Thursday, October 30, 2014

Finally Leaving India

June 25th, 2014

On June 6th, exactly one month after my acquittal I contacted my lawyers to start the ball rolling with regards to getting back my passport from the court.  Of course it wasn’t as simple as just going to the courthouse and asking for it back.  First an application had to be made by the lawyers and I returned five days later to meet one of the junior lawyers, Dola, in the courthouse.  After about half an hour of waiting around my passport was fished out of the small white cloth evidence bag from a locked cabinet.  I was led into the judge’s chambers, my first time into the sacred room which was nicely air conditioned and fairly spacious.  Judge D’Costa was undoing his tie as he stood by his desk.  He seemed to be in a good mood and as he signed the application to return my passport to my possession I told him thanks and to take care.  He responded “You take care, and make sure not to get caught again!”  We exchanged smiles and I was on my way.

With a copy of my judgement in my backpack, I hopped on my scooter and headed off to Panjim, the capital of Goa, to go to the Foreigner Registration Office (FRO) to get my exit visa or papers in order to be able to leave India.  The FRO is in the inner courtyard of an old Portuguese building which houses the main police station in Panjim.  After waiting outside for half an hour I was instructed to walk through to an L-shaped room with half a dozen desks.  The first few were proper workstations with employees pecking away with two fingers on old computer keyboards while the others merely served as tables for monolithic stacks of paper precariously piled on them.  I wondered whether the skeleton of a worker who was unable to find his way out might be found behind one of the towering mountains of bureaucracy.  Amazingly the man I spoke to was able to find a folder containing my information amongst the mess in about ten minutes.  I was also surprised that he pulled up my record in a database on one terminal.  India is slowly pulling itself into the 21st century. 

The guy then led me into the Foreign Registration Officer’s room.  The slightly overweight 50 something year old woman with glasses perched on the end of her nose sat at her huge desk in the middle of the room.  Smaller stacks of paper surrounded her with a lectern in the middle of her desk for the current issues she was reviewing.  I was instructed to sit and she asked why I was there.  I was quite impressed with her candour, efficiency, friendliness and non-judgmental attitude.  She was easily one of the best administrators that I had encountered in India.  She told me that I would have to call back in a week as they would have to check with the police station where I was detained to confirm that they had no had no qualms with me leaving India.  Okay, this part didn’t really make sense...once my case started in the court system wasn’t it now out of the police’s hands?  How could it be that Sachin Navekar, the sub-inspector who fabricated the case and kept me stuck in India for 3½ years, was once again in control and had the power to retain me for longer if he wanted to? 

The following week I received the go ahead to book a plane ticket and then bring it into the FRO.  I made a reservation online and the next day, a Friday, rode a scooter back to Panjim to give them a copy of the ticket.  I was in and out of the office in five minutes as they just took the printout of the ticket and told me to return on Monday.  Why I couldn’t just email them the ticket and save the two hours of scootering I don’t know...but again, this is India.

Monday arrived and I met the man dealing with my application for the third and final time.  He gave me a document which would be my key to leaving this country.  For some reason I figured it would be grant me permission for me to leave however it was worded from the opposite point of view; it stated that I must leave India before or on June 25th.  Fine with this point it was just semantics.  The guy then asked me if I planned to return to India in the future.  He said that my passport would be flagged and that I could have problems entering the country.  “Why?”  I asked.  “I was acquitted.”  “Only because the police messed up the case” he responded.  Too funny.

On my last day I finished packing and sorting out the items I was leaving behind for friends who would be returning in three to four months for the tourist season.  That evening I had dinner at 21 Coconuts with a French friend Isabelle.  I had many meals at 21 Coconuts over the past few years, especially during the monsoon season and so it felt fitting for it to be the venue for my last dinner in Goa.

With Dave (on left) and Sanjay, two of my favourite guys at 21 Coconuts:

My flight was at 4:30am and it was from Goa to Doha, then on to Amman and finally to Tel Aviv where I planned to stay for 12 days with Naomi.  She had come to see me four times in India so it was definitely time to return the favour.  I had never been to Israel before so I looked forward to seeing her world and having a local show you around a new country is always the best way to go.

But before that I would have the sad event of saying good-bye to my four legged furry friends, especially Pester.  He’s been such a loyal dog to me during my last year in Goa.  Many people asked if I planned to take him with me but that just doesn’t make much sense to me.  First off he’d have to go through a long quarantine (a minimum of 6 months).  Secondly I’m still a bit of a vagabond right now and don’t have a steady home and lastly, he’s a beach dog!  He loves it in Arambol and I’m guessing he’s about 7 years old and it would be unfair to remove him from his home.  He’s a big boy and he’ll be just fine after I leave.  I did fatten him up for the monsoon.  When Naomi had left the previous September I went in the taxi with her to the airport and as we drove down the main road in Arambol Pester ran as fast as he could for as long as he could trying to keep up with us.  Looking through the back window at him was heartbreaking, even knowing that I’d be back in three hours.  So I was hoping he wouldn’t do the same as I left, this time not returning.  I met Arun, my regular taxi driver, on the main road and loaded up my bags.  Pester, Sukhee and a few other dogs had followed me but then they started barking and chasing other dogs on the main road so my goodbye to Pester was a brief one which was probably a good thing.  Stay safe my doggie friends.

Pester on my last evening:

I arrived at the new terminal at the Dabolim airport more than three hours before my flight (yes, I had been stuck in Goa long enough for them to build an entirely new terminal!).  I was quite certain that I would have some hassles leaving so I wanted to make sure that I had plenty of time.  Sure enough, just checking in the woman behind the counter looked for my visa in my passport and when I offered my FRO document she called for a manager.  After just a few minutes they checked me in and all was good for now but I knew that the main challenge would be going through immigration.

As soon as I stepped up to the immigration official and he saw my name in my passport he immediately called for a more senior official who was standing nearby.  My name must have been on a watch list.  The FRO had told me that they would make sure that they contacted the airport before my flight to make sure that I was allowed to leave, let’s see if they got it right.  After a few minutes of looking at my passport and talking to each other in Konkani (the local Goan language), I was instructed to sit down on a row of chairs against the wall between the immigration desks and the security check-in.  I quietly sat there reading my book for twenty minutes when a Russian woman was instructed to come and sit down as well.  I’m guessing she may have had some visa issues.  I ended up sitting there for more than an hour and it was now only 45 minutes until my flight was due to take off when I was finally called back to immigration.  It seems as though they’d made a few phone calls and I was given an exit stamp in my passport and allowed to continue on.  Whew, one more barrier passed.

