When I Was Taken To Police Station For Not Wearing Mask While Cycling

Dheeraj DeeKay
13 min readNov 13, 2020
Suhail Naqshbandi

I don’t know where to begin, how or even if I should begin on this at all, but here I’m.

It is 12:24 pm now. The date is 11 November 2020.

Only an hour or so ago I left for the market on my sister’s ladybird bicycle to fetch some fish and a packet of curd for mum. On my way, I noticed the cycle’s tires had less air in them so I stopped at the cycle-repair shop on my way and got both tires filled with air. Paid him and left for the market. On the way I thought I should get the curd first and then fetch fish so I decided to cycle past the fish-market to the curd shop. Between fish market and the shop lies police station and there were two cops opposite to the station with their masks on — I mention this because I have seen them mostly without their masks before — so this needed saying. So I knew that they were on guard for people without masks. And I was one of them. My mask was lying in the cycle basket as is always when I’m cycling. I don’t see any point of wearing a mask while riding a bicycle or while running alone by the beach or just when I’m by myself. But I always make sure I wear a mask when I’m before a shop-front, at market or at any crowded place. My friends no how paranoid I’m about this and they joke about it all the time when I frown about their carelessness. In case of cycling and running it isn’t just the bare-bone logic but also how it is dangerous to wear masks while performing breathing-heavy activities. It can in fact be fatal to wear masks while cycling or running. With such sound reasoning behind me, I calmed myself and kept cycling without bothering about the policeman ahead. It is no mystery by now what must have happened at this point because if it was anything otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this post.

The policeman asked me to stop. He must be in his forties. I noticed he was wearing his mask properly covering both his nose and mouth — another anomaly hard to miss. I stopped. He directed me to the police station. I tried to ask why but he insisted, rather curtly without listening to anything that I had to say, that I walk with my cycle to the station entrance. I sensed trouble but I was still confident that policemen will understand and honour my reasoning. I know, going by the track record of police from across the country that’s a fallacy but still, I wanted to believe otherwise.

A lady inspector was sitting on a chair with a receipt book on a table before her who asked me to pay the fine. I reasoned I was riding a bicycle and that I immediately wore the mask when I was stopped. I wasn’t let to talk any further. Another policeman came and shouted that I have to wear it all the time. I tried to tell him how it is advisable not to wear masks while exercising or cycling, and also that it could prove fatal. Again, before I could finish, the policeman who first directed me to the station entrance called me inside to meet the PSI (Police Superintendent). I followed. We stood outside his room whose door was open. He was on his phone.

Some background here.

I have been to this police station couple of times in past. For my passport verification, I have visited this station some four or so times owing to “sir is out on duty, come another time”. But on two such occasions they made me stay there because I was then studying computer science and could also type in Kannada — I helped them in typing few of their papers. And when sir did arrive, the inspector handling my passport verification papers told me how before being on duty here in Karwar, their sir was in Bhatkal and people would pay him so and so amount for their passport verification. I was in no hurry to get my passport and to make matters worse, was high on idealism so just told him, ‘sir this is Karwar and not Bhatkal, I won’t pay anything to anyone for carrying out their duty.’ I also told reminded him how passport office pays police by each application to carry out this paperwork. So they weren’t doing anything out of courtesy rather it was their duty. He said my application might not move smoothly to which I said that’s fine. I can wait. Then the PSI asked us not to travel abroad, serve India and Indian interests — the whole brain drain speech. I received my passport anyway after few weeks. Against all the fears that he had created in my head, I faced no further delays or issues in receiving my passport. But I’m aware of a friend who faced a great number of hurdles to get his passport done because he refused to pay bribe to police officers (not at this station but a different one under Karnataka state itself).

Next, I was at this station over an RTI application I had filed with District Commissioner. I had first visited the police station requesting an FIR to be written against a neighbor for obscenity and nuisance. This individual’s brother was a retired police officer (different station but under Karnataka state). They refused to file an FIR so I filed an RTI query with district commissioner who directed it to the station asking why it wasn’t filed. They did act after this but let the individual off real quickly. Things continued as they were for us.

Then I visited twice recently and once before this very PSI. I have seen him surrounded by people wearing masks while himself wearing none.

