Iqbal Singh and Juggut Singh are two men of different castes who end up sharing a cell together, both imprisoned on the false charge of conspiring to commit the dacoity against the Hindu landowner Lala Ram Lal. Both Iqbal and Juggut are easy targets of the corrupt local police, who have no justification for imprisoning either man and arrest them simply because it is politically expedient and they can. Iqbal represents a threat to established authority, while Juggut—already a known criminal in the village—is a convenient scapegoat for the avoidance of investigative work. Through the experiences of these men, the novel depicts a country in which police powers are broad, unchecked, and abusive. This corruption is also key to maintaining a caste system in which many Indians are guaranteed to remain poor and powerless.
Iqbal is pegged as a troublemaker due to his work to bring political change to Mano Majra, including attempts to end the unmitigated rule of wealthy Indians over the nation’s poor. The head constable, under the guidance of the subinspector, eventually works to frame Iqbal as a member of the Muslim League. The police do this partly to cover for their initial error in arresting Iqbal for the dacoity; the subinspector forgot that he saw Iqbal arrive in Mano Majra on his train the day after the dacoity, meaning he could not possibly have been responsible. Beyond covering their mistake, however, they also want to prod the Sikh villagers of Mano Majra into sending away their Muslims. The subinspector’s “proof” that Iqbal is a Muslim political meddler is that Iqbal is circumcised. The subinspector plots with the magistrate Hukum Chand to rename Iqbal as “Iqbal Mohammed.” The arrest and intentional misnaming of Iqbal Singh reveals the arbitrary nature of justice in India after Independence, and how people of different social classes and religions are vulnerable to the nation’s police corruption.
A particularly lurid example of this corruption occurs when Juggut Singh is brought in for questioning. Juggut is easily blamed for the crime due to his own criminal past. Additionally, Malli, the actual leader of the dacoity, threw bangles stolen from Ram Lal into Juggut’s courtyard to implicate him. To then force Juggut to talk, the subinspector threatens to whip his buttocks or put “red chilies” into Juggut’s rectum. Juggut, however, has already been through torture and knows what it feels like to have his “[h]ands and feet pinned under legs of charpoys with half a dozen policemen sitting on them” and his “[t]esticles twisted and squeezed” until one goes numb. The subinspector is pleased to watch Juggut wince from the memory of such pain, and his knowledge that he can both inflict harm and use it to “solve” a case gives him a feeling of omnipotence. In each instance, the police assert dominance in India, not through cooperative and legal means, but by imposing physical harm on suspected criminals and suspending any rights to due process.
After Iqbal and Juggut are imprisoned and sharing a cell, Iqbal asks the latter if he is responsible for the killing of Ram Lal, which Juggut firmly denies. Juggut explains that Ram Lal was a source of money for people in the village, and that he had given Juggut money once to help get his father, Alam, out of jail. Iqbal supposes that this will be enough evidence for the police to release Juggut from custody, but Juggut tells him that the police will only release him “when they feel like it” and might even go as far as to “trump up a case of [him] keeping a spear without a license or going out of the village without permission.” Juggut’s explanation of police power over peasants like him demonstrates the ways in which the authorities can control people’s movements and bring false charges against those who have no means to secure their defense. Ironically, Ram Lal was one of few people in power, it seems, who sympathized with those who could not defend themselves against such abuses of authority.
Despite his education and higher social station, Iqbal is no more capable of defending himself against the police’s scheming. The subinspector’s resentment of Iqbal, which influences his wish to frame the social worker, is the result of his envy toward Iqbal’s education, higher social class, and foreign manners, all of which the subinspector first noticed upon their encounter at the train station. The subinspector mocks Iqbal’s expressed desire for habeas corpus, or due process, before being jailed. When Iqbal requests being moved to another cell after Juggut violently attacks Malli, the subinspector again mocks Iqbal, asking if he would also like to have “an electric fan” installed in his cell for greater comfort. This interaction reveals that, in a policing system in which officers can frame and imprison anyone they please, everyone is vulnerable. Iqbal’s education and refined manners serve him no better than Juggut’s six-foot-four frame; both are rendered small and powerless.