The plane rumbled down the runway in the dark and I looked around at the other passengers with a big grin on my face thinking that I must be the happiest person on this airplane.  As we took to the sky I realized that I was finally leaving India after 3½ years...incredible.

Later in the flight I was treated to a gorgeous sight out of the window.  A smiling crescent moon hung above an incredibly vivid orange band of sunlight on a razor sharp horizon.  The sun was chasing us and over the next hour the band turned more and more yellow as this new day attempted to begin.  We landed at the brand new airport in Doha early in the morning.  I had a 7 hour layover there but found that the time passed relatively quickly as they even had comfy chaise lounges to relax in.

Doha's fancy terminal:

Which included many fancy cars:

Chillin' at the airport:

The only thing missing was the beach:

Doha's tarmac:

Bahrain from the plane:

The flight to Amman took me over Saudi Arabia and it was a mesmerizing site to see the seemingly never ending desert.  I’d never been to Jordan before but I would only experience it from the airport.  It was still a fairly barren landscape but not as much as Saudi Arabia although there were a number of dust devils whipping their way across the countryside as we landed at the small terminal.

The sandy dunes of Saudi Arabia:

Crop circles:

Inside Amman's airport:

As I exited the plane and began to walk down the causeway an official came up and asked me if I was flying on to Israel on a flight with Arkia airways.  He instructed me to follow him as he collected other passengers on the same flight.  Eventually our small group of 12-14 people walked through a doorway into the bowels of the terminal.  I walked past a Jordanian guard who was smoking a cigarette which seemed so odd to me...are we back in the 70s here?  We waited in a hallway beside a room with x-ray machines and other security equipment and the walls were adorned with Israeli flags and posters showing some of the country’s tourist sites.  After a few minutes we were told to collect our luggage from a nearby room and then one by one we were led into the security room.  I was the last one in for screening and I was quite amazed with how thorough they were.

The questioning was performed by a woman in her early 30s.  She asked why I was going to Israel, had I been there before, who did I know there, where was I coming from.  Thankfully Naomi had prepared me for this beforehand so I had paperwork with my itinerary for my stay including some hotel reservations we had already made.  The woman relayed my story to a higher level security official and then returned with another battery of questions including “How long have you known Naomi?  How long have you been planning to visit her?  Why did you only buy your airplane ticket a week and a half ago?”  To the last one I replied that I was waiting for the monsoon season to begin in Goa as that would end my tandem paragliding season (which was a bit of a fib).  I offered the information that I used to be an IT guy for 13 years then quit my job to travel the world and do some paragliding, to which she responded “And you just got stuck in India?”  She didn’t ask why, just assumed that the travel bug had landed me there so thankfully my Indian saga never came into the equation.  Eventually she asked if she could phone Naomi which I was more than happy for her to do as Naomi used to work in airport security and would know what needed to be said.  Sure enough, after a five minute phone call and a few more questions they proceeded to check my bags and then I was good to go.

As it turned out, the 12-14 people in that group were all of the passengers for the short flight from Amman to Tel Aviv so soon after, over an hour before our scheduled flight time, we were allowed to hop on the bus that took us across the tarmac to the turbo prop plane.  All of the security officials, who were wearing normal street clothes, accompanied us on the flight and they almost outnumbered the passengers!  I asked them if they flew out every day to do this but it turned out to just be twice a week that this flight was scheduled.  I have to hand it to the Israelis, they take their security seriously, as they have to, and they are damn good at it.

During the short 25 minute flight I could see smoke from a large fire and later found out that it was a bush fire near Jerusalem which was headline news that evening.  Arriving at Ben Gurion airport it was relatively quick to retrieve my bags and go through immigration and Naomi was already there waiting for me as I had texted her to let her know I’d be an hour early.  How often does that happen?  A flight arriving that early!

Hills near the border with Israel, you can just make out the smoke from that fire at the top:

Many settlements:

Hopping in the car to head to Naomi’s place in Kfar Saba, a suburb of Tel Aviv, the first things that I noticed were the lack of garbage on the sides of the streets and the absence of honking cars and stray cows...ah, back in the Western World.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Verdict

May 6th, 2014

Amazingly I was scheduled to return to court just four days after the last witness for two of the three remaining steps, one called the 313 (named after the section of the Criminal Procedure Code) and the other was the final arguments by the lawyers.  The 313 is merely a formality where they present me a summary of what the police witnesses had testified against me and I say “false” to each and every statement.  I stood in front of the judge and was given a copy.  He asked me if I could read English and then read out the first item, to which I denied as being true.  My lawyer Raju then stood up and said that we already knew that my answer for each clause would be false so the judge instructed me to take the paper, sit down in the gallery and read through all of it as they moved on to other cases.

Half an hour later I was summoned to the front again and handed in the signed form.  There was a brief inaudible exchange between the lawyers and the judge and then everyone pulled out their trusty and well used calendar books and a new date was set in three days time.  What?  Where were the final arguments?  On my way back from the accused bench I whispered in Raju’s ear to ask what had happened with the final arguments and he retorted that we were skipping them.  I left the courthouse disconcerted and headed for my lawyer firm’s fancy new office across the street.  Surprisingly Caroline was there and told me that likely the judge had already identified enough holes in the police’s case that he was going to throw it out...I sure hoped she was right.  I did feel a little miffed that I didn’t get to see top lawyer Peter finish off my case with some final statement along Johnny Cochrane’s famous line for OJ “If the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit.”  Perhaps Peter could have claimed “If you didn’t see smoke, he didn’t toke!”

The night before my verdict I had some strange dreams, obviously stress related.  One of them was that all of my teeth were falling out.  That didn’t seem like a good omen.

The conclusion of this saga was anti-climactic.  None of my lawyers were present when I was called up just ten minutes into the morning session of May 6th, 2014.  Shouldn’t they be here?  What if I’m guilty?  Or what if there are any strange stipulations to an acquittal?

As I was called up to the accused bench, butterflies filled my stomach even though I was fairly certain that I wouldn’t be proclaimed guilty.  The judge asked me to confirm who I was and then he looked down at his verdict.  I struggled to hear what he was saying but I did hear the one key word:  ACQUITTED! 

He did not mention the reasons for the decision but I knew that I could find them out later from my lawyers, those were just minor details at that’s over!!!  Judge D’Costa said that my passport would be returned to me in one month.  I couldn’t figure out why it would take so long as I just saw it the previous week during Sachin’s testimony so why does it take so long to take it out of the envelope in the evidence bag and hand it back to me?   Ah, but one lesson I keep getting taught here, is not to look for logic in this country.  Because try and explain this one: the judge said that my bail money of 20,000 rupees ($400) would be returned to me in six months time!?!  Do they think I’m going to stick around another five months for the money?  And being a closed currency it won’t be easy for me to get someone to take the money, convert it to another currency and have it sent to me.  Oh India.

