Highway to hell: That one time in Karnataka…

by: Nibedita Saha

Coming to Bengaluru always feels like a bad decision for me. I have had the worst of experiences in the state of Karnataka.

For me, what makes a city loveable is its people, who introduce you to the culture. Visiting a place does not end with its tourist attractions; it encompasses the treatment you receive from locals. Bengaluru in that sense never fails to disappoint. The city has two faces — one where it has a life of entertainment with its good vibed clubs and bustling pubs. The other, its people; who reflect the soul of the city. 

During my recent visit to Bengaluru, me and my friend decided to drive down to Wayanad in Kerala. We started early afternoon around 1 pm on a Friday so that we can reach there by 6-7 in the evening. 

Bengaluru is infamous for its traffic and pathetic road conditions. This usually leads to a dangerous driving condition, where rules have no place. The traffic police add to the fun. They believe in imposing fines (of course) post violations, rather than ramping up prevention measures. By the Gods, next time I hear anyone saying “UP, Bihar wale toh aise hi chalate hai”, I’ll correct them by saying — “UP, Bihar wale drive better than Karnataka wale“. 

As we started making our way, the frustration slowly caught onto us. We covered a 15minutes distance in 45minutes and eventually came to the National highway. From there once we crossed Mandya, things started to get from bad to worse. Somewhere between Mandya and Srirangapatna, our car was hit by another car on the highway. This happened after crossing a small barricade on the highway when the other car hit us from the left, their front wheel grazing against our front and back door (near the B-pillar).

Even though our car was hit, we immediately stopped to check if anyone is physically hurt. Hereon, the situation went south. Once we stopped, four people (scary looking) got down from the other car and started misbehaving. 

The biggest drawback was that we couldn’t understand a single word what they were saying but could feel the aggression through their behaviour. They wanted to hit my friend without having any conversation about what happened. The impact clearly highlighted their fault but they would have none of it. They demanded money for their repairs which also did not make sense, because – “insurance”. One of them picked up stones from the road to give in to pay.

The only thing I understood was that we are in major trouble and we need to get out of this isolated place at any cost. We were completely alone on the highway and they were constantly making phone calls in their native language to call more people. 

The little I could figure out from his broken Hindi, English and mix of Kannada that It was their area, and he would not leave us unless we pay.

The situation created a lot of panic inside my mind. At that moment I only wanted to leave that isolated place and go to some crowded one. So I promised to give him money to repair his car and asked him to drive to a nearby garage. The guy who seemed to be their leader as other three were just following whatever he was saying — he asked me to sit in his car and wanted one of them to sit in our car. I refused but had to allow his fellow in ours. In the next 10 min, we reached a petrol pump. We stopped there and tried to seek help from the petrol pump guy. As soon as I told him the story, he said this place is not good and we should go to the police station immediately as anything can happen here. I was worried and frustrated at the same time because no one came forward to help really. Not understanding the language was making me more anxious. This guy started pressuring to pay around 65,000 rupees. 

There was no dialogue about what happened. He wanted money and he was confident about getting it as he had the support. Among that crowd, one person told us to go to the police station and file a case.

Even two highway patrol personnel were passing by and I stopped them but that was also not very helpful. We were straightaway asked to compromise by giving them money. This was completely biased and manipulative.

Somehow we convinced them to take the matter to the nearest police station, hoping for the best. But that too didn’t work in our favour. Instead of judging the incident properly or verifying both sides of the story, the main concern was to call our parents to intimidate us. Instead of helping us to file the case, the police was mostly telling us that filing a case would be a bad idea as our car will be deposited for two-three days and the best option would be giving them money. 

I was shocked by this behaviour that was when we wanted to file an FIR but we were asked to compromise with money. No proper assistance was given to us. Instead, the police officer left us to discuss and sort out by only paying that guy the amount, which had come down to 15,000 by now.

The whole thing started around 2-2:30 in the afternoon and there we were at the police station around 7:30 without any proper conversation and solution. Finally, we both resorted to calling our friends and managed to get to talk to two IPS officers to understand why we can’t lodge a case in the local police station. 

Talking to them made us more clear that everything going on here is simply ridiculous. We don’t have to go through this all. There is no reason we should pay them. Our friends helped and called a senior police officer in that area. Immediately after this one call, the inspector of the rural station came back to the station and sorted out the whole thing in 15 min with the local guys. As we were not ready to pay, he told them to either file a case or leave. The guys, of course, decided to leave. But he threatened us to see outside. It was 9pm by now.

We waited for another hour at the station before we left. We took a completely different route to Wayanad to avoid any other ruckus. The incident made me realise the only thing that was going against us was that we don’t speak Kannada and we were non-locals. I understand the community unity, but what happed that day was a toxic example. The majority of Kannada people have this hatred against non-locals which is quite evident in daily life. I have faced this in my previous trips as well but this time the lesson was hard. 

We were lucky to have friends whom we called. We were lucky to leave that place safe after being harassed for more than 6-7 hours. But what if we wouldn’t have been this lucky or resourceful — I still fear that thought. Every time I recall this incident, I get goosebumps.

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