So all in all, I’ve been to this place and I’ve stood outside this very door. Not that they will remember any of these instances or me for many like me visit police station on daily basis. And anyway, I’m too poor and unimportant to be remembered by the cops. PSI has already started shouting at me but I’m not able to make out what he’s trying to convey by this shouting. I try to explain him with a calm voice that, sir I was riding a bicycle and it’s pretty hard to cycle wearing a mask. He shouts me down. I tell him that he is raising his voice unnecessarily and that he shouldn’t do so because I haven’t done anything to be talked this way. At no time am I allowed to complete my sentences. Please note that howsoever many times I must have visited this police station, I still get tensed and frightened around police officers or any gunmen for that matter, just like millions of others. Should we be frightened around them? Heck, not. They exist to help and serve us. They exist to make our lives better and worth living but news after news after news they have proved just otherwise. And even in my personal experiences and those of my near ones, they have just acted like cops from the newspapers. They enjoy unchecked and unaccounted power, and act with utmost impunity. How many citizens are in jails today because police have filed cases against them without basis in facts or evidence? And then citizens have to fight it out in courts — none of it comes easy or cheap. Who has such resources at their disposal or time to invest? We know of people who have spent 23 or so years in jails only to be cleared by courts of all charges and pronounce them innocent. They spend their prime years in jail because police frames them. Why? Simply because they can and they easily get away with all this. The PSI reminds me this when I tell him that law doesn’t say I should wear a mask while riding a bicycle. He shouts again — are you teaching me law now? I can show you what law is and can do! And the inspector standing beside him asks me if I want to go to courts. PSI says I have to wear mask whenever I step out of the house. To this, I tell him he can get me a vehicle if he wants me to wear a mask even while on the move. He shouts me down. This shouting and me trying to open my mouth to reason out continues for a while. He asks me to pay the fine and just leave. Inspector takes me outside to the table. I note what the receipt reads. It doesn’t talk about the mask anywhere. The receipt is regarding smoking cigarettes and tobacco-related offences. I ask them I’ll pay the fine if I was given a receipt that said ‘fined for not wearing mask while riding bicycle’. The lady inspector shouts now. I want to ask them why are they all shouting for everything but I don’t. At this point, someone asks the policeman who first directed me to the police station to take my cycle. He goes to it and checks if I had locked it. I quickly run towards it and ask him not to take away my bicycle. The inspector hits my chin with his elbow when I touch my bicycle. I’m guessing this wasn’t intentional but only he would know that. At this point, another inspector, young and if I’m right, from siddhi community comes and takes me back near the table. He signals the lady inspector and she vacates her seat which he occupies now. He points me to the handwritten text on the receipt which reads “Karnataka epidemic disease ordinance-2020”. Lady inspector mentions something about googling and I tell her that the ordinance/act doesn’t mention anywhere about wearing masks while cycling. At this point I have seen a Muslim youth being pulled into the station, I assume, for not wearing mask as well. He probably said “kya hai ye faltugiri” (what is this nonsense) to which policeman was telling him that he’ll show him the faltugiri. I’m slowly realizing the danger and threat to my life. How wrong everything could go from here. I just want to leave this place. I want to agree to a crime under “cigarette and tobacco products (ban on advertisements, sale, distribution and production) Act of 2003” which I did not commit. For a fleeting second, I think of Jayaraj and Beniks from Tamilnadu — I’m aware of the saintly treatment I’m receiving in comparison to theirs, I think of many confessions that police retrieve from ‘criminals’ — the entire train of thoughts is unsettling. My legs have started to shake at this point. I don’t want them to see my trembling legs so I try to lean on the pillar but I’m frightened lest they do not like my leaning on a pillar before them. For the last time, I ask them to write on receipt — fined for riding a bicycle without a mask — which they, of course, reject and shout at me again. The young inspector is furious even. No one by their demeanour or language is reassuring or approachable. You don’t want yourself to be at this place. You don’t want to visit this place. This is like walking into a cave filled with hungry hyenas. And so I pay the fine and walk out with receipt. I’m frustrated, angry but also relaxed a bit. My legs are still shaking though. I search for my cycle which I find parked at a different location than where I had left it. I take it and ride away — with the mask on. I can’t breathe easily from inside but I can breathe still. This is better than standing inside that cave of hyenas. I collect the curd packets from a shop and cycle my way back to the market with the mask on but am still looking over from my shoulders. I’m checking if anyone from the station is still following me or if they’re looking at me. I see no one.

