There are two categories of drivers in India: those that have been in an accident, and those who will be in one. And the first thought that comes to people’s minds after an accident, assuming that the people involved are not so badly injured that their faculties are compromised, is determining “who’s at fault”. Mostly that’s a tricky question to answer. But sometimes, the answer is simple. Here’s a true story from Bombay.
Back in 1989, one Mr. Yona, after consuming two pegs of whiskey, was driving home at 10.30pm. The traffic light was green as he approached an intersection. Yona noticed a drunk man dithering at the intersection, trying to cross the road. Then, he suddenly seemed to disappear on the poorly lit highway. Still, Yona slowed his car down to about 40kph. As the car approached the intersection, the drunk unexpectedly appeared on the road, bang in front of the car. Too late. The car rammed into him. The windscreen was shattered and the guy fell to one side. He seemed badly injured.
As is typical of most cities in this country, a crowd materialised from thin air, surrounded the car and started heckling Yona. Some in the crowd dragged the drunk victim, who was so sloshed he didn’t realise how badly he’d been hurt, to the median. After leaving him there, they quickly joined the others to vent their frustration at the carwalla.
In the meantime, an old man from the crowd quietly told Yona that the ‘victim’ was a professional swindler who jumped in front of traffic to extract money from unsuspecting motorists. He asked Yona to quickly get into the car and drive off while he distracted the crowd. Soon, the old man somehow managed to clear the crowd for a bit and Yona sped off.
Reaching home, Yona called over his trusted driver, Jalal. He explained what had happened and asked that the car be hidden for a few days. Jalal did as he was told; he couldn’t refuse. After all, it was because of his saab’s influence at the RTO that a polio-affected cripple like himself had managed to get a driving licence. He owed his livelihood to Yona.
A couple of days passed without incident. And then Yona got a call from a “social worker”. He said that he knew about the ‘accident’ and would file a police complaint. But he also offered to “resolve” the issue for five thousand bucks. Yona told him to go f**k himself. The next day a case was filed at the local police station and a message was sent out on the wireless with the car’s details.
Since the matter was escalating, Yona told Jalal to take the car to the police station and take the blame for the accident. Jalal dutifully followed these instructions. He was let off the same day on bail. In the meantime, the accident victim who suffered two fractures on his left arm and a small cut on his forehead was discharged from hospital. Relieved at being discharged from hospital after three days, he immediately proceeded to the local country bar to get drunk.
The case was in court now, and Jalal was present for every hearing. He’d bribe the clerk 10 or 15 bucks every time to get the date deferred. Why? Because the magistrate hearing the case was “too upright”. After some seven court dates, the clerk advised Jalal that this magistrate was going to be on leave and the one replacing him would be more “reasonable”. This brought some hope for Jalal, and indeed Yona.
The next hearing was a good one for the two. The new magistrate imposed a fine of Rs 700 on Jalal and closed the case in one hearing. The clerk received a bottle of scotch and a carton of imported cigarettes for his help.
So who’s at fault here? This is one of those instances where the answer is simple. In this case, it was the fault of the driver, the victim, the mob, the social worker, the police, the bureaucracy and the justice system. Moral of the story?
When everyone is at fault, no one is at fault.