Thursday, June 8, 2017

Pune couple wins racial slur case in England


PUNE: The post-Brexit rise in racist attacks, both physical and verbal, have had non-resident Indians (NRIs) in the UK at the receiving end ever since Britain's decision to break away from the European Union (EU) was announced in February 2016. And, this Pune couple wasn't spared either. But, in a triumph of justice that would give hope to millions of other NRIs, Sachit Poonekar and Tejal Sonwalkar took the case to court and managed to elicit a favourable order and a compensation.

Living in the town of Swindon in England's Wiltshire county for about a decade now, Poonekar and Sonwalkar consider England their second home and run a flourishing Indian food joint business there. On October 7, 2016, they were heading out of their restaurant for a delivery when Poonekar had an argument with one Michael Francis Wright over what side of the road to drive on. That's when Wright hurled abuses at the couple.

The case was later taken up for investigation by the police and on May 18, the Chippenham magistrate court ruled in their favour and asked Wright to pay up for the harassment.

"As is the norm here, the outgoing traffic is always given preference. There were three other cars behind me as I was leaving the parking to step out, and the British couple's (Wright's) car was coming from the opposite direction. They kept asking me to 'Go back', which I agreed to. We moved back, including the three cars behind me, to make way for this one car. When his car came parallel to mine, he got out to abuse me," recalled Poonekar.

He couldn't fathom the intention of the accused, but his aggressive behaviour certainly came as a shocker and gave Poonekar and his wife a few sleepless nights. "When the couple got out of the car, the guy started hurling abuses at me and even called me a 'f**king Asian monkey'. The fear that the next thing would be a blow coming my way, given the guy's big build, made me refrain from saying anything," Poonekar added. The cops, who were informed about the incident, arrived at the scene 10 minutes later and immediately started their investigation. They recorded the statement of the people around and, luckily for Poonekar the bystanders were ready to be witness.

Since Poonekar had managed to take a picture of the car's number plate, he was able to produce it in his statement to the cops. That is how Wright could be traced. After the court hearing that followed, Poonekar won the case. "Winning the case was important for me not because I needed the compensation, but because I needed to know that the place I called my second home considered me a part of it, too. There are so many like me who face issues like this on a daily basis. Standing up against the bullies is what they must do, no matter what," he insisted, adding, "Ever since Brexit, there have been several cases of racial abuse. I have myself heard of many that occurred in London. But our neighbourhood mostly comprises Polish and Hungarian people. There aren't many Indians here, so we didn't hear of incidents involving racial slurs on them, till it happened to us."

In the order that was issued on May 19, the magistrate court sentenced Wright to pay £120 as fine, £400 as compensation, £30 as victims' surcharge and £ 220 as crown prosecution service (CPS) costs, stating, "On 07/10/2016 at Swindon in the county of Wiltshire, used threatening or abusive words or behaviour or disorderly behaviour within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress, thereby, and the offence was racially aggravated within the terms of section 28 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. Contrary to section 31(1) (c) and (5) of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998".

Wright will also have a criminal record for this behaviour, which will stay in the police books for six years.


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