The judge made no mention of me having to wait the standard three months in case of an appeal which is what occurred in that Scottish fellow James’ case; in fact he had to stay for six months.  The police must have really botched my case as there were no final arguments and no appeal period.

I’m a pretty emotionally monotone type fellow but I couldn’t help but break out a small, respectful smile as I left the accused bench and returned to my seat to retrieve my backpack.  I sat for a few minutes contemplating what had just happened and try to let it sink in that it’s actually over.  James’ comment of feeling numb after he had heard his verdict started to make sense to me.  I thought I would feel more elation than I did sitting on that bench, looking up at the judge for the last time.  Perhaps it was the numerous delays, or the continual string of disappointments.  Maybe it was the fact that my life has felt as though it had been in limbo for so long for such a minor infraction. 

Leaving the courthouse elated:

I returned to Arambol Beach, smiling all the way on my scooter.  I immediately headed to 21 Coconuts restaurant for a beer, or three.  I told the staff there, primarily Sanjay one of the managers, that I had been acquitted.  I sat down at one of the tables on the sand just outside of the actual restaurant and was amazed to hear the music of the Dave Matthew’s Band (DMB) playing from the next door restaurant the Sea Horse.  Back in Victoria, most of my friends are wild DMB fans and they’ve sucked me in to liking the music.  It was the first time in my three and a half year stay there that I had heard anything from DMB and wow, did it ever seem appropriate at this time!  Super cool.  I sang along to the entire song.

A week later I needed a few things in Mapsa, the small nearby city, and I went to this cramped little electronics store/photocopy centre/Internet cafe called Deejay’s Electronics.  I had visited the store with Naomi a month before and the owner Diego, who had amazingly remembered my name from the previous year, introduced us to an Iranian couple in their early 60s.  While I procured my items from the staff behind the counter, Naomi, who recall is from Israel) struck up a conversation with the couple and it was amazing to see how quickly borders could dissipate between supposed foes (at least according to our governments and media) and new friendships could bud.  It was fantastic to see that in general people from any corner of the world are good people.  We all want the same basic stuff: food, a roof over our heads, a safe place to raise and educate our children and a decent paying job.  This scene replays itself over and over thousands of times a day across our globe.  Let’s hope it can have a lasting effect.

Diego knew of my predicament and was overjoyed when I told him that it was over.  A very sincere, intelligent and gentle man, he had once worked on a freighter and had passed through the Strait of Juan de Fuca, right by my home city of Victoria in Canada.  I couldn’t help but like this guy and it was reinforced when he told me that he had a present for me to celebrate my recent vindication.  He reached up to the top of the shelf behind him full of digital clocks, speakers and phone accessories.  His hands presented to me a bar of organically made soap.  The symbolism, whether meant or unintentional, was not lost on me.  I could now wash my hands of this case.  Incredible India.  Dhanyavad Diego (Thanks Diego)!

During my ordeal I had to try and look on the bright side of my predicament.  In a way I was on a “legally enforced vacation” or that it was “an adult time out”.  Every tourist season a multitude of foreigners returned again and again so I obviously wasn’t stuck in such a bad location.  I’m very thankful that I hadn’t been arrested in a big nasty smelly city like Delhi or Calcutta.  I was stuck on a tropical beach where I could paraglide and the cost of living was cheap.  And Goa itself is “India Light”.  It’s probably the closest to Western culture that it gets in this country. 

I was also fortunate that I met some amazing people, both foreigners and locals.  For a lot of the time my neighbour was wispy bearded Martin, a city gardener from Sweden, with whom I got along with swimmingly.  We played lots of games such as Chess, various card games especially a Swedish one called Halsta and of course Asshole, Carrom board (an Indian table top game similar to Crokinole) and a computer game called Tropic Euro.  When I crashed my paraglider on Sweet Lake Beach he immediately became my nurse.  During a couple of the seasons he worked on writing a book, a satirical comedy about the farcical nature of our invisible borders that we place around the world to demarcate countries which involved pig smuggling of all things.  Unfortunately he wrote it in Swedish so I was of no help in proofreading.  He was easily my best friend in Arambol.  I wish you the best with the book Martin.

Regrettably meeting all of these foreigners had a bad side effect; I learned that I was sympathetic to the plight of vampires.  Huh?!?  Vampires?  Well I felt like I was the constant.  People came and people went and yet I remained the same.  I could understand the torment Dracula faces with the fact that you can meet someone, grow close to them and then they disappear and yet you remain.  And the cycle repeats itself over and over.  You have to retell the same stories, ask the same questions, build the same bonds and then they’re gone.  But you have to look at the positive, meeting and interacting with so many from individuals from different cultures and backgrounds is a godsend (says the supernatural non-believer atheist...maybe I should have picked a better word).

Additionally I made some fantastic Indian friends too.  The managers of the Olive Garden restaurant where I was arrested, brothers Manu and Panna were super helpful, friendly and sympathetic to my predicament.  They took care of me as I travelled north to Himachal Pradesh, their home state. 

Some of the Indian tandem pilots became good buddies too.  Young and good looking Raj was one who stood out.  Only 25 years old he is wise beyond his years.  Martin and I joked that he sometimes spoke in  “Rajisms”  Such as:
-          Time takes no holiday
-           Efforts makes results
-          Every coin has two sides
-           Dreams have no expiry date

Then there were my four legged friends.  Previously I wrote a whole entry about the dogs I befriended.  I grew up with a little Cocker Spaniel but as an adult living alone in an apartment and working full time, it didn’t seem fair to own a dog.  However I was afforded the luxury of being a pseudo dog owner of good ol’ Pester, the” red brown dragon”.  He was a super loyal dog and a great companion for my last year in India.  I hope you fair well my friend, howl on.

I was lucky that in a way I was the perfect candidate to be arrested by the cops.  Prior to travelling I had quit my job so I wouldn’t have lost it by being detained indefinitely in India.  I am not married and have no kids so I wouldn’t be missing them and them me.  At the time I didn’t own any real estate so that was not an issue to deal with from afar.  I had saved up money to travel the world and with the unfortunate death of my father at the start of my travels in 2010 I had received some inheritance.  Couple that with the relatively cheap cost of living compared to Canada, I had no monetary issues during my 3½ year stint in India. 

