A few years ago, I happened to be seated beside a man who was in an inebriated condition in a crowded bus on my way to Anna Arch from Central Railway Station late in the night. This man, in his fifties, seemed to have lost his internal locus of control, yet had the sense to promptly purchase his ticket to Koyambedu. I sensed him drop something as he was trying to put the ticket in his pocket. Since I was scared of inviting the wrath of a drunken man, I did not bother to look at what he had dropped.

He did not display an iota of unethical behaviour in the bus, but the bus conductor continually voiced his displeasure with the man simply because he was drunk. The passengers too did not fail to pass comments on the condition of the man who, however, did not seem to bother about it at all.

As the bus crossed Kilpauk Medical College on Poonamalle High Road, a group of khaki-clad MTC officers stopped the bus and started checking tickets. By this time, my neighbour had fallen asleep. When one of the checking inspectors woke him up and asked for ticket, the man began to fumble in his pocket. He was trying to say something to the MTC checking inspectors in slurred tongue, but was unable to communicate clearly that he had indeed bought his tickets.

Within a few seconds, the checking inspectors grabbed him by his shirt and forced him out of the bus. But he did not utter a word. None of the passengers in the bus, including me, came to his rescue either. The conductor who knew that he had bought his tickets said, “Kudichittu vanthirukkaan. Namakku enna.” This why-should-we-bother-about-a-drunken-man attitude seemed to reign supreme in the minds of all, including me. When he was taken away in an unjust manner, I felt guilty of not being the “voice of the voiceless” even though my profession demands it. As I watched from the moving bus, the group of checking inspectors started to check the man's pockets began taking money from his wallet.

The reaction of passengers last week, in a similar incident at a bus stop on Anna Salai painted a contrasting picture. A group of MTC inspectors who started searching the pocket of a person for failing to produce a ticket was chased by hundreds of other passengers. The passengers even grabbed a fleeing checking inspector and handed him over to the police for allegedly taking money from the pocket of a ticketless passenger.

When I recalled the event on Poonamallee High Road that happened a few years ago, the only difference I could see between both incidents was that this ticketless passenger on Anna Salai was not drunk and he had a “voice.” Only a handful of people who have understood the pulse of the city may be able to make out the actual reason behind the contrasting behaviour of passengers and the mysterious ways in which their collective conscience works.

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Aloysius Xavier LopezJune 28, 2012

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