated to Attention Doctor Sir). Sometimes when confronted face to face with the cop, the resident would deny that he was himself. But police being police would establish his true identity and serve the summon. An acknowledgement was taken on a carbon copy of the summon. Surprisingly the cops were very indulgent and took it like a game in good humour. All the straight faced denials of not being yourself was met with a smile and an expression which said “I’ve heard that one before.”
The summon itself is the most ambiguous document. All it said was that you are requested to appear in the court of the honourable Judge so and so in so and so court on so and so date to be witness to State vs so and so and to top it all it will be written in Gurmukhi! We were clueless to which of the scores of patients we have seen did it pertain to.
Why was there so much reluctance to attend court? Because it was the most boring and fruitless thing to do, the whole day was wasted. If it involved a visit to the local court then it would be okay but victims came from all over Punjab. I’ve attended the courts in Ferozepur, Fazilka, Faridkot, Pathankot, Bathinda, Batala, Dhariwal, Kapurthala, Khanna, Moga, Malerkotla and many more. I leave home early in the morning catch a bus either from the bus adda or Samrala Chowk, which was a major intersection. This is when I realized that Punjab is not a very big state, divided by Radcliffe’s arbitrary line during the partition and then Haryana and Himchal were carved out of it during the reorganization of states on linguistic lines. So with a 3 hour bus ride you can reach most major towns in the state.
On reaching the destination, I had to catch a cycle rickshaw and tell him to take me to the ‘kaccheri’.
On reaching the court I had to find the courtroom of the Honorable Judge who had issued the summons. The courts are rabbit warrens with rooms built at random. Originally they were built by the British but after Independence with the rising population came an increase in court cases and a requirement for more space. So courtrooms were built without much prior planning.
Once you find the courtroom and enter the scene is the same in all courts. A bailiff guarding the entrance and hailing out the witnesses to be hazir or present whenever there case comes up for hearing. The Judge sitting on his desk perched up high above everybody else, looking totally bored with the proceedings around him. He is flanked on one side by the clerk who is checking the list of cases to be heard for the day and giving the bailiff instructions on who to hail. And the stenographer typist who is vigorously typing the proceedings of the cross questioning of a witness going on in front of the judge. Behind them are benches and chairs arranged in two rows with a narrow aisle separating them. Lawyers and their clients, police men and undertrials and others whom I presume were relatives occupy the chairs with an expression of disinterest.
I go to the clerk and meekly hand him my summon, he looks at me suspiciously and checks the summon with the list in front of him and then smiles at me. “Tussi Daktar ho?” (Are you a Doctor?) he asks in Punjabi. To which I answer in the affirmative. “Tussi baith jao, twada case chheti ho jayega” (you sit down, your case will be taken up soon) gesturing to the rows behind. I find an empty place and unfold a newspaper and begin to read, immediately the bailiff admonished me and tells me that reading is not allowed in the courtroom, all attention has to be directed to the proceedings. So I watch the proceedings, every lawyer entering the court will turn and face the judge and give a ceremonial nod in a show of respect. I suspect it actually supposed to be a bow but got abbreviated with time. The judge is busy with some paper work while the witness is being cross questioned by the two lawyers. The proceedings are being typed by the stenographer typist. When they finish the paper is first handed to the judge for his okay and then to the witness to sign.
Then I’m called to give witness, they have taken into consideration that I’ve come from a distance and I’m a busy doctor and allowed me to cut que.
The Judge asks me, “do you take an oath to tell the truth?” Not asking me to place my hand on any holy scripture, unlike in the films. Though I suspect this also got abbreviated. I nod to which he says “answer my question!”
I say loudly “I do!” Then he indicates to the lawyer representing the state to take over. The lawyer hands me a stack of documents tied onto a cardboard base with a red tape (the phrase ‘red tape’ originated with this practice). I untie the tape and go through the documents. It consists of photocopies of the hospital in patient records, the injury report and the fitness certificates, the discharge summary. Finally I get to know which case it was. It was when I was posted in neurosurgery and a lady was brought who had been brutally hit on the head with a ‘gandasa’ by her husband. She must have really served him a bad meal! A gandasa is an agricultural implement used in Punjab, it consists of a long stick, often as long as the user with a blade at the end, akin to a long axe. There was a deep gash on the scalp and the underlying skull bone above the left eye was shattered. Obviously she was in no condition to give her statement on arrival so my unfit certificate was in the records. She had to be immediately operated where the shattered pieces of bone were removed along with most of the left frontal lobe of the brain. She survived and recovered. Frontal lobes were removed in the early part of the 20th century as a routine to treat extremely violent mentally ill patients without causing major disabilities except for subtle personality changes, like not understanding relationships, boastful behaviour and urinating in public! I suppose the last disorder would not be considered unusual in India. A famous case was that of Rosemary Kennedy sister of John F. Kennedy or JFK. However the surgery was unsuccessful and the procedure left her with the mental capacity of a 2 year old child and incontinent.