I’m surrounded by fisher-women and loads and loads of fish in the market. But I can no more sense myself being here. I’m just going from line to line without looking at the fishes. They’re shouting at me, asking me to buy from them. Different kind of shouting. Their body language is warm and assuring. I still cannot warm up to their calls. I buy something reluctantly because I have come to buy fish. This was the fish I told mum I won’t buy today because we have been having it for many days now. I just want to cycle away from the police station. I’m feared now walking to the parking lot outside the market, worried whether my cycle would still be there. I have seen videos of police from Delhi and UP smashing vehicles of the general public in vengeance. That cycle means so much to me. I’m relaxed to see it still standing where I had parked it.

In a far-away parallel universe if anyone thinks policemen meant well, that they were only doing their duty to safeguard people’s lives and was only trying to contain the spread of virus and such, let me break that castle of lies. Just some weeks ago, on the day of Dussehra, the same police station permitted a Dussehra procession that saw a crowd of more than a thousand in gathering and in procession, all in shoulder-to-shoulder vicinity. All these people were allowed to do so without masks, and I say allowed because there were twenty or so policemen including the PSI with the crowd marching a length of two kilometres. Oh yes, many policemen including the PSI weren’t wearing their mask themselves — sorry, some of them were wearing it on their necks, their faces and noses, unlike today, were exposed. On that day, temple committee members were shouting at anyone who took their phone out to record this glorious procession. You can guess as much who must have directed them to do so. Conspicuously, there was a policeman with a camera recording everyone and everything. He would climb the adjoining walls etc to better capture everyone. Not just this, the temple was open and in full action on nine days of Navratri with daily puja, auction and everything. All these events attracted crowds and a police constable would be present inside the temple while these things were happening. So no, this extraction of fines from common citizens isn’t to stop the spread of the virus. This is to drive fear into our heart, make us submissive to the state and authority, and of course to loot common men’s already meagre resources.

Justice in India is a cruel joke. People spend decades in jails only to be acquitted by courts later on but who can return them their life back? And what happens to policemen who file these false cases? Nothing. They just go on to their next victim. When the state machinery isn’t accountable for their crimes, how can one say the law is equal for all? A Kerala journalist gets arrested by UP police while on his way to report on Hathras incident, people go to Supreme Court on this matter but court tells them to go to lower court but the same court cancels its vacation time to hear Arnab Goswami’s bail plea. Goswami, of course, deserves bail, heck, everyone deserves bail until they are pronounced guilty by courts. Like Arnab Goswami’s lawyer Harish Salve said, the rule is Bail, not Jail. But sadly, tribal rights activists, human rights activists, those that stood against this govt, scores of Muslims and Dalits are spending years and years in jail without even going to trial. Our courts, even the Supreme court shows no urgency for their liberty and life. Father Stan Swamy requested for sipper and straw to drink water as he suffers from Parkinson’s and his hands shake; what did the court do? It gave him the next date. Would heavens had fallen if he was allowed to have a sipper to drink water from? (Harish Salve in defence of Goswami’s bail said in court — Will heavens fall if the man is released on ad interim bail?)

Law enforcement is depressingly bizarre today. Police can pick up a random individual from the street or college and charge him for terrorism or bomb blast and make him spend 23 years in jail. They aren’t accountable for their shoddy, and on most occasions, utterly criminal jobs. Law enforcement should not be this easy. Right now state enjoys the obscene amount of power to charge anyone with anything and run wild with it without a shred of accountability. This obscenity called law is captured beautifully in Cardinal Richelieu’s quote — “If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang him.” It shouldn’t be this way. “I actually think that law enforcement should be difficult,” Moxie Marlinspike, founder of Signal and security expert said in an interview. He further added, “And I think it should actually be possible to break the law.” In a sound democracy, citizens should have more and more power over the state. But instead, we have the state accumulating more and more power over its citizens. And as that happens, we start to move away from democracy to autocracy. Each frivolous case by the state against its citizens is a brick in an under-construction castle to a despotic regime. The doom is arriving, it is on its way. And no, it isn’t arriving because I was taken to the police station for not wearing a mask while riding a bicycle but because many see no wrong in the police’s behaviour in these cases. And states derive their power from the silence of their citizens. We give them this power, this abundance of power to destroy and bulldoze our ant holes and lives.

Wear mask now, yes, even while riding bicycles and such. Else you will be shown what law is and what it can do.

This whole incident occurred at Chittakula Police station of Karwar, Karnataka
Above cartoon is Suhail’s last cartoon
posted to social media before Kashmir’s internet was shut down.

--

--

Dheeraj DeeKay

I Listen. I Speak. I Write. I Do. And That’s Why I Am. Storyteller at large! Oh yeah, also a Programmer, Full Stack Developer when at desk.