Last night Ravi and I went to see a lawyer about Manoj’s situation. Although the lawyer is sharp and knowledgable, each new thing he said seemed to contradict something else he’d already told us.
“Your first priority is his treatment,” he said. “You have to get them to give you cash up front. Worry about filing a case later.”
“You won’t get any money out of them,” he said in the next breath. “Here in India, nobody gives money unless they are absolutely forced to.”
“You have to file a First Information Report (FIR). Without that, nothing can move forward.” This he said with great assurance.
Then just as confidently: “The FIR has already been filed. The minute they brought him into the government hospital, the attending doctor HAD to call the police and report it.”
“He’s entitled to compensation.” A simple matter of justice, it seemed. “You can file an insurance claim and they are bound to give him a minimum of six lakhs.”
But then: “It can be years before an insurance claim is settled. And sometimes they never are.”
“It’s as clear as mud,” I said to Ravi as we left his chambers.
“It made sense to me,” Ravi replied. “On the one hand he’s telling you the law. On the other, he’s explaining reality. You have to use the law when you can, but understand the way things actually work in reality.”
The way things actually work.
We decided to negotiate, since everyone advised us that was the best thing to do. Ravi was out of town, so I asked Salil from PSI and Rizwan from the Foundation to accompany me to the police station where a constable had been appointed to mediate the proceedings.
We were expecting Avdesh – the man who had caused the accident – to come but instead he sent two men on his behalf. Just one look at them and I could see I was out of my depth. I have only seen people like them in movies: amoral, arrogant, self-assured, contemptuous. Just for starters, as the representatives of the guilty party, where did they get the cheek to arrive for a meeting (which was called by a policeman!) 45 minutes late?
Things went quickly downhill from there. They were rude, uncouth and vaguely threatening. And it was clear that they had not come to negotiate but to lay down the law and determine the outcome.
“Whoa,” Salil finally said, exasperated. “We can’t talk with you. Send someone else.”
After over an hour’s wait, in a cold, dreary police station, we were able to make arrangements to meet at my house with Avdesh’s boss and one of his friends (who happened to be an old friend of ours). The discussion went round in circles for over half an hour. We wanted five lakhs. They were only willing to consider two.
Then suddenly, there was a break-through. “We are offering him a chance,” I said. “He can never make it up to Manoj. He’s destroyed his life. But he can still do the right thing. If he does this, he’ll be able to sleep at night. Otherwise, I guarantee you: he will never find peace in this world.”
His boss sat quietly for a few moments, then nodded. “I’ll try to make him understand,” he said.
“Out of the depths I cry to you, Oh Lord. Oh Lord, hear my voice.”