Things had been festering for a while in India, bubbling and threatening to get really bad for a while. We didn't know how and we didn't know when, but it was coming and we could feel it. This post describes our no-so-happy New Year's Day, 2013. It's long. A man goes to jail. But at the end, there's a gin and tonic and a hot shower.
After we finished with Agra and the Taj Mahal, which was just as amazing as you've always dreamed, by the way, we were to take a big train from a nowhere town called Gwalior all the way to Veranasi, which is where the people go to the Ganges River to bathe and set their dead people on fire. Imagine India in your mind's eye. Veranasi is the place you're imagining. But first we had to take a government bus from Agra to Gwalior.
What a weird bus ride. What was supposed to last two hours ended up being five-and-half. Typical India. Nobody on the bus spoke English. Once, during a traffic jam, the bus started going but then stopped again. A little old lady behind us most clearly uttered one English word: "sh*t". We laughed pretty hard.
At one point a white SUV full of men pulled over in front of us and stopped our bus. They got out and then got in a yelling match with our driver. Then they got ON our bus (and by the way it was the kind of bus where there are sixty-five too many people on it) and passed me to approach the driver. I said, "no, no, no, no, no, no" and motioned to get up and get in between the men to try to prevent any violence, but a man sitting in the conductors seat in front of us looked at me and shook his head, like, stay out of it. So I did. The men started punching our driver! And then they yelled some more and got off the bus.
After that we were on edge for sure and so when another truck pulled up and six men approached our bus with clubs in their hands we kind of freaked out. They boarded our bus but didn't beat the driver or any of us. What was that all about? I'll never know. I don't speak Hindi. Shortly after that our bus broke down and we had to get on another one. The new driver said, "WELCOME TO INDIA!" and I was like, yah.
When we finally arrived to Gwalior, it was already 10:30pm and we had missed our train to Veranasi by two hours. We knew we had to spend the night, but walked straight to the train station to ask what to do about leaving for Veranasi the next day. In India the train station is a confusing place. You can't just go buy a ticket. You have to butt in front of six people at a ticket desk and yell your question and then they ignore you and send you somewhere else with a flick of the hand. The ticket counter told us we had to "enquire" at the "enquiry" desk. So we went over there, where another jerk didn't even look at us. Typical India. His feet were on his desk and he faced away from me. Anyway, I finally asked him why he was being so rude. After all it was an enquiry counter and I had an enquiry. I said, "are you on break?" but it did no good. I finally got through to him by saying, "Look. I need help. If I were your sister, what would you tell me to do?" He smiled, miracle of miracles and told me if I were his sister, he wouldn't let me travel without him. And then he said the best thing to do would be to buy tickets for the same train the next night and sent us back to the original counter.
But first, we had to go pee. The train station bathroom was gross. The squatters had mountains of poop in them, and so the only other option was a tile room with a hole in the corner. Like mouse holes in the floor. There was no possible way to pee in the holes. In hindsight I think it was actually a shower. I squatted as low as possible and peed as slowly as I could, but it was dark and there was no lock and I was so concerned about bracing the door against rapists that basically my entire pants, socks and shoes got wet with tiny dots of pee that had splashed up from the tile. I was humiliated. After THAT, I met Summer at the snack counter. I bought my snacks, used my wallet to pay with cash, and put my wallet back in my tote bag. Out of the corner of my eye I saw two young boys noticing my wallet so I resolved to clutch my bag tight.
THEN, we went back to the original ticket counter, who told us to come back the next day because his desk was for was general tickets and the sleeper car tickets were only available at the reservation desk which was closed for the night. AAAAAAAAAH!! I'm explaining these ridiculous details to give an idea of my mindset. I was tired. It was late. I was also shaken up at the beating of the bus driver and afraid that those men with clubs were going to hurt us but they didn't and I was angry with the train station employees AND I peed on myself.
Anyway, when I was there, I noticed my peripheral assassin, as my Dad would say. He was one of the young boys from the snack counter. He was approximately 17, healthy and well-dressed. He was standing too close. No big thing in India, they always stand too close (because they intend to butt in front of you). But I noticed him and that's the point. After my question was [not] answered I started to walk over to Summer to give her the new details. I felt funny. Strange. This caused me to look in my bag for my wallet. It wasn't there. I looked at him. He looked at me. He started running. I screamed and pointed, "hey! HEY!," and Summer grabbed his shirt, and then two men caught him and started slapping and punching him. Hub Bub. Commotion. He tried to escape. I saw my wallet on the ground (he must have thrown it). I grabbed it. Then Summer and I tried to leave the station to get the heck out of there. "Ma'am!" the people called to me, holding my pick-pocketer. I thought maybe they thought I would want to punch him. I didn't. (I admit I kind of wanted to slap his face.) And then somebody said "police" and I realized I would have to give a statement. Side point: I have NO idea how he got his hand in my bag. I never felt it. And I was clutching it because I was aware and on edge because I just felt something was up. And he still got my wallet out of my bag.
We followed the mob, and I do mean mob. There were fifty of us walking to what I assumed would be the police station. Suddenly we were left behind and at the back of the mob. The boy tried to escape and begged and pleaded with his captors who continued slapping him, and we trod on. And on. It was far. The whole time they were slapping and punching him. I started to cry, because I just didn't want anything to do with this Justice anymore. What did I care? I had my wallet back. But the Police, you have to go to the Police, right? Ugh, in India I have heard they are corrupt, so do you really have to? I don't know! Leave me alone! (Pee Wee Herman).
