Sriram Narayanan on: the donkey effect

Posted by Sriram Narayanan at 09:42 am on Saturday October 26, 2013

You’d think us auto types aren’t affected by much. That we are immune to crime and other socials ills. And we only care about fuel prices, taxes on cars and bad roads. You are way off. Let me explain. With a donkey.

Donkeys have needlessly gained a reputation for being dim-witted. Fact is, a donkey is more adept at following human command than your housecat. But for all their abilities, donkeys have one queer habit. If you hassle a donkey... tickle its nostril, pull its ear, put a load on its back when it isn’t ready, the person who bears the brunt of its anger is the one nonchalantly standing behind the animal – because its only reaction to danger is to kick its hind legs in the air.

Our law enforcement machinery reacts to crime the way a donkey reacts to fear. Everything is a knee-jerk reaction. And the people who get kicked around with haphazard security measures are you and I. There’s a terror attack in one corner of the country? Put up nakabandis and create chaos on an arterial road in another corner of the country.

I will tell you how all this affects an auto magazine. Since the 26/11 terror attacks, it has now become a crime to park a car on the side of a quiet, nondescript lane and shoot pictures. Because people taking pictures of a climate control button or an alloy wheel are a threat to national security.

Now, as a medium of information and entertainment, in our photos, we do attempt to document culture and places as much as the cars and bikes. Turns out that if we do, we are endangering lives. The recent gang rape in a mill in Mumbai, will eventually see repercussions at TopGear.

You see, I often visit such places for a recce before a shoot. And with me sometimes is our location consultant, a woman. Apart from the absolute indifference to law that led to the gruesome rape, the primary problem is that such places have no clear signboards or an authority to guide you through the process of showing, or shooting at, the location.

In my experience, instead of somebody you can approach, all I get are self-appointed guardians of the place throwing their weight around, or some regulars trying their luck with new faces – and I’m left with two options: leave, or tackle the location on my own.

I can foresee a future where we won’t be allowed to shoot within the premises of a mill as a security protocol. The only hassle-free thing this magazine can now do is use cut-outs of cars from press images. Because rather than act as a deterrent to unruly situations, our police would rather have you lock yourself up and stop being outdoors.

Whenever a grievous crime occurs, all the local police department usually comes up with is an advisory that feels like a kick from a donkey: “Avoid late nights, avoid deserted places, do not hold hands or wear sleeveless tops”. Since our law enforcement agencies specialise in shutting down dance bars, rounding up people who drink without permits, arresting people making chocolates in their homes, and harassing canoodling couples in a park, they seem clueless when confronted with serious crimes like murder or sexual assault.

So they put up barricades at crowded places, or simply pull up people taking photos in public spaces. There have been times when the police have told me that if I didn’t stop shooting and leave the place in the next 10 minutes, they weren’t responsible if something happened.

Mumbai’s Police Commissioner, Satyapal Singh, has said the rape is a fallout of a promiscuous culture that allows public kissing. Which is another way of saying that it’s better that the victim did not exist, so there would be no crime. The next time you wonder why you can’t do the normal things you can do in a free country, or take pictures in a public place, it’s only because you happen to be standing behind an alarmed donkey.

The views expressed in this column are solely those of the author.

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