Chocolate and Gold Coins

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

The Corn Vendor and the Police

Charukesi from Indsight (a very nice blog) has an interesting little story of a beach vendor in India trying to make a living selling roasted corn-on-the-cob. Charu was taking some pictures of the lady and her customers having a snack when the policeman came:

And suddenly, this police van stopped on the road in front of them. A fat policeman walked out, picked up the stove and walked towards where we were sitting - on the short wall facing the rocks and the sea. And as we sat watching in open-mouthed horror (and I am not exaggerating here), he dropped the stove along with the contents on the rocks - more than twelve feet down…. And he left as quickly as he had materialized - and I still sat open-mouthed (that must have been a pretty picture - but I was too shaken to even think of taking a photograph of the cops).

The last glimpse I had of the cops was of the corn-seller in her yellow sari shouting heatedly to the rear of the van as they drove away…

All I could manage to think and say was - This is her livelihood - and the cop has managed to take it away from her in a moment - and it was not as if she was doing anything illegal or never-done-before… What will she do now?

The story has a happy ending: a boy gets her stove back and she is able to resume operations. But the policeman’s actions seem so unnecessary and rude. She must not have paid the proper bribes.

This story has lots of good photos: read the full thing.

The best way to help poor people is let them help themselves. She was hurting no one. She was providing for herself and two children. Taking away her livelihood serves no one’s interest.

I think it is a challenge in any society to not make the small entrepreneur into a criminal. Society wants to regulate commerce, sometimes with good reasons. Food preparation should be hygienic, for example (I doubt many restaurants in India would pass the hygiene test in the U.S.). But regulation more often becomes a way of kneecapping your competitor. So the lady in our story would probably have to get ten licenses and the cost would put her out of business. Someone complains; the cops come; the stove winds up on the rocks below.

As if she didn’t have enough problems to deal with as it is.


  • Thanks for the mention, Michael... there are two things about this incident which I have been thinking about - one is the way the cops have been increasingly persecuting the innocent and the weak... while the "real" criminals are getting away scot-free - after of course, lining the pockets of these cops. so many people have written in to say that such incidents are common in Bombay...

    and the other, I don't know which is scarier, is this whole thing about beautification of Bombay - make Bombay Shanghai kind of thing - this has now become a mantra for the polcie, and they fall back on it whenever they have some atrocity to commit on street and slum dwellers, and vendors...

    By Anonymous Charu, at 11:11 PM  

  • Hi Charu
    Very nice post. With the pictures, it was almost like seeing the news on T.V.

    I can see that maybe the city would want to limit the vendors to operate in a given area, that's fair and she could live with that. But just picking up her stove and tossing like some ghunda is not the answer.

    By Blogger Michael Higgins, at 8:37 AM  

  • It's is police brutality.

    PS: Mr. Higgins, what do you think of this book?

    I would appreciate your comments.

    yum yum

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:58 PM  

  • It got cut off. I do not know how to post links here.

    The book is 'Locked in Place: State-building and Late Industrialisation in India'

    yum yum

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:00 PM  

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