The author depicts specific instances of police corruption in A Train to Pakistan to underscore their prevalence throughout India’s political infrastructure, the powerlessness of peasants, such as Juggut, in response to it, as well as the difficulties that political agitators, such as Iqbal, face in transforming a society mired under the weight of its own moral decay.
Power and Corruption ThemeTracker
Power and Corruption Quotes in Train to Pakistan
“They are a race of four-twenties,” he said vehemently. [Section 420 of the Indian Penal Code defines the offense of cheating.] “Do not believe what they say.” Once again he felt his venom had missed its mark. But the Big Lord’s daughter sitting cross-legged with her eyes shut for the benefit of press photographers, and the Big Lord himself—the handsome, Hindustani-speaking cousin of the King, who loved India like the missionaries—was always too much for Iqbal …. “They would not have spread their domain all over the world if they had been honest. That, however, is irrelevant,” added Iqbal. It was time to change the subject. “What is important is: what is going to happen now?”
What could he—one little man—do in this enormous impersonal land of four hundred million? Could he stop the killing? Obviously not. Everyone—Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Congressite, Leaguer, Akali, or Communist—was deep in it. It was fatuous to suggest that the bourgeois revolution could be turned into a proletarian one. The stage had not arrived. The proletariat was indifferent to political freedom for Hindustan or Pakistan, except when it could be given political significance like grabbing land by killing an owner who was of a different religious denomination. All that could be done was to divert the kill-and-grab instinct from communal channels and turn it against the propertied class. That was the proletarian revolution the easy way. His party bosses would not see it.
“Yes, the Englishmen have gone but the rich Indians have taken their place. What have you or your fellow villagers got out of independence? More bread or more clothes? You are in the same handcuffs and fetters which the English put on you. We have to get together and rise. We have nothing to lose but these chains.” Iqbal emphasized the last sentence by raising his hands up to his face and jerking them as if the movement would break the handcuffs.
The northern horizon, which had turned a bluish gray, showed orange again. The orange turned into copper and then into a luminous russet. Red tongues of flame leaped into the black sky. A soft breeze began to blow toward the village. It brought the smell of burning kerosene, then of wood. And then—a faint acrid smell of searing flesh. The village was stilled in a deathly silence. No one asked anyone else what the odor was. They all knew. They had known it all the time. The answer was implicit in the fact that the train had come from Pakistan.
He lay down again with his hands over his eyes. Within the dark chambers of his closed eyes, scenes of the day started coming back in panoramic succession. He tried to squash them by pressing his fingers into his eyes. The images only went blacker and redder and then came back. There was a man holding his intestines, with an expression in his eyes which said: “Look what I have got!” There were women and children huddled in a corner, their eyes dilated with horror, their mouths still open as if their shrieks had just then become voiceless … And all the nauseating smell of putrefying flesh, feces and urine.
It all came from his belief that the only absolute truth was death. The rest—love, ambition, pride, values of all kinds—was to be taken with a pinch of salt. He did so with a clear conscience. Although he accepted gifts and obliged friends when they got into trouble, he was not corrupt. He occasionally joined in parties, arranged for singing and dancing—and sometimes sex—but he was not immoral. What did it really matter in the end? That was the core of Hukum Chand’s philosophy of life, and he lived well.
“Toba, toba! Kill my own village banian? Babuji, who kills a hen which lays eggs? Besides, Ram Lal gave me money to pay lawyers when my father was in jail. I would not act like a bastard.”
“I suppose they will let you off now.”
“The police are the kings of the country. They will let me off when they feel like it. If they want to keep me in, they will trump up a case of keeping a spear without a license or going out of the village without permission—or just anything.”
“Sir, the Babu’s name is Iqbal Singh. He is a Sikh. He has been living in England and had his long hair cut.” The subinspector fixed the head constable with a stare and smiled. “There are many Iqbals. I am talking of a Mohammed Iqbal, you are thinking of Iqbal Singh. Mohammed Iqbal can be a member of the Muslim League.” “I understand, sir,” repeated the head constable, but he had not really understood. He hoped he would catch up with the scheme in due course. “Your orders will be carried out.”