As I’ve already mentioned, I also met some other foreigners who were in the same boat.  Apart from Scottish James, I was surprised how lackadaisical, apathetic or lost many others seemed to be about their predicament.  Perhaps a slight hang over from my IT days but I kept a record of each time I was summoned to court, what happened and what was supposed to have happened.  I took records of everything I could hoping that I could control the little pieces that I could. I pressed my lawyers for as much information as I could get, although comprehending it was another matter.  Conversely, one Swiss guy wouldn’t know who the next witness was in his case or how many times he had gone to court to hear the person’s testimony and it had not happened.  And he didn’t seem to care.

Then there’s the matter of just keeping your head screwed on properly.  I heard rumours of an Austrian guy on the next beach over who had gone slightly crazy and kept to his hut most of the time other than going out to fish in order to earn a meagre income to survive.  I saw another foreigner in court wearing a t-shirt that read “Rehab is for quitters”...Dude seriously?  That’s not going to score you points with the judge.  But regardless, I hope that their long journey finally comes to a positive conclusion as it is a system that tries to beat you down, in super...... slow.............motion.

So here are some staggering stats related to my case:
-          I went to court 47 times
-          Surprisingly I also went to a police stations 47 times
-          During my “administrative tour” of India, I visited:
o   2 courthouses
o   8 police stations
o   5 hospitals
o   1 clinic
-          It took 265 days to get a charge sheet, which normally takes 90 days
-          It took 206 days for the pre-trial stages
-          It took 775 days for the testimony of 7 witnesses which is an average of 3 months per witness
-          In total it took 1246 days to deliver a not guilty verdict from being caught in possession of 1000 rupees ($20) of hashish

And now one of the stranger stats...if you recall that when I was apprehended, I was rolling a joint behind my book “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”.  One character talks about a group of highly intelligent pan-dimensional beings that are search for the “Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything”.  A super computer crunches away on the problem and eventually spits out the seemingly too simplistic answer of “42”.  Why am I bringing up this odd fact?  Well, I was 39 years old when I was arrested and 42 when I was acquitted and finally left India.  And from start to finish the ordeal took, well, 42 months.  Hmm...interesting.

I.N.D.I.A. = I’ll Never Do It Again?

Well much to the surprise and dismay of my family, I think I will return one day.  I was a bit shocked when some locals and a few foreigners asked “So you gonna be here next season?” (meaning 3-4 months later...are you kidding me?  It’s taken a long time to finally be able to leave!).  It may be a number of years until I’m back but there’s something mysterious and enticing of old Mother India.  She has the power to send your senses on a roller coaster ride while confusing yet stimulating and enriching your mind.  You will be repulsed and yet at the same time attracted.  She will demonstrate to you the simple lives can mean happy lives.  That working for the future in a mad rat race is not as important as living in the now. You can choose whether to be happy and life is what you make it.  (How many more clichés can I come up with?!?)

I know that I will and already do look back at this chapter of my life with fondness.  The positives outweigh the negatives and I feel richer for the experience. 

भारत शुक्रिया
(Thank you India)

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Final Witness

September, 2013 – April, 2014

In late September 2013 Naomi who was visiting from Israel again accompanied me to court.  The courtroom was almost empty and none of my lawyers were present.  The prosecutor told the judge that Sachin was on leave so I was rescheduled for a month later.  The following date I was the only one in the gallery and at the front of the courtroom were three clerks and one other lawyer.  Once again Sachin was a no show and the judge said that a warrant would be put out for him to appear next time.  A warrant for the top cop who fabricated the case against me, yet another head shaker.  Mid November produced another WTF moment.  This time Sachin wasn’t there because he had to attend a meeting for the security for an upcoming Goan film festival...yes, that sounds more important.

On December 5th I was amazed to actually see Sachin at the courthouse.  But don’t count your chickens till they’ve hatched Dave.  Our case was called up at the start of the proceedings and then we were told to sit down again.  Sachin had the audacity to sit behind me in the gallery and whisper into my ear: “Today’s the day that David goes free.”  Yeah right, I guess you don’t know how this supposed judicial system works here Sachin, there’s no way it will be finished today.  I tried to minimize my interaction with him.  Other Indians have told me that this is the best strategy with all policemen.  Don’t be mean to them and don’t even be nice to them, just try to be neutral and invisible if possible.  He asked whether I was still paragliding and I just nodded yes, not looking back at him.  Another case was called up first to hear a witness as there were five people in custody so they received priority.  By the time the cross examination was completed there was no time left in the morning session.  Come back next year please.

In mid January, now into 2014 (remember, I was arrested in December, 2010), I arrived at the courthouse but the gates to the parking lot were locked shut and no vehicles were inside.  I went to another entrance and a couple of lawyers were coming out and they explained to me that the court was closed for the day due to a Muslim holiday.  Huh?  Didn’t they know this ahead of time?  Why was I scheduled for court today?  Supposedly this Eid is based on the lunar cycle and is only determined 4-5 days prior.  C’mon, we know the lunar cycle folks.  I called Caroline and she told me to come back to court the next day to get a new date.  Returning to the courthouse, as I walked up the stone stairs I saw a piece of paper stuck to the wall next to the “No Spitting” sign (which I think is hilarious that they need to have).  The sheet listed all of the statutory holidays for 2014 and the Muslim holiday was on it.  At the top of the paper I saw that it was printed in late December.  It sure would have been nice for my lawyers to just give me a call and save me a couple of trips to Mapsa, but that would have been the logical thing to do.

The next date the public prosecutor was sick.  The one after that, no judge as he was involved in some process of appointing a new judge to a higher court so in fact the NDPS court hadn’t been functioning for a couple of weeks.  In March once again Sachin didn’t show and my next date wasn’t for seven weeks, at the end of April.

Okay, this is bordering on the ridiculous but finally, on the tenth time that I had gone to Mapsa for Sachin’s testimony it finally happened.  It took almost two hours and the first hour seemed incredibly wasteful and inefficient.  Sachin took the stand and answered a few questions such as his name and rank.  Then the judge proceeded to dictate Sachin’s written statement in the charge sheet to the stenographer.  Couldn’t this have been typed up by a clerk beforehand?  Sachin got impatient and left the stand to sit down.  Then he was in and out of the courtroom.  I thought “What a dick!  I’ve been waiting three years for this, at least you can be patient for an hour!”

A new stenographer took over on the computer and within a couple of minutes he managed to crash Word and couldn’t reopen the file.  Yikes, had we just lost the past hour’s work?  Caroline piped up to the judge and said that I was a computer engineer and perhaps I could help.   Judge D’Costa asked if I would come up so I crossed the courtroom, passed in front of Sachin and then stepped up to the seemingly sacred judge’s desk and sat down at the computer.  It felt strange to be on the other side looking down on the gallery, albeit a pretty empty one.  Within a minute of me starting to investigate the problem a courthouse technician arrived and recovered the file.   Nonetheless I think it scored me some brownie points with the judge.

