“He probably does not know who you are.”
This was what a colleague told me when I told him that the incessant calls he saw me getting at work today were blank calls from a guy who had been troubling me for some days.
So far I had just been ignoring him. Boring the hell out of blank callers and prank callers was a strategy that I picked up during my B.Tech. It was a strategy that had held me in good stead in a Harayana-based engineering college, where a female voice on the other end of the receiver – with or without consent – was rarer than an unpaid news article in the media today.
But the statement above got me thinking. I have supportive family and friends. If I asked, any of them would have been happy to give this guy an earful of threats and profanities to protect me. Plus, I am a bureaucrat. Some of my aforementioned friends are senior police officials. It wasn’t the case until recently, but today I hold a job that comes with its share of clout.
To be fair, being a bureaucrat, in my view, is just another job – no more respect worthy than any other honest job. Provided it is done honestly. But the integrity of babus is a story for another day. For now, I was wondering: What about a girl who isn’t a bureaucrat? What if she cannot turn to friends or family at times like these? What would she do?
The answer that popped in my head was – turn to the law.
Of late, in the backdrop of a recent spike in crimes against women (or may be just reported crimes against women), the Delhi Police has gone proactive in advertising the steps it is taking to protect the city’s women. One of these is the setting up of a Women’s Helpine and an Anti-Stalking helpline.
This is the story of when I called the helpline posing as a non-babu citizen.
Call #1: Women’s Helpine Number (1091)
The cliché that came to mind was that of the guy who, haunted by his abandonment issues, was about to hang himself and called a Suicide Hotline – only to be put on hold.
But may be it was an unfortunate co-incidence. May be they were short-staffed. I know the limitations that the system works under. So I decided to try another number.
Call #2: Delhi Police Anti-Stalking Number (1096)
A lady answers. She asks for my name (which makes me uncomfortable). I give her my first name. No surname. Next, she asks me where I live. Now this was getting personal and rather un-anonymous. So I said “Delhi.”
“Dilli toh bahut badi hai madam.” (Delhi is a big city.)
The tone seemed callous, especially to be used with a girl calling an anti-stalking helpline.
“I study at Jawaharlal Nehru University”, I replied, intentionally naming an area that is almost a micro-city in itself. It was also not a lie since some of us officers are undergoing training at JNU. So far, I had managed to skirt the significant issue of my job.The hope was that it would not matter who I was as long as I was a citizen in trouble.
I was now praying she will not ask for my hostel room number next.
Thankfully, she didn’t.
“Ghar pe police toh nahi chahiye?” (You don’t want police protection, do you?)
“Nahi, lagta toh nahi.” (I don’t think so.)
“Accha. Hold kijiye, aapko department mein transfer karti hu.” (Okay, hold while I transfer your call.)
Apparently, not asking for police protection had been a suicidal move for my case. I was put on hold for a long while listening to an automated message that ironically said “Thank you for holding. We appreciate the opportunity to serve you.”
Erm. I doubt any woman wishes to live to see the day when she gives an anti-stalking helpline an opportunity to serve her. While I wondered whether the authorities realized how borderline-cruel this well-intended message sounded, the first woman returned.
“Number busy aa raha hai madam. Thodi der baad call karo.” (The line is busy, please call later.)
I got the impression that since I did not have a murderer beating down my door, my call was apparently not important to the customer-friendly helpline people.
Call #3: Half an hour later
The same procedure followed. I was asked to give my name and residential information and then put on hold. This time, mercifully, the call to the concerned department did go through.
Another lady now asked me for my phone number.
“It is the same number I am calling from.”
“What is the number?”
I spelt it out. So the anti-stalking helpline does not have Caller ID. Ouch.
“Does he know you?”
“I don’t think so. He is probably illiterate. He just got my number one day by a misdial. He has been calling everyday ever since. I am a student and he keeps disturbing me with his calls all day.”
“Toh class mein phone off rakha karo na.” (Then you should keep your phone off when in class.)
That bit of unwarranted and uncalled-for judgment took the Insensitivity Cake.
Keeping a steady voice, I told her that he calls at all times of the day. Would she have me keep my phone off 24×7?
“Ok, give me his number.”
I gave her the number and we said our goodbyes.
There have been no follow-up calls from them since. Not even an SMS assuring me that action has been taken. Or even a serial number under which my complaint is registered. To be fair, the man did not call for a couple of days after that – which may or may not have been a coincidence. And then the calls resumed in all their glorious frequency. I cannot help but wonder if the same would have happened had they known “who I was”.
I am not saying that the police force is not doing its job. Like I said, I understand the pressures that the administration works under. The police administration, in particular, is one of the biggest victims of federal politics. Few citizens are aware that the law of the land that governs the police to this day is the draconian Police Act of 1861, laid down in the British era. Ever since, several high-powered committees that suggested reforms have been ignored amid the centre-state tussle for power.
Meanwhile, our policemen are short-staffed, disempowered, overworked and overburdened. In the face of all this, I salute the efforts of the officer(s) who would have convinced the government to allocate funds and people to set up this helpline. I can imagine the kind of odds they would have faced in order to make it a reality. I respect them. A lot.
But that’s me, the bureaucrat.
That JNU student, however, is another story. She does not have time for empathizing with the administration. She has a dozen blank calls to ignore per day.
Because he does not know “who she is”.
And nor do her protectors.