So then the State lawyer asks me which documents bear my signature? I point out to the injury report, the fitness certificate and the discharge card. The lawyer begins to dictate ‘my statement to the typist’, “It is true that the documents numbered so and so bear my signature and have been prepared by me then he asks me to dictate out the injury report and at the end adds “the contents are true and prepared by me.” Then my typed statement is handed to me and I’m asked to sign. I try reading it but he tells me “don’t bother reading just sign it!” I protest saying they are a lot of spelling errors in the statements. He says “doesn’t matter just sign it!” rolling his eyes skywards in exasperation.
Now is the turn of the defense lawyer to cross question me, he starts off with “Doctor are injuries like these possible with a fall from a staircase?” I say “technically it’s possible but she would have to land on her head over a sharp object.” The defense lawyer cut me short and said “just answer yes or no!” To which I meekly said “yes!” and typewriter clattered almost in unison with my response. Then he asked “Doctor can you give me the definition of coup and countrecoup injury?” Now though I understood the mechanism of coup and countrecoup injuries when suddenly asked to give the definition I began to fumble with the answer, to which he cut me short and said “that’s enough!” And another typed statement was placed in front of me to sign without reading.
Coup and countrecoup injuries are as a result of the brain floating in cerebrospinal fluid, coup injury is at the site of impact and countrecoup injury is on the other side due to the brain moving within the skull and hitting the inside. This apparently was a favourite question lawyers would ask especially in head injuries cases to demonstrate the inadequacy of the doctor.
After the signing was over the judge said “you are now excused Doctor.”
To which I said “what about the travel allowance which the court is supposed to pay me?”
To this the Judge said “do you really need the money Doctor?” A rhetorical question, but then playing by the earlier rule laid down by the State, I said “yes!” After all that money has been set aside for this purpose and if I don’t claim it someone else would. So the Judge hands me an attendance certificate and another letter for the amount and tells me “go collect the money from the Naazar.” My next job is to hunt out the Naazar’s office in that rabbit warren. When I finally reach the Naazar’s office I’m told he has gone out to an unspecified destination for an unspecified length of time. I’m welcome to wait for his return. I decide to head back home because if I wait for too long I would not get a bus back. Because of the disturbed situation in Punjab, buses did not ply after sunset and it was risky to travel in the night.
So having gone through this fruitless exercise and also having to pay for the excursion obviously I was not too enthusiastic about accepting another summon.
So after a couple of more visits to the courts I also became a seasoned summon dodger avoiding the constable if possible but more often than not he was successful in serving me the summons.
Then came next stage when despite being served the summon I would not appear in court, either due to work load or due to lethargy or just that it slipped out of my mind.
So then what happened?
I would be served another summon for the same case and yet another. Sometimes after the first non attended summon the matter would get settled either amicably by both parties or another resident whose signature is also on the records would attend court and identify my signature and certify that the documents are true.
However there were the cases in which the differences were irreconcilable and there were no other signatures on the records except mine and I did a hat-trick in non appearance. Then again a constable would hunt me down in whichever corner of the hospital I am in. He would approach me beaming from ear to ear and greet me “Sat Sri Akal Ji Doctor Sahab!” To which I would respond in a similar manner. Then the constable would say, “Assi arrest warrant le ke aye si, twade naa da.” (I have brought an arrest warrant in your name).
This jolted me for a moment.
“Tussi court aye nahi teen vele iss liye” he added. (You didn’t appear in court 3 times that’s why).
So then I imagined I would be handcuffed and maybe read the Miranda Rights like in Hollywood movies
1.You have the right to remain silent and refuse to answer questions.
2. Anything you say may be used against you in a court of law.
3. You have the right to consult an attorney before speaking to the police and to have an attorney present during questioning now or in the future.
4. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you before any questioning if you wish.
5. If you decide to answer questions now without an attorney present, you will still have the right to stop answering at any time until you talk to an attorney.
6. Knowing and understanding your rights as I have explained them to you, are you willing to answer my questions without an attorney present?
However this is India and the main difference is that in India any statement or confession made to the Police is inadmissible in a court of law.
Anyway it was only me dramatising my situation using my fertile imagination.
Going back to reality I asked now what am I supposed to do? To this he replied “this is a bailable warrant and you just sign here and I will post your bail. But if you don’t appear in court subsequently a non bailable warrant will be issued.”