One of the other senior lawyers of my firm, Raju, performed most of the cross examination.  As usual, I couldn’t hear all of the proceedings nor could I follow some of the technicalities that Raju was exposing.  Afterwards I spoke with Caroline to see how she felt it had gone and she was pleased.  Then who walked up, well Sachin of course.  He extended his hand so I was obliged to shake it.  He once again asked whether I was still paragliding.  He then flipped back and forth between English and Konkani talking with Caroline and he said that the paragliding actually was an illegal activity.  She mentioned something about Goa Tourism but he shook his head indicating that it wasn’t a sanctioned sport.   Oh yeah Sachin, and by the way, committing perjury like you did for the past two hours is slightly illegal too!

Once again I tried to minimize my interaction with him and soon he left and I hope never to see him again.  I told Caroline that I didn’t think he harboured one bit of guilt about lying about the amount of charas I had which had caused me to spend 3½ years stuck in Goa.  I bet he never thought about it once.  Oh well, good riddance Sachin Navekar.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

A Year's Worth of Witnesses

August, 2012-August, 2013

Back in Goa the chemical analyst finally was present on the fourth attempt and over four months after the first date.  The testimony and cross examination took about 45 minutes.  In the cross, Peter mentioned that there could be additives in the samples and whether the analyst had tested for them which she hadn’t.  He asked whether it was possible whether more than 50% could be additives and she said it was possible.  Essentially he was trying to place doubt that I was in possession of 210 grams of pure charas or that perhaps it was even less than 100, which would then place me in the “small quantity” of drug possession which carries only a maximum of 6 months in jail whereas the intermediate amount that I was in (for 100 grams to 1 kilogram) can be 6 months to 10 years.  I spoke with Peter afterwards and he seemed pleased with the results for our side.

Amazingly in September we whizzed through the next three witnesses.  The first was a police inspector I’d never seen before.  His role was overseeing the proper handling of the case.  I was nervous at first as we commenced the testimony and not one of the six lawyers from my firm was present.  Over time I would learn that this is the normal way they operate.  I guess they’re old hats at this and know when they need to be present in the courtroom.  I still found it odd that they didn’t feel that they had to hear the testimony although almost all of it was just ad verbatim from the charge sheet. 

The next date was only a week later and this was a scientific assistant who helps to stick handle the charas from the police station to the Food & Drug Administration and back.  And just six days later the witness was one of the constables who arrested me.  Finally a witness I actually recognized.  His testimony and questioning by the prosecuting lawyer took almost an hour but it was all performed in Konkani, the native Goan language.  Thankfully the judge would paraphrase the question and answer to the stenographer, albeit in a quiet voice, so I could somewhat follow along.  I was missing out some of the action however as sometimes a question was posed, my lawyer seemed to disagree and the judge would rule one way or another but all that transpired in Konkani.  It was interesting to watch the officer though as since I couldn’t understand what he was saying I could solely focus on his body language and although I’m no expert, I felt I could tell when he was lying (which was most of the time).

I was given another two dates in the month of September, a record five court dates in one month but these last two were wasted as the witness, the panch witness (the phony witness from the community paid by the police), did not show up.  The first time he was supposedly sick and no reason was provided at the following session.  Two dates in October also had no shows.  The next witness wasn’t present until December so the steam we had gathered back in September had petered out.  No wonder the Indian judicial system is so backed up.   After the internationally high profile case of the Delhi rape case, I read a BBC news article online that mentioned that India has only 14.5 judges per million people.  In the western world 50 judges per million is considered the required number in order to keep up with the case load.  However, if witnesses only show up 20% of the time as it seems to happen here, how can they process the cases in a timely fashion?  The article also mentioned that there are 30 million open cases in India.  That’s almost the population of Canada!  And at their current rate they should clear this backlog in 420 years!  Although I’m sceptical that they can ever catch up.

My next date was in December and the two panch witnesses were present as they had been escorted by the police since the judge had put out a warrant for them.  However there was a new public prosecutor assigned to the court and she claimed that she had not received enough time to prepare for my trial so the judge dismissed my proceedings for another month.  In January, now into 2013, the prosecuting advocate stated that she had mistakenly written down that my case was in the afternoon session so she had scheduled the witness for later in the day, not for the morning.  How many screw ups can they make?!? 

However she phoned the witness and by 12pm he arrived.  It wasn’t the panch witness as I had expected but the policeman who supposedly came to Arambol after I was initially apprehended with the weighing and sealing equipment required for a narcotics arrest.  The police claimed that they performed the weighing and sealing on the beach, “in good light”.  I’m not sure how that is possible in the dark on a beach, but that was their assertion.  Only a junior lawyer from my firm was present during the testimony but as usual Peter sauntered into the courtroom just in time for the cross examination.  There is a police diary in every station and whenever the weighing and sealing equipment leaves the premises an entry must be placed in this book.  The diary has 8-10 columns for various pieces of data but each entry is chronological and all data should be entered before the next entry is started.  However one column for the entry in my arrest flows into the next one that was made six days later.  Peter pointed out that this signifies that more data was written down at a later time, which is not in accordance with proper procedure.  This seemed to be a notch in the win column for my side.

The Mapsa Courthouse - lovely isn't it?  My court was in the top left hand corner:

One month later I returned to court for the panch witness but there were many other cases scheduled for that morning session.  My witness was present but another case with four Nepalese who were being held in custody received priority.  I was okay with that as one of the accused was an octogenarian with a hunched back, a cane, glasses perched on the end of his nose and a woollen cap.  Poor dude.  Being in jail, sleeping on the cement floor in a barren cell must wreak havoc on his decrepit body. 

Three lawyers from my firm were present, the second senior Caroline, a mid level guy Salil and a junior Namrata.  Caroline got up to leave and as she passed by me she said that it was unlikely that although my witness was present, it was unlikely we would get to his testimony.  We did in fact get to the witness.  I couldn’t hear most of his testimony as I sat on the opposite side of the courtroom, sitting on the “accused bench” while he was standing in the witness box.  It was easy to perceive that he was nervous at times and although I tried to maintain a neutral facial expression, I couldn’t help but feel that I occasionally reverted to a “What the fuck?” expression.  Who are you?  And how much did they pay you to come and commit perjury?  When it came to the cross examination,  Salil stood up and told the judge that we were not ready for cross examination.  What?  Is this because Caroline didn’t have the patience to wait around?  A new date was set for over a month later, in late March.

