Cops in Mumbai continue to harass couples on the streets for no reason

Feb 01, 2016, 16:42 IST | Sagar Rajput, Sailee Dhayalkar and Anju Maskeri

Six months after the Mumbai Police were explicitly instructed in a circular to stop harassing couples in public places, this mid-day sting operation shows nothing has changed on the ground

Just six months ago, mid-day had exposed how the police had dragged young couples out of their hotel rooms in Madh Island and charged them with obscenity in public places.

The resulting public outrage over Mumbai Police’s moral policing forced the then Commissioner of Police Rakesh Maria to acknowledge that his men had erred and issue a list of dos and don’ts for them. Six months after they were explicitly told to stop harassing couples on the streets, this mid-day investigation shows nothing has changed on the ground.

Also read: Rogue Mumbai cops in the dock for harassing couples after mid-day sting

mid-day reporters wait in a car. Pics/Nimesh Dave

Here’s how it went down: Our reporters parked their cars in isolated spots and were chatting. In each case, it didn’t take long for patrolmen to come over and harass them. It always began with “What are you doing here” and “Do you know it is unsafe?” It didn’t take long for them to get to the point. In every single instance, it ended with “You’ll have to come to the police station and pay Rs 1,200.” (obscenity in public places)

While this was the indirect bait so that the couple would pay its way out of trouble, there were also instances when policemen shamelessly demanded money up front.

And if you stand your ground in the sure knowledge that you have not done anything wrong, out comes the ultimate Brahmastra — “Chalo, let’s call your parents.”

We caught five policemen red-handed on tape, extorting money from our reporters posing as young couples. (We are not publishing one instance as the footage did not get taped. A couple of other tapes are not exceptionally clear since the recordings were done at spots that had minimal lighting. But what the policemen were up to is quite evident in the tapes.)

The most revealing aspect of our test drive around the city was that all the four instances happened before midnight. We did the drive between 10 pm to midnight so that the cops wouldn’t even have the fig leaf of an argument that it was not safe for a woman to be out so late (Why even that should be an argument, we do not know, but that’s one of the first things they say if they spot a couple late night). The footages show the policemen violating every single point in the department circular on moral policing. In one case, the constables cited the sensational rape-murder of Hyderabad techie Esther Anuhya as a preamble to extort money.

On another occasion, a constable started asking pointed, uncomfortable questions to the woman reporter. The worst case was the one where, despite several reminders to them that they are not supposed to do that, the policemen repeatedly tried to force the woman to go to the police station.

Constable Sachin Ranjane
Constable Sachin Ranjane

(Attached to Kalachowkie police station)

Spot: Tanaji Malusare Road, Kalachowkie
Date: January 5, 2016
Time: 8.48 pm

Reporters Sagar and Anju parked their car at a secluded spot at Tanaji Malusare Road, Kalachowkie around 8.30 pm. 20 minutes later, a constable, (later identified as Sachin Ranjane) approached the reporters in civil clothes. Without giving any intimation, Ranjane opened the door of the car, probably expecting to catch the couple in a compromising position, so that it would get easier for him to extort money. On spotting the reporters, he asked Sagar to step down from the vehicle for police inquiry.

Ranjane: Where do you stay?
Sagar: Mulund.
Ranjane: Take the car to the police station. Show me your licence and car papers first.
Sagar: Sir, everything (all the papers) is in place.

(After going through the papers, to pressurise the couple, the constable shoots some questions at Anju, asking her name and other details.)
Ranjane: Where do you stay?
Anju: Tardeo.
Ranjane: (Pointing to the residential locality around) People stay here and you are sitting here.
Sagar: We were about to leave. Besides, we were just sitting here, nothing else.
Ranjane: Where do you work?
Sagar: I work for a private company.
Ranjane: Take your car and the car papers and come to the police station with me. Call your parents, as well as her’s. You will have to pay fine of Rs 1,200 each; that means Rs 2,400.
Sagar: Sir, please let us go, we were just sitting here.
Ranjane: What is there to understand; pay the fine of Rs 2,400 and you can go.
Sagar: Sir, please understand.

