“A brush with the tiger may cause 18 wounds; one with the police causes 36”..thus goes a saying in Bengali. Many of us might think the latter part of the proverb was an exaggeration. The young Foreign Service officer I am talking about also thought so till he had an encounter with the reality.

This person – let us call him Mr. X – came to be known in the Foreign Ministry for his uprightness and integrity. For these qualities, he was specially picked and chosen for deputation to a department outside the Ministry. This Department’s job was to screen and assist Indian workers going abroad, to ensure that they were not cheated by their prospective foreign employers.

As is the unfortunate reality of our country, contrary to the government’s good intention, this department became notorious for bribery, which was earning the Foreign Ministry a bad name, although it had no control on the working of this department. Mr. X’s mandate was to clean up the stable and put the fear of God in the mind of the erring officials.

For sure, his colleagues in the new department greeted him with silent non-cooperation, as they perceived that this outsider was there to destroy their entrenched and well oiled machinery of extortion of money from the hapless workers seeking to go abroad. Undaunted, from the very first day, Mr. X started enforcing discipline and implementing his agenda.

A series of raids by the anti-corruption agencies led to many of the employees being caught in the act. The public was happy, and for a while it seemed that our man was able to tone up the department. But the real game started when the investigators touched a rather raw nerve in the form of a police officer – IPS – who was also on deputation to the same department, and was found to have been protecting the corrupt.

One fine morning, Mr. X had Delhi Police personnel at his home looking for his wife who, “while driving their car in a rash and negligent manner, had caused injury to someone” at a place where she had not been to. In fact, on the day the accident was supposed to have taken place, the car was with Mr. X throughout. Mr. X and his wife took it to be a case of mistaken identity. They cooperated with the investigation.

Within a week, the seventy year old father of Mr. X got notice from a court in a remote UP town where someone had filed a criminal case against him for some offence, although he had never in his life been to that place or known the complainant!  Mr. X could then guess the reason behind all his troubles. He had to hire lawyers, and his wife and father had to visit police stations and attend courts. It became an ordeal not only for the officer, but for the whole family.

Fortunately for Mr. X, his IFS colleagues stood by him strongly.  They took up the matter with the Foreign Secretary, seeking his intervention. The Foreign Secretary was told that if the matter was not sorted out and the guilty punished, the IFS would even think of holding an open protest.

The Foreign Secretary, in turn, personally briefed the Cabinet Secretary – no less – on the matter. This parley resulted in the police officer being transferred far away from Delhi. Very soon, the Delhi and UP police found that the cases against Mr. X’s wife and father were without any basis and not worth further pursuing!

Mr. X would have heaved a huge shy of relief, and must have, since then, appreciated the value of the proverb in his mother tongue, which I quoted in the beginning of this story.