If an autorickshaw driver breaks his passenger’s nose when he asks for change the incident is reported in the media. But would it have been news if the driver had not managed to break a bone? Or, as in another case, reportedly carried out something like a temporary abduction? On an earlier occasion, even when an auto knowingly dragged along a child who had fallen off, not much was done. The driver was allowed to go soon after his arrest. Barun Shantra’s nose was broken because the driver of the auto he was in found it easier — and more normal — to beat him up rather than return his change. If his nose had survived the assault, Mr Shantra would have been just one more passenger bullied and manhandled by an auto driver among thousands undergoing similar experiences every day in Calcutta.
Auto drivers are important to an understanding of this city’s culture. They enact, clearly and frequently, the ascendancy of the lawless and the violent in a society held at ransom by barefaced bullies. It is as though the non-criminal civilian is the second-class citizen. Yet the blame for this cannot be laid at the door of politicians, their criminal friends and the police alone. The contribution of the cowardice, self-absorption, hypocrisy and love for the short cut of Calcutta’s enabled society should not be ignored. Of course Mr Shantra is not to be blamed for what happened to him. But the behaviour of the others in that same auto demonstrates, at least in part, how a bully gets his confidence. No one objected. The police know, as they let the union-empowered, politically backed thugs go free after such violations, that the non-auto-driving citizen will not follow up. These citizens will respond piously to media reports and get on with their harassed lives. Stopping the harassment is in their power, but it tires them out just to think of it. They have created the society they deserve.