(The constable gets a call from the police station and stated he will be reaching the police station shortly. The reporters resist from going to the police station, and plead that their parents should not be called.)
Ranjane: Come to the police station.
Sagar: Sir, please understand.
Ranjane: Come to the police station and pay the fine of Rs 2,400 and go.
Sagar: Sir, please let us go.
Ranjane: Don’t do anything here, I am trying to make you understand. Call yours as well as her parents to the police station, pay the fine of R2,400 and leave.
Sagar: Sir, why are you involving our parents in this?

(Sagar removes Rs 300 from his wallet to hand it over to the constable.)
Ranjane: (Refuses to take the money.) Don’t give me Rs 100 or Rs 200. Take all the papers and come to the police station.
Sagar: Sir, every paper is in place; please let us go, sir (and hands him some amount.)
Ranjane: Don’t give me this little amount. I can reduce the amount and charge you just Rs 1,200. If you can give it to me, do it as soon as possible.
Sagar: Sir, I don’t have that much money, sir, please co-operate.
Ranjane: OK, then I am calling the patrolling van to take you to the police station.
Sagar: Sir, please don’t call the van, please sort it here.
Ranjane: So pay Rs 1,200 and leave. I have co-operated enough, as ideally its Rs 2,400 and you have to pay Rs 1,200.
Sagar: Sir, please understand. I am giving you all the money I have in my wallet (and tried to give Rs 500 to him. But even this was not enough for the constable and he refuses to accept this. Ranjane again fires some questions towards Anju to put pressure on Sagar.)
Ranjane: Take money from her (Referring to Anju) and give me Rs 1,200.
Sagar: Sir, please do not involve her in this.
Ranjane: Why not? Even she has come with you (Referring to Anju). Where does she stay?
Sagar: Tardeo.
Ranjane: Call her parents, she stays close by. They can easily come and pay the fine.
Sagar: Sir, why are you involving parents in this?
Ranjane: You will have to pay at least Rs 1200 as fine or I am calling the police van.
Sagar: Sir, please do not call the van, I am giving you the money.
Ranjane: We are getting call after call. Take the car to the police station.
(Pretending to talk with someone over the phone, Ranjane calls someone and asks for the police van in five minutes.)

Ranjane: You stay in Dombivli? Where do you stay?
Sagar: Mulund.
Ranjane: Why have you come so far?
Sagar: We left for a long drive. We came and sat here after that.
(Realising that Ranjane would not settle for less than Rs 1,000, Sagar removes the money and gives it to him.)

Ranjane: (After pocketing the cash) Leave this place immediately before our police van comes. How much is this?
Sagar: Sir, please co-operate.
Ranjane: No! Rs 2,400 is the fine and I am asking for Rs 1,200. Tell me if you can pay, otherwise come to the police station. Whatever you want to decide, do it fast.
Sagar: Sir, please take Rs 1,000 and leave us.
Ranjane: No! This is too less.
Sagar: Sir, I have given you everything I had in my wallet, please let us go.
Ranjane: Leave immediately.
Reporters leave the spot.

Constable Vilas Gojre
Constable Vilas Gojre

(Attached to Vikhroli police station)

Spot: Eastern Express Highway, stretch between Kanjur Marg and Mulund
Date: Jan 6, 2016
Time: 10.51 pm

This time we chose to park at a crowded place that had maximum flow of traffic which is frequented by the cops on patrolling duty. Sagar and Sailee parked the car on the Eastern Express Highway, stretch between Mulund and Kanjur Marg station. As expected, in less than 30 minutes, two constables arrived at the spot in a patrolling van.

One of the constables was identified as Vilas Gojre.
Gojre: Come out of the car and show me your licence.
(Sagar gets out of the car and gives him the licence.)