That was a relief for me and I quickly signed wherever he told me to and since I couldn’t read Gurmukhi I didn’t have the faintest idea on what I had signed on. By the way Punjabi has two scripts Gurumukhi which literally means the words of the Guru which was developed Guru Angad Devji the second Guru of the Sikhs. All the Holy literature of the Sikhs is written in Gurmukhi. Then there is the Shahmukhi script which is in the Arabic-Persian script and used by the Punjabi Muslims mainly across the border.
On asking around I discovered this form of arrest was fairly routine. Almost every resident has had an arrest warrant in their name. I asked another senior what would happen if I still didn’t go? He replied “Nothing! You’ll just get another and another ad infinitum, until you attend.”
So I realized I was in good company of jail birds though none of us had seen the inside of a jail or that matter the inside of a police station.
Then I began to wonder about the legal implications of this ‘arrest warrant’. As I understood if you are served an actual arrest warrant you would have to go to the police station and obtain bail for which a surety amount is posted. This warrant was more like a threat to frighten you into attending court. It would look bad for the police and the judiciary to arrest an innocent doctor for just not appearing in court!
But I took no chances and avoided any further ‘arrest warrants’ being served.
Mr. K. P. S. Gill was the Director General of the Punjab Police, he is credited in bringing the terrorism in Punjab under control but he was also accused of human rights violations. The Police were in total control and even having a pillion rider on your two wheeler was not permitted after sunset. If you were caught having a pillion rider and did not stop when the police stopped you, they had full right to open fire. Because motorcycle borne terrorists with the pillion rider shooting was the modus operandi of the terrorist.
We once had to attend a party in the other side of town. Only one of us had a motorcycle and 9 had to attend. So the solitary motorcycle made multiple trips ‘triple seated’ trying to avoid the police barricades. I was lucky to make it to the party and back. But the last trip got caught and the driver was slapped so hard he had a swollen face. So it was better to remain in the good books of the police.
After finishing my MS I returned to my home town Nagpur but my past life or more specifically my signatures continued to haunt me. One day I was resting at home when the domestic help told me that someone has come to meet me. I go downstairs and there is seated a familiar sight, a constable of the Punjab Police. He jumps to his feet and salutes me then greets me in a very familiar manner “Sat Sri Akal Ji Doctor Sahab!” I return the niceties and then comes another familiar statement “Twade vaste assi arrest warrant leke aye si!” (I have brought an arrest warrant for you). I inwardly groan and ask him to show me the papers. Looking at the papers I realise how much the Police have to work. Warrants have been issued for 3 ex residents. One lives in Pitthoragarh Uttarakhand, the other lives in Allahabad but now shifted to USA. The warrant is for an assault case in Malerkotla for which I have already been twice. I accept the warrant and get bail and promise insincerely to attend the court in Malerkotla. And before leaving he gave me a veiled threat, “if you dont come this time we will return with a fauj and arrest you!”
Malerkotla formerly a princely state was incorporated into the state of Punjab. It is in the heart of Punjab and has a Muslim majority but is an island of communal harmony.
The roots of communal harmony date back to 1705, when Sahibzada Fateh Singh and Sahibzada Zorawar Singh, 9 and 7 year old sons of 10th Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, were ordered to be bricked alive by the governor of Sirhind, Wazir Khan. His close relative, Sher Mohammed Khan, Nawab of Malerkotla, who was present in the court, lodged vehement protest against this inhuman act and said it is against the glorious tenets of Quran and Islam. Wazir Khan nevertheless had the Sahibzadas tortured and bricked into a section of wall while still alive. At this the noble Nawab of Malerkotla walked out of the court in protest. Guru Gobind Singh on learning this kind and humanitarian approach and blessed the Nawab of Malerkotla with his Hukanama and kripan. In recognition of this act, the State of Malerkotla did not witness a single incident of violence during partition.
But it’s a long journey from Nagpur to Malerkotla so I decided to take the risk of a fauj descending on me and arresting me. It’s been 17 years now and the fauj hasn’t turned up!
Back in Nagpur I treat quite a few cases of violence especially in the charitable hospital where I work and of issue injury reports.
And returning to the present, the arrest warrant which was being served to me pertained to a unique case of domestic violence with reversal of roles.
Now being much older and wiser I told the plain clothes cop to go ahead and arrest me. He was very apologetic and said “how can I do that?” So again I sign wherever required to prove I was arrested and received bail on the spot and with assurance I would attend the case the next day.