I remembered a story where my friend Kevin's bag was stolen in Africa and a lynch mob caught the man and they asked Kevin, "do you want us to kill him?" Kevin was like, "no thank you." As we walked, I told Summer, "I don't want to send him to jail." and one of the mob looked at me like I was a crazy person and said, "you don't want him to go to jail???" When we got to the office the fifty men stayed to watch the scene unfold. There were papers and books and statements and all I could see was the poor boy laying on the ground and another man KICKING him in the face with his boot. I didn't want any part of it, none! I wanted out of there. We were asked to sit down on a bench. By this point, I still had not been asked, nor had I told anybody what happened.
They took the boy into a back room and a policeman took a strap and followed. From our bench, I had to hear them lashing him again and again and again and again and I couldn't stop my tears. I buried my head in my hands and sobbed. He got a million lashes and I could hear him crying and begging. I wanted to help him escape! But he stole my wallet! All around me people were talking in Hindi and still nobody had asked me what happened. The man I took to be the main policeman was smirking in a way that made me uncomfortable. It bothered me that nobody seemed to care that we might be upset by any of this. I asked: "what's going to happen to him?" but I couldn't get a straight answer from anybody. Finally I found a man who spoke English and I asked, "Where are we? Is this the police? What do they need from me?" They told me we were at the Train Police, and that the boy was being punished. They confirmed that I had my wallet back and that nothing else was missing. I was still crying and my leg started shaking uncontrollably. Summer held my hand and told me, "this is not your doing". She told the men we were satisfied and we didn't want anything further. I had my wallet and the boy was punished. They let us leave finally, but only after I gave my name, address and phone number. (Sorry mom, I gave them yours.) Regardless if I wanted to "press charges", they were going to "take care of him" and I have no idea what that means, except the man who spoke some English told me that they would make sure he never did this again.
Summer and I left the station, got ourselves an expensive hotel room ($40!), ordered up two double gin-and-tonics, enjoyed hot showers for the first time in over a month and slept until 4pm the next day. Alas, I don't think I'll ever be over it.
|I love my mom.|
What a horrible story, I can't imagine witnessing something like that. It's not your fault, all you did was protest about your wallet. You couldn't have known they would take justice in their own hands and beat the boy up. With all the stuff in the media lately about those rapes, India seems like a scary country. Hope you enjoy it, but be careful over there!
Dude! Just... dude. Of course this is not all that India is about, but it does happen. Something to put some humanity back into the mob is that you had a gaggle of strangers (and a bus driver) looking out for you. Maybe not the way you would have wanted, but in a way that made sense to them. I'm sorry you had such awful experiences condensed into such a short period of time.
Your New Years Day can begin the next wonderful day you have - leave this back in that 2012 that just dragged on and on long after it should have stopped.
On a lighter note, your description of the bureaucratic nightmare that is customer service made me laugh - as do your humiliating pee splatters. This was my India.
What an awful experience- It makes my stomach turn just reading it.
OMG Why are you there? After that gang rape and now you guys I am never going to India. Off my list of "to dos"!!!
That is a horrible experience. It wasn't good that your wallet was initially stolen, but I would have felt horrible like you watching and listening to what they were doing to him.
I'm actually surprised the customer service guy wouldn't look at you after seeing the pics of the creepy starers.
I was totally going to write the same comment as Davin, about the creepy starers..... Yes, I read on facebook as this event enfolded. NIGHTMARE. Oh, and thank you for the postcard. "hugs"
This was absolutely awful and I'm very sorry!!! This is the part of traveing that makes your mother demand you come home but you say: 'Mom, this is rare and I'm smart and I'm still ok. Love you,'
Rachel (Chris O'Connell's um, niece of sorts)
Oh man, be careful while you're there. Thanks for the details, my son was wondering how old the wallet stealer was.
When we had our luxury hotel room, we were able to also watch TV for the first time in months. We watched the news about protests in Dehli about violence against women (the protest was shut down, according to a friend who tried to join in), and they scrolled news items of gang-rape and toddler-rape that had happened just in December 2012. It was staggering. Horrifying. About a gang-rape a day, usually on a bus or even sometimes perpetrated by the bus driver.
When I called my mom from our fancy hotel and told her the story, she asked, "are you safe?" and I said, apparently! All I have to do is yell out and fifty men will come to my rescue!
Sadly, I think this would only be true of a theft, and not a sex crime :( just my observation / opinion.
This might sound racist? But it's very hard to tell the age of a person here. I could look at somebody and think they are 47, and actually they are 30. So in fairness I should say the kid was somewhere between 14 and 28.
It was sad that this happened just days before we left India, because its possible it skewed my perception negatively toward the whole country. However we had a wonderful time in Veranasi just before going into Nepal.
Also, that gang rape was one of many many many gang rapes that occurred in the recent past. Very sad indeed. I'd be interested to know the statistics stacked against those of the United States, since India has over one billion people, and I think incidence of violent rape is just as prevalent in the US. However I'm probably too lazy to look it up.
Yep. You only get 'unwanted attention' in India. Try getting a waiter to look your way. Impossible.
Oh man. How terrible. How awful. I've been reading about women's rights in India, and now this. I'm glad you're safe. And that you have hour wallet. I wonder how many times that kid has been caught doing the same thing.
This reminds me of my amazement of how a crime involving a lot of money (and no one is physically hurt) warrants life in prison, but someone who brutally rapes and murders someone can get out in a handful of years if they play their cards right. Don't even have to leave the USA to witness that.
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