Gojre: What is the registration number of the car?
Sagar: **********
Gojre: What is your name and where do you stay ?
Sagar: Sagar Rajput. And I stay in Mulund.
Gojre: What is the name of the girl?
Sagar: Sir, let it be, we were just sitting in the car.
Gojre: Is this the time to sit here?
Sagar: Sir, please let us go.
Gojre: Just tell me her name and give me your mobile number.
Sagar: Sir, please let us go.
Gojre: Tell me the name of the girl and give me your mobile number.

(Sagar pleads to the constable to leave him, simultaneously his accomplice in the car number MH-01-AN-1418 tells him to shut up)

Gojre: Give me your cell number.
Sagar: **********
Gojre: Now tell me the name of the girl.
Sagar: Sir, please leave us
Gojre: You know Esther Anuhya? She was burnt and killed very close to this spot.
Sagar: Sir, please let us go
Gojre: Someone may hit you, take her (pointing towards Sailee) and rape her.
Sagar: Sorry sir.
Gojre: You don’t read newspapers? A South Indian girl who had come to LTT and she was killed here.
Sagar: Sir, let me go sir.
Gojre: Give me your address and her name.
Sagar: Sir, let us go sir

(Sagar fishes out Rs 300 from his wallet and tries to hand the money to Gojre)

Gojre: What are you giving me?
Sagar: Sir, how much do I pay you?
Gojre: Rs 1,250 is the fine
Another constable who had accompanied
Gojre: Don’t give us anything, come to the police station along with us, We will see there.
Sagar: Which police station, sir?
Gojre: Vikhroli.
Sagar: Please, don’t take us to the police station.
Gojre: We will take you to the police station and our officers will interrogate you.
Sagar: Please let us go, sir.
Gojre: Then pay Rs 1,250 now.
Sagar: I don’t have this much money sir. Please take Rs 500 and let us go. I don’t have more money.
Gojre: Take some money from the girl.
Sagar: No sir, it would affect my impression.
Gojre: Take money from her and tell her that you will repay
Sagar: Sir no.
Gojre: Ok. Give me Rs 1,000 then.
Sagar: Please sir, take Rs 500 and let us go.

(Gojare asks his accomplice and after his approval takes R500 and leaves from the spot)

Constable Sanjay Munde
Constable Sanjay Munde

(Attached to Matunga police station)

Spot: Five Gardens, Matunga
Date: January 11, 2016
Time: 9.13 pm

Accompanied by reporter Sailee, Sagar parked his car in a remote spot near Five Gardens, Matunga. After waiting at the spot for around an hour, Munde arrived in a police van. The questions fired by Munde were more or less similar to what Ranjane had asked.

Munde: Where do you stay?
Sagar: Mulund.
Munde: You stay in Mulund, then why are you sitting here in the car?
Sagar: We were just sitting, sir.
Munde: When did I say you were doing something? You are a resident of Mulund. The highway leads to Mulund, so what is the motive behind you sitting here?
Sagar: No motive as such, we were just sitting.
Munde: Give me the reason you are sitting here in such a secluded location.
Sagar: This area is not secluded. Besides, we were just sitting in my car.
(Three constables seated in the car ask the reporter for his name, address and licence.)
Munde: You are sitting at a very wrong place.
Sagar: Sorry sir, I made a mistake, please let me go.
Munde: I am not here to trouble you, but the way you are treating us is very wrong.
Sagar: What do you mean?
Munde: (Yells) You are treating us in a very wrong way.
Sagar: So how do I treat you, sir? What are you trying say? I am not able to understand.
Munde: How do I explain this to you? I mean, the place where you are sitting is not your daily route.
Sagar: Sir, I made a mistake, please let me go.
(The constable accompanying Munde claimed there was a call to the control room about someone sitting in a white car there.)