Not surprisingly the panch witness did not show up for the next date.  In mid April I went to the court to watch the judgement for a Scottish National James who I had befriended back in September.  I had seen him in court in Panjim a year before and had asked Caroline whether she would pass on my phone number to him so I may be able to talk to him.  She didn’t seem to know why I wanted to make contact with him.  To me it was simple, I wanted to share stories and perhaps learn from his experience with this messed up system.  I got the impression that most Indians who land up in court put full trust in their lawyers and don’t care or feel like they need to know what’s going on.  Well I think it’s a different story for Westerners.   Information is power...or at least we like to think.  At the minimum, it’s nice to have an inkling about what’s happening with your fate.

James had been coming to Goa for years and in 2004 his brother had been murdered back in his homeland.  This had rocked James’ world and he had kind of gone astray since.  He was selling charas in Goa and like me he had been charged with a lot more than he actually had in his possession.  When he was arrested, he was in possession of 400 grams but he was charged with 2.75 kilograms.  This put him into the “commercial quantity” which meant that he was to remain in custody while his trial proceeded.  He spent an ugly year in a couple of different jails in Goa.  Peter had been successful in removing him from custody once the primary cops in his case were themselves placed in jail for illegally planting drugs on another foreigner.  By the third year of being stuck in Goa, James had raised a stink back home in Scotland about his demise and his Member of Parliament brought the issue up during the Prime Minister’s question period in London.  I saw the YouTube video of it and in it David Cameron replies “Yes, justice delayed is justice denied.  I will get the Foreign Minister to look into the issue.”  Well, nothing happened.  I had many foreigners ask me whether I had talked with my embassy, which I had done numerous times, but since I was technically in India as a British National, how much more could I achieve than James had?  I kept in the back of my mind that a guy I went to high school with was now President Obama’s personal assistant, however I hadn’t talked to this guy for over 20 years and couldn’t really imagine giving him a call out of the blue to see what he could do.

James’ verdict was scheduled for the afternoon session which began at 2:30.  Almost immediately he was told to return at 5pm, after the session, to receive his judgement.  I went with James and his friend Louise to have a chai while we waited.  It must have been nerve wracking for James.  Back in the courtroom James was summoned to enter the judge’s chambers.  I had figured that the decision would take place in the courtroom but this turned out not to be the case.  After a nail biting 20 minutes, James reappeared but he wasn’t smiling.  Shit.  Had he been found guilty?  There were a couple other friends of his present so we all gathered around him as he relayed that he was acquitted.  Phew!  However the judge stated that he would have to stay for another six months instead of the normal three months, in case the prosecution wants to appeal.  “Aren’t you happy James?” I asked.  “You’re free.”  All he could respond was that he just felt numb.  I didn’t understand this response at the time, but later I would.

At the end of April I went to court again, hoping to finish the cross examination of the panch witness.  I was pleasantly surprised when James and Louise appeared at my next date.  I guess we have to band together as we’ve been put in the same boat.  This time the witness was present, but the judge wasn’t.  “Come back June 25th please.”

The next time in court there was yet another new judge, Desmond D’Costa.  This was the third judge in my case.  Unlike the previous judges who would wander in at 10:20 or 10:30 for the morning session which is supposed to start at 10:00, this guy was punctual.  My panch witness was sitting in the back of the gallery whereas I always sat in the front row by the window, so I could attempt to hear what was going on and I could get some fresh air.  Everyone else always tries to sit as far away from the judge as possible.  I figured this might give me some brownie points with the judge too.  The same inspector who was the second witness in my case took the stand for another case.  I wondered how many times and how routine it must be for this guy to return to court time after time and provide testimony of his minor role in all of these arrests.  Another case with four people in custody was next but to his credit, my lawyer Peter tried to impress upon the judge that my matter would not take long and that it should be next.  However, he lost his argument and I was rescheduled for a little more than a month later at the start of August.

Inside the Mapsa Courtroom:

So what happened the next time?  Well the panch witness showed up.  I’ll give him some credit, he had now shown up five out of eight times that he’d been summoned.  He definitely was having to work hard to earn his couple thousand rupees from the cops ($40).  But this time, what surprise was in store?  Well the judge had decided to take a “casual day”.  How nice of him.

Eleven days later, we finally completed the cross examination of the panch witness.  It only took nine attempts over the course of almost 300 days from the first time he was summoned.   The usual process that occurs in a court session is that each case is called up.  If it is a simple matter of custody approval or a permission to be granted, that is done and a new date is set.  If a witness is present then the parties involved are instructed to sit back down in the gallery until all of the other quick matters are dealt with. 

I always had a backpack with me with a change of clothes for afterwards (as I had to wear pants in the courtroom but wanted to switch to shorts for the ride back to Arambol).  I would leave the backpack where I was sitting in the front row of the gallery when I was called up front.  When my case was initially called up I stood by the accused bench while the panch witness stood in the middle of the courtroom by the wooden railing separating the gallery from the judge, the witness stand and where the lawyers sit.  We were told to sit back down and by chance the witness sat down at the start of the row where my bag was.  So what to do?  Should I sit elsewhere in the gallery?  I opted to pass in front of the panch witness and sit by my bag.  While passing by him he had to pull in his knees to let me pass and I couldn’t help think that I should ask him: “Hey, do I know you?  Oh no, I don’t, I’ve never seen you before!”  Remember, he is supposed to be the one who the police asked to watch as I was being searched when I was first arrested, but he wasn’t there.

The cross examination took an hour and once again the proceedings were in Konkani.  This time I found it very difficult to hear the judge paraphrasing the question and response to the stenographer but afterwards Caroline told me that everything had gone well.   She had asked the witness how many times he’d been a panch witness for the police and he couldn’t quite remember but he said probably at least five times.  Hmm, on the payroll are we?

Although there were ten police witnesses in my case and we had just completed number six, we were skipping straight to the star of the show, the Inspecting Officer Sachin Navekar who had inflated the amount that I was apprehended with and also claimed that he was the hero who had caught me standing suspiciously near a restaurant on the beach.  We were skipping the other panch witness along with the other two out of three constables who had arrested me.  The reason?  Well simple, two guys lying about the same story is much more obvious than just one guy lying.  And well three guys bullshitting the same story is blatant.

Okay, we’re finally getting near the end...or are we?