The case was that of a young couple who had an intercaste marriage against the wishes of their parents. But very soon there was a falling out between the two. Now allegedly the wife hired goondas to bump the husband off. They attacked him one evening in a lonely spot and stabbed him on his back. Luckily it was not fatal and the knife had not penetrated deep enough to cause serious damage. I sutured the wounds and discharged him within a day. The police came for the injury report which I issued. Then the matter went to the ‘fast track’ court and I was issued a summon. I attended the summon in the fast track court. This court is housed in what used to be the MLA Hostel. On reaching the court I found it empty except for the clerk and stenotypist. They informed me that the judge has gone to attend a workshop so they will be no hearings today.
Some months later I got another summon for the same case. Again I went to the fast track court and again was greeted by an empty court and this time the judge was on leave.
Subsequent summons I ignored and now comes the arrest warrant which is being served to me!
So I attend the hearing the next day, this time the judge is present and asks the defense lawyer to cross question. To this the accused lady stands up and says “I have done law so I am going to defend my own case!” The accused is an attractive slim young lady, stylishly dressed in black pants and a white shirt. Not looking at all like a seasoned criminal capable of giving out supari.
The judge asks her if she has a bar council registration to which she replies no. Then the judge says she cannot represent herself. He requests her former lawyer who is sitting in the benches to take her case and he refuses. So again the court is adjourned till she finds a lawyer to represent herself.
Few months later I get another summons for the same case. This time both the judge and a lawyer representing her are present. During my cross examination the defense lawyer finds a discrepancy in the discharge card. The date he was operated and the date he was assaulted don’t match. This card was filled by a junior doctor who made an error in the dates. Due to this discrepancy she is granted bail.
The judiciary system is famous for being notoriously slow. They say justice delayed is justice denied. Because of this comes the rise of the vigilante form of justice.
A famous case is that of a 2004 incident which occurred in Nagpur which created national headlines known popularly as the ‘Akku Yadav’ case. In August 2004, Bharat Kalicharan aka Akku Yadav a murder and rape accused was being led to the courtroom by the police for a hearing when a group of women attacked him in the court premises with knives, sticks and stones. The police were mere spectators, not anticipating such a vicious attack by women. The women killed Akku Yadav and the attack was so vicious they even emasculated him.
What drove ordinary women to such extent you have to know the history of Akku Yadav. He was a local goon terrorizing the Kasturba Nagar slums in Nagpur. He felt every young girl was fair game and no one dare raise any objections due to fear. The Police in their wisdom preferred to turn a Nelsonian eye towards his activities.
He was arrested couple of times for charges ranging from rape, murder or intimidation however was released due to lack of evidence. No one dared to come forward to give witness against him.
So finally the women of the locality, totally disgusted with his activities took the law in their own hands.
My connect with this incident was the main accused and leader a young girl in her twenties was my patient. She was a student of Hotel Management and had an attack of acute appendicitis. I had operated on her and she had recovered. She hardly appeared to be the type of person who would commit such a crime. Dressed like all students do with tee shirt and jeans. Never found her behaviour to be particularly aggressive. Happy with my treatment she brought other members of her family to me with various problems. Her brother was being treated for severe depression and ultimately committed suicide and her father was no more. She had declared to me that she was interested in serving society and did not want to get married. A few months before the incident she came to me saying after the surgery she has gained weight around the abdomen due to which she is getting rejected for jobs in Hotels and felt the surgery had something to do with it. I reassured her that surgery had nothing to do with the weight gain. Possibly because she was now pain free she was eating more. Then couple of months later the incident occurred which caught national headlines and reported on national TV. Initially I was not aware about her involvement but few days later the papers reported that this lady was arrested for being the leader along with her photograph. Later on she was acquitted for lack of evidence. Same story no one came forwards to bear witness against her. If you ask the any of the people in the locality she is a heroine who managed to rid the locality of a menace. The property values in the locality shot up within a year with the end of the Akku Yadav reign. People felt safe.
She is still my patient and I operated on her mother barely two months ago. She has done well for herself establishing a computer training school and a charitable trust as well as having a job in the airport. I have asked her details about the events but obviously she is not forthcoming with it. She claims a biopic is being made on her life and she is under contract not to reveal the details to anyone.
One of my friends told me his father gave him sound advice. “Never get into a legal dispute with anyone and drag him to court, because that’s a Chakravuha, you know how to get in but you don’t know how to get out. Instead haat paar jod lo aur maafi maang lo” (Apologize with folded hands). And further advice his father gave him was, “Kaale coat aur saffed coat se hamesha dur raho” (keep a wide berth from the black coats and white coats, i.e Lawyers and Doctors. Jesus Christ when he was crucified, along side him were crucified a thief and a murder. Someone wrote, “if he were to come down again this time it would be a lawyer and a doctor!”