Munde: We came here looking at each and every car parked in this lane.
Another constable: They informed us that a suspicious car is parked in this lane.
Munde: Now you tell me, what are we supposed to inform the control room? That no one was here?
Sagar: Control Room?
Munde: You want us to lie? People staying in the area called the police control room and informed them. We are well aware about the area. The caller claimed that someone is seated in a white car, so we came to check the entire lane. We thought the call was about a white Toyota car, but we found some old man was sitting in it, so we came ahead and found you.
Sagar: Please sir, let us go.
Munde: We will leave you. We are not here to trouble anyone. What benefit would we have by taking you to the police station? Are you our enemy that we want to trouble you?
Sagar: That’s true, sir. Sir, take something and leave us, sir. Take R500 and leave us.
(The constable takes the reporter aside.)
Munde: Don’t wait here, somebody will call the control again.
Sagar: Sir, please let us go. Take Rs 500 and leave us.
Munde: (Takes the cash) — OK, don’t wait over here (He leaves from the spot).

Constable (not identified)

Attached to Bandra-Kurla Complex (BKC) police station

Spot: Bharat Nagar, BKC
Date: January 18, 2016
Time: 9:10 pm

Constable: Where do you stay?
Sagar: Mulund.
Constable: What are you doing here?
Sagar: We were just sitting in the car, sir.
Constable: You stay in Mulund. What are you doing here? Where do you work?
Sagar: I work for a private company in South Mumbai.
Constable: If people are sitting in the dark, then there is a problem.
Sagar: But sir, we were just sitting in the car and were leaving from here.
Constable: Come to the police station with me.
Sagar: Sir, why are you taking us to the police station? We were just sitting, sir.
Constable: Are you both married?
Sagar: No, she is just my friend.
Constable: She is your friend and you stay in Mulund. Then what is the reason for both of you to sit here?
Sagar: Sir, no reason as such. We were just sitting in the car and talking to each other.
Constable: Come to the police station with us. We will verify your identities by calling your parents to the police station
Sagar: Sir, why are you involving our parents.
Constable: Come, we will call your family members.
Sagar: Sir, please let’s solve this here.
Constable: You wont be able to pay the fine. Both of you call your parents to the police station and pay the fine. We will hand both of you to your parents
Sagar: Sir, please let us go.
Constable: Should I call the patrolling van?
Sagar: Sir, please why do you want to call the patrolling van?
Constable: Is this a VIP area? There isn’t any security here. The other day one incident took place inside there. (points towards a random spot)
Sagar: What happened sir?
Constable: (Giving false information) Some goons sexually harassed a couple. It is so dark there, can you see anyone walking here? Buses are parked. Can you see anything there?
Sagar: That’s why I didn’t sit there sir. I was sitting here.
Constable: Come now. Come with me to the police station.
Sagar: Let’s solve the matter here. (Tries to hand him some money)
Constable: Rs 100 is not sufficient.
Sagar: Sir, it’s 200, not 100.
Constable: Even Rs 200 won’t do. How can we settle the matter for Rs 200?
Sagar: Sir, please take Rs 400 and leave us.
Constable: Suppose if someone comes, shows you some weapon. What would you do alone? How much is this? (Pointing towards the cash)
Sagar: How much do I give you, sir?
Constable: Rs 1,000. Pay one person’s fine and go.
Sagar: Sir, Rs 1,000 is too much.
Constable: Then come with me to the police station and pay the fine.
Sagar: Sir, just for sitting here you are taking us to the police station?
Constable: Don’t do it again, a lady and a man aren’t supposed to sit here.
Sagar: OK, sir.
Constable: Do not wait here. Just leave.
Sagar: Under which police station does this area (BKC) come?
Constable: How much is this?
Sagar: Sir, Rs 400.
Constable: Where do you work?
Sagar: I work in a private company.
Constable: Do your parents know that you are here with a girl?
Sagar: But sir, we were just sitting.
Constable: I am not saying whether you were sitting or not. Have you seen the spot inside there?
Sagar: But this area comes under which police station
Constable: (fumbling) — Vakola, BKC and Kherwadi. Why do you know someone?
Sagar: No, I am just asking.
Constable: Don’t come here again. You stay in Mulund, so be there.

Police circular (August 20, 2015)
>> Though they were told about this before, it has come to light that police officers and inspectors make unnecessary inquiries with younger and older couples roaming in public places such as Mumbai’s malls, beaches, gardens, hotels, and enter hotel rooms/ flats and take action against couples as per the Maharashtra Police laws.