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Dicked Around in Delhi & Dharamsala

May-July, 2012

After a long train ride to Delhi, I once again had to spend one night waiting for a bus the following day to the mountains.  I headed directly to the Swisston Hotel in Pahar Ganj where I had stayed the previous year, hoping that again they would be sympathetic to me not having a passport and visa.  The man at the front desk stated that there was a new, stricter cop and I would have to go to the police station to talk with him to get approval.  I left my paraglider and the rest of my gear at the hotel and walked about a kilometre to the station.  I spent the next hour and a half waiting, talking with one guy, then to someone else, waiting some more.  Eventually they told me I had to go to the other police station, across Pahar Ganj a couple of kilometres away.  Dejected I trudged along the dusty, dirty and busy streets as dusk set in.  At the other station the same procedure occurred but eventually a sub-inspector (the same rank as Sachin, the main cop in my case) gave me his phone number for the hotel to call.  Returning to the Swisston Hotel over 3½ hours later I was gutted when they told me that they had no rooms available anymore.  Whether they really were full or just didn’t want to deal with me, I’ll never know.

So I picked up my gear and allowed touts to try their luck at finding a room for me.  We asked at six to eight hotels and I was denied, denied, denied.  It started to look like I was going to be sleeping on the streets, huddling in a corner with my paraglider.  Finally we entered one hotel lobby with a big fat man who resembled Jabba the Hut sitting on a chair watching cricket on TV.  “Yeah, you can stay here.  I don’t talk to the police,” he grunted “but 2000 rupees.”  I figured I didn’t have a choice.  It was by far the most I had spent on a room in India and it was the worst room too.  In the dirty dingy bathroom there was no showerhead causing the water to run down the wall so I couldn’t have a desperately needed shower and the toilet didn’t flush.  The bedside table was smashed in and there was dirt everywhere.  To top it off, I woke up in the night itching all over, probably from bed bugs.  Needless to say, I was glad to get out of Delhi and head up to Dharamsala and the home of the Dalai Lama.

For this travel application I had been required to state the specific guesthouse in each place I was staying along with the dates in each spot.  Any backpacker knows that this is not easy to do.  Not many guesthouses can be found online, nor will you know if they’ll have availability and most importantly, whether you’ll like it or not.  It’s usually best to just show up, look around and then decide.  But I had researched for McLeod Ganj situated up the mountain from Dharamsala and had picked the “Pink Guesthouse”.  Arriving there at 8am after an overnight bus I was pleased when the manager, after a quick perusal of my court documents, seemed to have no problem with my lack of passport and visa.  Ah, what a nice change from Delhi.

Well that was short lived.  Two days after my arrival the manager told me I had to go to the Foreigner Registration Office (FRO) down in Dharamsala.  It was a small dingy office with stacks of dusty papers piled up everywhere behind the half dozen desks behind the serving counter.  I spoke with two different guys there, showing them my court papers and explaining to them that the police had confiscated my passport and I was awaiting trial.  This did not suffice for them and I was told that I had to leave the region.  I left dejected and tried to think of my options.  I had my laptop with a 3G modem so by the side of the road I Skyped the British High Commission in Delhi to see if they might be able to help me.  A guy named JD told me he’d talk to them and call me back on my cell so I climbed into a jeep taxi to head back up the mountain.  JD rang while we were making our way up the windy road but my phone battery died part way through our conversation.  Once I got out of the jeep I tried to Skype him again but was told that he had left for the day.  I don’t seem to have good luck in this country.

The next morning I spoke to JD and he simply stated that I would be safest in Goa and that I should have obtained some kind of letter from the FRO in Goa before I left on the trip.  That doesn’t do me much good now.  Great, nothing like getting exiled from the place that is home to Tibetan exiles!

So I decided to head to my next destination that I had planned for my trip in Himachal Pradesh, a small town called Bir located 42 kilometres east of Dharamsala and a world renowned paragliding spot.  Thankfully there I was welcomed by the staff of Hotel Surya.  Brothers Naresh and Suresh run the place and have many paraglider pilots stay there so it didn’t take long to establish that they knew some of the same pilots that I did which gave me a bit of credibility.  In fact I ended up liking the place so much that I decided to try and extend the return date on my travel permission.  Caroline said it would cost another 5000 rupees for the change and I needed to have a reason why I was staying longer.  I guess “I don’t want to sit in the monsoon in Goa when I can have epic paragliding flights in the mountains” wasn’t good enough.  Knowing that I had back issues from the previous year’s paragliding crash in Panchgani she suggested I say that I was taking some special yoga course for my injury.  So over the next couple of days and with the help of an American paraglider pilot I befriended, we concocted a phony receipt from “Yoga One on One” for a special “Medical Yoga” course and it worked.  How silly is this?  My lawyers telling me to commit forgery!

While staying in Bir I had the longest cross country paragliding flight of my life.  I flew from Bir all the way to Dharamsala, gave it the finger (for kicking me out) while a few hundred meters above it and then flew all the way back again without landing, a distance of 84 kilometres which took me a total of five hours.  It was a thrilling flight and a little terrifying at times since I was on my own and had I had a collapse with my wing that caused me to land near the back spine of the snow capped mountains.  I would have had at least a day’s hike to get back to civilization and that was provided I didn’t sustain any injuries.  A flight like this is similar to a chess game in the sky.  You have to determine how high to get above a mountain ridge before crossing a valley where there will likely be no lift and hopefully arriving at the next ridge high enough up that it is easy to find lift.  So you have to factor in the direction and strength of the wind, look for where the sun might be heating rocks on the mountainside that might kick off a thermal, watching which clouds are forming and which are dying off, keep an eye open for any birds circling to locate nearby thermals while always keeping a possible landing zone in mind.  Add in some turbulence and you have a recipe for some good mental gymnastics.  The takeoff in Bir is at 2300 metres above sea level and on the way I reached as high as 4500 metres but when I made it to Dharamsala I was only at 2100 metres, two hundred below where I launched from but 42 kilometres away but thankfully I made it back.

Next I headed off to Manali to finish my trip where I once again stayed at the Purnima Guesthouse and this time Manu simply didn’t register me with the police.  It seems that I can travel around India, but only if I can stay in places where I know the people.  I guess I need to make more Indian friends!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Pre-Trial Stages Finally Happen

January-May, 2012

Seeing as my case seemed to be stalled before it even started, I decided to investigate whether there was an alternative way to get this matter resolved.  Many locals told me that there should be a way that I could get it settled out of court, although it could cost me upwards of $10,000!  I met one local guy who was a driver for a government official.  He told me that the best way for me to get the case dropped was to approach the judge directly or alternatively have my lawyers push to have it resolved within a couple of court dates.  I didn’t like the idea of trying to stalk the judge, waiting outside the courtroom at the end of the day to catch him going home.  I felt it could do more harm than good.  As for pressing my lawyers, every time I saw them I would ask them how we could expedite the case but I would always run into a stone wall.  They did say that we could raise the issue in a high court but there were many cases much older than mine so they inferred “What’s your problem?  You just started.”

