This is the story of how life can go completely topsy-turvy if you do not do due diligence at the time of selecting your flatmate in an unknown city. This is also the story of how a brush with the police can leave you extremely scarred. This is the story of how resident welfare associations indulge in moral policing and character assassination. This is the story of how helpless anyone can feel when the system decides to have a go at you.
At around 3:30pm on July 21, Ekta Negi says she was sleeping after a night-shift when her flatmate knocked on the door. Two months ago, the 22-year-old had moved into this 3-bedroom flat in Malaysian Township in Hyderabad, which was shared by Akhila*, who works at HSBC bank and Sanjana*, who freelances as a fashion designer and works from home. Ekta, a B Tech engineer, works as a network engineer at IBM in Hyderabad and says she works on weekdays from 7:30 pm to 4:30 am and sleeps till around 5:30pm every day.
The three women did not know each other prior to their living arrangement and had zeroed in on the flat through an online portal. The question that arises from this episode is also whether it is safe to zero in on flatmates through Facebook groups and whether online sites do any background checks on a tenant, going beyond checking your Aadhaar card and employment details.
Upon opening the door, Ekta, a girl from Uttarakhand who grew up in Mumbai, says she was surprised to see a dozen members of the society association at the Malaysian Township. They had barged into the house, accusing the girls of using ganja and storing it in the house. They had also found some 20 gm of ganja in a blue container that Ekta says is used to store masalas for use by the three women in the kitchen. Akhila was at work when the commotion took place.
Ekta says she was shocked as she had no clue as to how the substance had found their way into the box. She points a finger at Sanjana and alleges that three youth who stay in the same building frequent their flat when she goes to work in the evening.
But the association members did not listen to any pleas. Her phone was reportedly snatched away from her, even though they had no business to intimidate any resident like that. All they allowed her to do was to send an SMS to her team leader informing her that she would not be able to come in to work that day. One of the society members allegedly passed comments that bordered on raising a finger at Ekta's character. It was also suggested by an association member that those who come from north India indulge in such behaviour.
The police was called in and if Ekta's version of the trauma that followed is to be believed, the cops involved need a crash course in citizen interface. The two girls and three boys were taken to the KPHB police station in Cyberabad limits and made to sit there till 11 pm. A complaint was drafted in Telugu and Ekta asked to sign on it. When she refused, pleading that she cannot understand the language and cannot sign without knowing what is written in the letter, she was allegedly threatened with arrest.
After Ekta finally gave in, without understanding a word of the copy, they let them go after they called someone to accompany them home. She was asked to come the next day to collect her phone but after being made to wait from 9 am to 8 pm, she was sent back empty handed. Ekta went again the next day, a Sunday, waited for two hours for the CI. He asked her to come on Monday to collect the phone.
On Monday, July 24, after the FIR was registered, Ekta was asked to file two sureties of Rs 5000 each. She was allowed to take back her phone on condition that she replace it with another iPhone.
Though the police say the girls have been let off with a warning because of the miniscule amount of ganja seized, it has left Ekta scarred. Her parents who have come from Mumbai to Hyderabad, have moved her away from Malaysian Township. “I have come here to work, not be subjected to the kind of humiliation that I have been subjected to,” says Ekta.
What has left her shaken is that she is all over the media. The police eager to show they were on top of this drug racket case that has been hogging the headlines all of July, shared the news about her arrest to the media. And with a headline like “IBM techie arrested for having ganja”, it was too salacious a news story to be ignored by the media. Fortunately for Ekta, her company has stood by her, insisting she is innocent till proven guilty.
The Cyberabad police, however, has a different version to narrate. They say she is an accused, not a victim. The police claim that when they arrived at the flat, the two girls were drinking. Association members also informed the police that the girls were smoking up when they went to their flat. The police say the raid was conducted after it received complaints from the association members.
Cyberabad police commissioner Sandeep Shandilya suggested that if Ekta is confident of her innocence, she could give her hair sample for a forensic test. “It is also possible that the other girl in the flat implicated her in the case while giving her statemen,” admits Shandilya.
The Excise Department's Special Investigation Team plans to now go after IT professionals, after finishing with the Telugu film stars. But what is coming to the fore is the inability of both civil society and the police to distinguish between psychedelic drugs like LSD and Ecstasy and ganja and tobacco. That ends in overzealous naming and shaming and humiliation. What many of these youth need, if they are indeed exposed to drugs of any kind, is counselling and not crude attempts to treat them as criminals.