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Monday, 2 July 2012

34. AN ENCOUNTER WITH DACOITS (A REAL LIFE EXPERIENCE)


He was driving his open Ford 1919 one summer afternoon, his wife seated on the front seat holding their six month old baby. Two of his children, a daughter and a son aged 5 and 3 years, happily seated on the rear seat, were obviously enjoying the outing in the car. A distant relative who was all of 18 and who had come all the way from Dehra Dun to spend his summer holidays with them was also seated on the back seat.

It was a Sunday afternoon and he was not on any official visit but his eyes and ears were alert looking around for any unusual activity. He was the young Sub Divisional Magistrate of that area.

The year was 1954 and the place was somewhere in District Jalaun in Uttar Pradesh, close to the infamous dacoits infested ravines of Bhind, Muraina and Chambal Valley.

While driving along, he noticed a rickety UP Roadways bus which had stopped to take the passengers at a road-side stop. What he particularly noticed was a posse’ of police men trying to get into the bus.

“What are these police-men doing here?” he said slowly emphasising each word as if thinking aloud.

Without losing time, he drove the car straight towards the rear entry of the bus. Bringing the car to a screeching halt, he hailed the police men, “Arre O! Kaun ho tum log?” (Hey, you guys! Who are you?”)

Hearing his strong and powerful voice, the last of the constables who was getting into the bus, turned his head, saw him and quickly asked others to come down. They were five of them, in UP Police khaki uniform with badges, pistols and bullets etc. They fell in single line and saluted him with alacrity.

The commanding voice of her father and the nervous sound of the heels clicking into “Attention” mode was found to be very thrilling by the little girl on the back-seat who was intently watching every action of this drama and is able to recall it even today after 58 years with total clarity.

Kaun thane ke ho? (Which Police Station are you from?)” he roared.

Sahib…hum XXXX thane ke hain. (Sir, we are from XXXX Police Station),” the senior-most of them uttered with almost trembling voice.

“Kahan jaa rahe ho? (Where are you going?)” he shot another question.

They stood attention and replied most deferentially, “Sahab, XXXX gaon se dakaiti ki khabar aayee hai, wahin ja rahe hain, saab (Sir, There is a report of dacoity in XXXX village. We are going there only, Sir.)"

Theek hai… Jaldi jao… Tehqeekat kar ke ittala bhejna. (OK. Hurry up and go. Send your report quickly after investigations!”), he said waving his hand at them. He was about to shift the gears of the car when the young lad Hari Ram who was sitting in the open car on the rear seat stood up and pointing fingers at the constables started screaming, “Chachaji, ye jhooth bol rahe hain…..ye dakoo hain…inhe pakad leejiye. (Uncle, they are lying. They are dacoits. You catch hold of them.)

My father turned around to look at him and then turned to look at the constables. Were they dacoits? No, no way! They all had recognised him and had, therefore, come down from the bus to salute him like any disciplined police force members.  He smiled and said, “Arre nahin. Ye sab police constable hain..Inhe jane do. (No, no. They are Police Constables only. Let them go.)” And he confidently waved at the bus driver to carry on and the bus trudged off.

The only action that I noticed at that time was that the last constable on the steps of the bus had turned around and was looking at our cousin who was still throwing his arms up and creating a ruckus repeating excitedly, “Chachaji, Ye dakoo hain. Inhe pakad leejiye. (Uncle, they are dacoits. Catch hold of them)”.

We drove away from there but Hari Ram kept arguing that they were definitely dacoits and that we should have caught them. My father kept asserting that they were not.  


I now at times wonder how my unarmed father single-handedly could have caught five armed men even if they were dacoits. Thank God, he was totally convinced of his own observation and did not agree with my cousin. If he had even an iota of doubt about the identity or genuineness of these people, he would have got into an encounter forgetting about his young wife and three small children seated in the open car.