Before my court date on January 16th, 2012 I visited the UK Consulate which was also in the Goan capital Panjim with the main purpose of putting faces to the people I had been talking to on the phone.  None of the staff at the consulate are UK nationals, they’re all Goans.  In my mind, this doesn’t allow for proper representation from the British government and I didn’t have the impression that they were 100% on my side.  I spoke to one man for 20 minutes and he said it was typical for charge sheets to take 6 months (mine took 9½ months) and he has seen 4-5 cases that took 2 years to be resolved.  He mentioned that some British Nationals have snuck out of India illegally and that they would be able to get a new passport but likely shouldn’t ever return to India. 

Afterwards I headed to court and once again nothing happened.  I was standing just 4-5 feet behind my lawyer but couldn’t hear why it was delayed but later I found out it was due to a lack of court time.  No wonder, this Sessions court is playing the roles of two courts.  I did hear the judge ask the public prosecutor what was the quantity of charas in my case and the advocate responded “210” but the judge misheard and thought she’d heard 10 grams (which is what I had) and balked at it.  She looked like she was going to throw the case out right there and then, but then the prosecutor corrected the judge.  Damn that Sachin (the policeman who lied and said I had 20 times more than I really did).

During the time I had been waiting in Goa, I had numerous tourists say something to the effect of “Why don’t you cross the land border into Nepal and say you lost your passport?  It’s a pretty porous border with no computerized systems.”  I would reply “Have you ever illegally crossed a border while being a suspected drug felon?  I didn’t think so.”  I did have one Indian guy say yes, that he had.  He was caught in Thailand and escaped into Laos but he said it was a scary experience and he was looking over his shoulders for years afterwards, even back in India.  He did not recommend the same course of action. 
Since I have dual citizenship I was still in possession of my Canadian passport which was useless without a visa.  I was even denied renting a scooter for a day for not having a visa in the passport...c’mon, it’s still a passport!  A few foreigners suggested that I mail my passport back to Canada, have a friend get a visa put on it and mail it back, then I’d just have to add an entry stamp on the visa.  Sure okay, now we’re in to committing forgery too.  No, I think I’ll wait it out.  My crime was petty in my eyes and I didn’t want to make it into something much larger. 

After a couple more court dates of inaction I decided to stop by the lawyers’ office to see if I could get some straight answers about what was going on, or more like what wasn’t going on.  I was there about an hour, first talking to Caroline and then Peter.  It was somewhat informative but also confusing.  Peter's very intelligent but sometimes hard to understand, not just from his quick talking Indian accent but sometimes I don't always follow his train of thought or the legalese.  I asked him many times to clarify and also had to tell him to let me finish my point a few times as he kept interrupting me.  Additionally he seemed a bit aggravated at times but too bad, I’m the paying customer.  I asked him and Caroline afterwards to put himself in my shoes in that I had 1000 rupees worth of charas and it had already cost me two lakhs (200,000 rupees or $4000) and 14 months of time but they replied (independently) that hardly any of their clients say "Oh yeah, that was my stuff...all of it."  So they have to just go by what's in the charge sheet, find the holes in the police's report and get the client free that way.  I felt that I had built a good rapport with them by this point but they didn’t seem interested in getting to know me and how I felt about being in this situation or whether I was truly guilty or not.

Caroline suggested that we could send a registered petition to the high court to ask for the case to be expedited, perhaps stating issues like I am running out of money or need to get back to Canada to work.  As previously mentioned, I wrote a letter to the high court back in July but just got a one sentence response that I should refer the matter to the concerned court/office.  Caroline's suggestion was different in that if the lawyers made it a registered petition that the court had to decide on the matter (whereas my letter was responded to by a registrar and the judge probably didn't hear about it).  This registered petition would cost 25,000 rupees ($500), not a small figure and Peter weighed in later saying that I had to consider that if the high court rejected the permission, it could be money wasted.  Yes I had been stuck in Goa for 14 months but there were others not out on bail whose cases were a higher priority.  The UK Consulate told me that two years is a common timeframe for a case to take.  Mine was extraordinarily slow to start but I guess there are other foreigners who have been waiting even longer.  However, Caroline did have a case where the client's mom was very ill and his case was expedited and was finished in six months (yup, that's considered fast). 

This messed up business of the NDPS court in Mapsa, where my case should be tried, not functioning was delaying many cases.  The lawyers weren’t happy as they were having to drive to Panjim (half an hour away) everyday for court and half the time there wasn’t enough court time for any progress in many cases.  Peter explained that he could possibly get the courts reversed and everything functioning as it’s supposed to be if he researched for precedents in other places, within India and outside, to get the order reversed that has caused the NDPS court to be dead in the water.  However, of course he's a busy guy whose time is valuable so he'd need to be paid for it (yes, you're probably thinking "money sucking lawyers").  He suggested that I meet with other foreigners in my situation and we pool our money together.  If he received 1 lakh ($2000), he'd put in the appropriate amount of work into it.  If it was 5-6 lakhs, then he’d put in more effort and even look at the law systems of other countries.  I asked how I could find these other foreigners in the same predicament as me.  Would I have to go and hang out in the courtroom every day in hopes of meeting them?  No, the firm could tell me when certain clients have court dates, but I would still have to go to court to meet them.  I thought briefly about this idea but soon dismissed it.  I was sceptical about chucking more money on the fire, how would I convince others?

At the next court date I was pleased to see Peter show up.  His rapport with Judge Nutan was incredible.  I had seen her be quite curt with other advocates but with him she was immediately smiling and almost giggling like a young school girl despite being in her 50s.  They almost seemed to be like past lovers.  Once again, even though I was standing just behind my lawyers in the accused box I could not hear what was being said (all of these lawyers must have super hearing) but it turns out that the Arguments Before Charge stage was over and the last pre-trial stage called the Framing of the Charge would and did happen on March 1st where I simply pled not guilty to the charges.  Now it was time for the first witness.

Three weeks later I returned for the first witness, the chemical analyst from the Food & Drug Administration who had tested the charas.  This made sense as if what the police claimed I was in possession of wasn’t hash; well there would be no point in going on.  This was to be my first taste of one of the biggest flaws I see in the Indian judicial system.  The witness did not show up.  Witnesses are not required by law to testify so the absentee rate is astonishing.  I was rescheduled for the following month and again a no show.  One more month, still she didn’t come.  How can this be?  She’s a government employee working in an office just two kilometres away from the courthouse.  A third attempt on May the 5th but still no witness and the next court date wasn’t until July 31st, so I decided to apply for travel permission to head back north to Himachal Pradesh again.  I might as well avoid most of the monsoon.