>> While patrolling, police officers/ inspectors should not criticise or make suggestions as to how citizens should behave and what they should wear.

>> Such incidents have happened in Mumbai though the police don’t have the authority to interfere in a citizen’s privacy.

>> All Mumbai police officers and inspectors are ordered not to take any such action that could malign the image of police in citizens’ minds.

>> As per the notice of the Joint Commissioner of Police (Law and Order) given before, do not take any action under Prevention of Immoral Trafficking Act before taking the permission of the concerned Deputy Commissioner of Police.

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'Cops can't harass couples like this. Will take action'
With Datta Padsalgikar having just taken over as Commissioner of Police, Mumbai, we spoke to him about our investigation and what couples can do if they are harassed by policemen.

Datta Padsalgikar took over as police commissioner yesterday. Pic/Atul Kamble
Datta Padsalgikar took over as police commissioner yesterday. Pic/Atul Kamble

During the course of the interview, Padsalgikar admitted that corruption at the lower rungs is a major problem with the city’s police force. He also promised swift action against errant policemen caught in our investigation.

Q. Can cops approach couples just sitting in cars if they are not indulging in any act of obscenity in public?
A. No one can harass anyone unnecessarily. Strict instructions are giving to the department personnel for the same. They clearly should not indulge in it.

Q. Can the policemen call couples to the police station?
A. No. Not in such cases.

Q. Can policemen ask a woman to come to the police station in the night?
A. Not at all, under any condition. Legally, it is not right.

Q. What should couples do if someone approaches them like this?
A. If a couple is stopped by policemen, in such situations they should ask the policemen for their names and ask them their purpose for asking such irrelevant questions. The couple can also call 100 and ask for help.

Q. What is your message for youngsters in city?
A. The city youngsters — both boys and girls — are very good and wise. They know what is good and bad. I ask them to keep their eyes and ears open and stay alert. They should contribute to the city and help the police. If they find any suspicious elements they should inform cops.

Q. Your comments about the investigation and what action will be taken?
A. Nobody at any level should be doing this. I would not tolerate corruption at any cost. Proper steps for the same will be taken.

'Call 100 if cops misbehave or harass for bribe'
One thing that stood out during our investigation was the manner in which the policemen constantly kept using the threat of taking the couple to the police station as a threat to squeeze out a bribe.

Criminal lawyer Rizwan Merchant
Criminal lawyer Rizwan Merchant

We spoke to leading criminal lawyer Rizwan Merchant about this ploy of policemen to coerce bribes out of law-abiding citizens and what people should do under such circumstances.

Q. Can policemen approach couples just sitting in cars and not indulging in any obscenity and call them to the police station?
A. As long as the couple is not indulging in any obscene or shameful act, the police have no right, authority or permission to summon them to the police station either under the Bombay Police Act or any other law for the time being, in force.

Q. Do their repeated attempts saying ‘come to police station’ count as coercion with the aim of taking bribe?
A. Repeatedly summoning the couple to the police station in the absence of any law providing for action against couples not indulging in any obscene or shameful act, would compel a person to reasonably believe that the persistence by the police in doing so is laced with an ulterior motive – maybe to make fast money under the pretext of “moral policing”.

Q. Is it legal to call a woman to the police station in the night?
A. Law prohibits summoning a woman before sunrise and after sunset. Needless to say, this law being known to the police, there can be no reason behind doing so, save and except that under the pretext of moral policing and knock out fast money from couples who generally don’t like to get into the limelight and consequently become soft targets.

Q. What should a couple in such a situation do?
A. The safest way is to call up the control room (100) and report the name of the concerned constable or officer, their patrolling vehicle number or two-wheeler number. Else, if the couples are confident that they have done no wrong, then they should visit the police station nearest to the spot and report the misdemeanour of the said officers to the duty officer and insist upon a report in writing so that the same could be reported to the senior officer of the said police station.

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