Next day morning, my father left early in the morning for touring a far off place for four days. That day itself, as we were settling downing for lunch in the afternoon, our cook Chattroo walked in and handed over a long brown envelope to my mother, “Memsaab, This envelope was lying near the door. Somebody seems to have slipped it in from below the door.”  My mother tore it open. Out came a yellowish page as if taken  out of a very old register. 

As she read it, her looks became stern and resolute. Was she stressed, I cannot say for she was a very strong woman who knew exactly what needed to be done. She called an orderly and told him, “Call Tehsildar Saab and Thanedar Saab,” and turned to Hari Ram, “You quickly finish your lunch and pack your bags. You are leaving right now.” But Hari Ram would not pack up unless he was told what had happened. He wanted to grab the letter and read it but my mother did not give it to him. She read it out aloud.

“Adarniya SDM Sahib, 
Sadar Pranam!
Kal hum aapko XXX chungi par mile thay. Haan, hum dakoo hee thay. Par achha hee hua ki aapne humko pehchana nahin. Hum aapko koi haani nahin pahuchana chahte hain. Aap apni duty keejiye par SDM Sahib, Dakuon ko pakadne ka kaam aapka nahin hai.Yah kaam police ka hai. Aap police ka kaam karne ki koshish na karein. Aapka kaam tab shuroo hota hai jab police hamein pakad kar aapki adalat mein pesh karegi, aap insaf keejiyega aur humein sazaa deejiyega.
Aur haan, wo jo ladka aapke saath tha jo aapka koi rishtedar hai, wo bahut hee shatir lagta hai. Use aap yahan se turant bhej dijiye nahin to hum use aapke ghar se aaj raat ko hee utha kar le jayenge.
Saadar, 
Hum hain aapke shubhakanshi,
XXXX Gang

(Respected SDM Sir,
Regards and salutations!
Yesterday, we met you at xxx check-post. Yes, we were dacoits only. Good that you did not recognise us. We do not intend to harm you.You do your duty SDM Sir but catching hold of dacoits is not your job. This is the job of Police functionaries. You should not try to perform their job. Your job will start when police will catch us and bring us for justice to your court. You should then do justice and award us punishment.
And yes, that young man who is some relation of yours, appears to be quite shrewd. Please send him back immediately. Otherwise, we will kidnap him from your house tonight itself.
With regards,
We are your well-wishers,
Xxxx Gang.)

Hearing the contents of the letter, a chill went through my spine and the thought of a bunch of dacoits jumping into the courtyard at night and firing from their guns curdled my blood. It was my mother’s call now. There was no way that she could contact my father as there were no phones, no mobile phones and he was to come back only after four days.

We used to sleep in the open courtyard which had barely 6’ high walls. Anybody could have jumped into the courtyard from the side which faced the forest. And the pecking order was first my father’s cot, then my mother’s cot, the next was my younger brother’s cot.  In the last was my cot. You see I was the oldest and could afford to be in the last. Some fearlessness expected from a five year old!

Meanwhile, the SHO and the Tehsildar reached and my mother instructed them to arrange a vehicle and escort Hari Ram to Jhansi railway station and put him in the train for Dehra Dun. Hari Ram tried his level best to not to go because he wanted to fire at the dacoits with my father’s 303 gun which he had seen lying at home but my mother stood like a rock and packed him off. A mother’s instinct to protect her children is definitely stronger than what can be comprehended by an ordinary person. 


That night in the courtyard, with 6’ high walls around, sleep was difficult to come by and I kept awake for I don’t know how long. This happened night after night, every night for four nights. 

When my father returned after four days and heard the entire episode, he was absolutely cool about it and said, “Why did you send him away? Nobody would have dared to come here. This is MY house.”

The shine in my eyes returned and they glistened with confidence. I felt absolutely secure once again, comfortable in the knowledge that I was absolutely safe in this citadel of my father’s domain and that nothing could ever happen to me so long as he was around.

*****

At times now, I shudder to think of what would have been our fate if my father had not failed in his judgement that afternoon. He would have definitely got into an encounter with the dacoits and perhaps I would not have been sitting here punching away the keys of my laptop. 
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