You have probably seen him play his dafli and recite pro-democracy poetry at literary festivals, protests and demonstrations, but Jaipur based poet Bappaditya Sarkar never thought that this would land him in the crosshairs of a cab driver with right-wing leanings or lead to an interrogation by the Mumbai Police.
Sarkar relived his ordeal from Wednesday night in a post he shared with friends, “I was at Silver Beach, Juhu, last night, and booked a cab around 10:30-10:45 to go back to Kurla, where I’m staying. As I got in the cab, I called a friend of mine and we were talking about protest cultures in different cities, what happened at Shaheen Bagh yesterday, people’s discomfort with Laal Salaam and how we could make Jaipur’s protests more effective. 10-20 minutes into the conversation, my Uber driver stopped and asked if he could use the atm, I enthusiastically agreed. Minutes later, he came back with two policemen and that’s when I realized he had gotten me to a police station.”
“The policemen asked me where I was from and why I was carrying a dafli, I told them I’m from Jaipur and that I was carrying the dafli because I was sloganeering at Mumbai Bagh earlier in the afternoon. The cab driver said ‘Sir aap isko andar lo, ye desh jalane ki baat kar raha hai, bol raha hai main communist hoon, hum Mumbai mein Shaheen Bagh banadenge, mere paas poori recording hai’. I told the policemen to listen to the recording and arrest me if they find me saying Hum desh jala denge or anything that is inciting or can be perceived as anti-national, I turned to the Uber driver and said ‘sir aapko kis baat ka bura laga, ye batao, aap police station kyu le aaye ho mujhe itni si baat pe?’ He responded with “Tum desh barbaad kardoge aur hum dekhtey rahenge?” recalls Sarkar.
That’s when the driver delivered a chilling warning saying, “Main kahin aur le jaa sakta tha tujhe, shukr mana police station laaya hun.” (Translation: You are lucky I brought you to the police station, I could have taken you somewhere else.)
Later, activist Kavita Krishnan posted this on twitter:
Last night, poet @Bappadittoh had a scary episode in Mumbai, at the hands of an @Uber driver and @MumbaiPolice cops (see screenshots): a glimpse of scary India under NPR NRC CAA, where every person will be incentivised to suspect & turn in others & police can harass everyone. pic.twitter.com/OOKUB58BxK
— Kavita Krishnan (@kavita_krishnan) February 6, 2020
Speaking to SabrangIndia Sarkar said, “I realized he could have taken me anywhere and I would just disappear from the face of the earth. No one would have ever found out what happened to me.”
This is the profile of the driver on Uber:
But Sarkar’s ordeal did not end there. The policemen started asking him a series of questions that Sarkar finds strange. “I was, then questioned in the police station, they asked me about my ideology, and people who’s books I read. And other absurd questions and they asked him to give his statement and took mine, which included unnecessary details like my father’s salary, and how I sustain myself without a job. The kind of poems I write, my social media handles. I had come to Bombay because I was invited to read at Kala Ghoda, and they insisted on me giving them the email of the organizer, which I refused but agreed to concede the first name. They also kept asking me why I was carrying a dafli,” says Sarkar’s statement.
Sarkar told SabrangIndia, “First it was just one cop who spoke to me on the ground floor. Then he took me to the first floor where I was questioned by four policemen. They demanded to see my poetry, but when I gave them my phone, they started checking my Whatsapp messages saying ‘check karna padta hai’.” Sarkar was finally allowed to leave only after Comrade S Gohil reached the police station at around 1 AM.
Meanwhile, after Kavita Krishnan’s tweet a representative of Uber got in touch with Sarkar. “Uber called me and assured me that they will investigate the matter. They also condemned their driver’s behaviour,” Sarkar told SabrangIndia.
When SabrangIndia contacted DCP Paramjit Singh Dahiya under whose jurisdiction the Santacruz Police Station falls he said, “I have no idea. I cannot comment on this.” Successive calls to Senior PI Shriram Koregaonkar of Santacruz Police Station went unanswered.