Monday, September 20, 2004

Fined for sleeping in train in the US


Here is a very interesting story carried by IANS about how an Indian student was fined for "sleeping dangerously" in a train.

Indian sleeps on Chicago train, wakes to fame

By Ashok Easwaran, Indo-Asian News Service

Chicago, Sep 19 (IANS) When a 25-year-old Indian student at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) dozed off in a Chicago subway train, he did not realise his predicament would quickly become a cause celebre.

Gaurav Bhatia unwittingly got caught in a controversy over Chicago's bureaucracy after he was given a $50 ticket for sleeping on the train.

The incident occurred when Bhatia, who does not own a car and resides on the IIT campus, fell asleep while riding to work.

Local TV and radio channels have highlighted Bhatia's experience, but Chicago Transport Authority (CTA) and police officials say he was penalised for "sleeping dangerously".

"How dare they?" asked an outraged Bhatia. "If the police officer had written those words on the ticket I would have told him to lock me up because I won't accept the ticket."

Explaining how the incident had occurred, Bhatia said: "My work starts at 8 a.m., so I leave the house at 7 a.m. I usually sleep on the train. "A lot of people sleep on the train. I mean, I don't put up my feet and lie down. I just sit there and sometimes I fall asleep, because there is nothing to do.

"So the other day, I was coming to my workplace and I fell asleep on the train. I was tired. The night before, I was with my parents who were here on a visit. I was showing them around and it was a bit late, so I was a bit sleepy the next morning."

As his station approached, people started to get down, but Bhatia didn't realise it. A police officer came in. "He did not have to shake me up or anything like that. My body is programmed. Every day I take the same train, so my eyes just open up at the same time," Bhatia said.

The police officer then gave a very surprised Bhatia a ticket with a fine for $50. Bhatia said the officer was friendly and polite and warned him about criminals, saying that he could have his wallet stolen.

But Bhatia found it ridiculous. "I told my friends and they all started laughing. How can you give someone a ticket for sleeping on the train? There are so many people sleeping on the train every day.

"I wasn't like homeless people. I was just sitting there. The police officer told me I could mail in the $50. I refused. They want revenue, surely. But not from me."

Officials said Bhatia had "violated a CTA ordinance by obstructing the operation of a train". After local television and radio channels interviewed Bhatia, CTA officials gave their explanation a new spin, saying he was "sleeping dangerously".

Chicago police spokesman David Bayless, who affirmed Bhatia was "sleeping dangerously", said: "I am told his legs were blocking the aisle."

When told that all passengers had got off, the spokesman said: "That does not mean there wouldn't be other people getting on who could trip over him. We were trying to prevent that."

CTA spokesperson Robyn Ziegler conceded: "Napping is one of the advantages of taking public transit instead of driving." But she said there was a CTA rule that prohibited sleeping or dozing "where such activity may be hazardous to such persons or others, or where such activity may interfere with the operation of CTA".

Bhatia has decided not to take the citation lying down. He will contest it and has a court date scheduled for Oct 1. He does not accept the police version either.

Bhatia explained he had his face against the train window, so he could not possibly have stretched into the aisle. "It would have been physically impossible," he said, "Even Keanu Reeves from Matrix could not do it."

Indo-Asian News Service
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