Fight for the Medal

The recommendation from the medal had not been sent from the office of the Superintendent of Police, Raigad.  Back then there was a union of Policemen and I heard that Havaldar Ghosalkar had complained to the then DGP through the Union.  Consequently proposals of medals for Ghosalkar and I were sent to the Central Government.  Within a year Ghosalkar’s medal was declared. 

My happiness knew no bounds.  On hearing that the brave Ghosalkar had been awarded the President’s Galatary Medal, the whole Raigad police force as well as the Adivasis there were extremely happy.  But they were also sad that I hadn’t been given a medal.  People familiar with the case starting saying, “Khopade even you should have been given the Gallantry medal.”  I sent many applications in vain. 

I visited the Mantralaya several times and the DGPs office and I learnt that a recommendation for awarding me the Medal had been sent from both these offices to the Central Government.  Which meant that the Central Government had not accepted the State Government’s recommendations.  The Central Government communicated that Khopade’s case had been considered and rejected but nobody was ready to explain exactly why it had been rejected.

Some well wishing officers told me that the getting the medal depends on how the citation (recommendation) for the medal is written more than your actual act of bravery.  So I got hold of the original copy of the citation written by my the Superintendent of Police, Raigad and got the shock of my life.  The detailed report of the whole Ram Sham incident only mentioned that I was injured in the firing by the criminals. 

It failed to mention that when Inspector Bhangale was screaming that his pistol was jammed I fired three bullets on the daciots even in that injured state.  The citation did not mention that one of those bullets I fired on Shiva from a distance of a mere 10 feet!  In short, the citation sent by my superior to the President gave the impression that while the bullets were flying on both sides I just stood around dwindling my thumbs and so was injured.

Even after I was injured I kept firing without thinking twice about my own life.  The citation did not mention any of this.  I had already written about the fact that I had fired back even after being injured in the report I filed at the police station after the encounter.  But the citation hadn’t included these facts.  I brought this to the notice of my seniors who denied the whole thing!  They said that it is impossible for there to be such shortcomings in the report since it goes through the scrutiny of the SP office, DIG office, DG office, the state government and the governor’s office.

I met the Director General of Police who heard my tale and asked me to give it all in writing, on which he marked “Medal cannot be demanded as a matter of right". I kept running around requesting the authorities to do a rethink on the incomplete and inaccurate citation.  I was disappointed and disgruntled that inspite of having a genuine case my seniors were not giving me justice.

My younger suggested that since the senior officers refused to listen, we should get the issue introduced in the State Assembly.  During the question answer session the DGP will have to come out with the whole truth.  I was aware that the Assembly question is an important tool in democracy to keep dictatorial, biased, irresponsible and arbitrary governance and administration.  I met up with Mr. Anna Joshi(MLA), Mr. Vitthal Tupe(MP) and Mr. Dada Jadhavrao and explained my plight to them.  I also gave them copies of my book “Ram & Sham”.  They heard me patiently, understood my case in detail and once convinced about the injustice done to me, put the question to the Assembly.  “

Is it true that the hand made bullets of Ram and Sham fired perfectly while the service revolvers of havaldar Ghosalkar and Inspector Bhangale did not work properly?  Inspite of being severely injured Mr. Khopade fired back at the dacoits and killed them with the help of his associates, but his medal was denied due to an incomplete and inaccurate citation.  This has lead to deep discontentment in the Raigad police force and the adivasi population there.  Is the government going to investigate and set right it’s mistake?….”

At that time I was with the CID and heard that the whole matter was being looked into again.  I thought that the Assembly question would put the DGP’s office in a fix and justice would prevail.  But it wasn’t to be.  They deviously skirted the main question and the whole blame for the denial of medal was pushed onto the Central Government.  They misguided the Assembly with misleading answers.

I wasn’t begging the DGP for a medal.  I just wanted him to rethink about the citation that had been purposely written inaccurately and incompletely.  Every week I would go to the Mantralaya and meet the desk officer and tell them him very earnestly that my citation had been wrong.  The officers in that department who were polite enough in the beginning eventually stopped acknowledging my presence.  They probably thought that I was mentally a little demented.  However, I continued my visits to the Mantralaya. 

As a result, probably to put an end to my daily visits the desk officer ordered the DGP’s office to investigate my complaints about the citation through the DIG Thane Range and asked for a report.  The DIG started the inquiry and I was interrogated again.  The paper work was analysed again.  And what did they find?  They found that the then Raigad Superintendent of Police had sent an inaccurate and incomplete citation.  The DIG prepared a new citation and the DGP’s office sent it with a recommendation to the Home Ministry, Mahrashtra State. 

There the concerned Secretary rejected it saying that the citation for a 1982 incident was being sent in 1989.  Because the rules state that a citation for medal must be sent within one year of the incident and in my case 7 whole years had elapsed!  I met the same DIG who had asked me whether I was “looking for another job” at a function.  He said, “Khopade, I had been misled about you.  You know, if your SP had been given the medal you wouldn’t have to face so much trouble!”

I decided to write two articles on the Ram & Sham encounter for the Dakshata Magazine.  I somehow put together an amateurishly written article and sent it off and was extremely happy to see it printed.  The article received wide spread praise and I was enthused to write the second part.  However, this second article was lying with the editor for 6 whole months and he wouldn’t print it in spite of repeated visits and requests.  After I met him a number of times he said that he had lost the original handwritten article.  I promptly sent him a copy.

After waiting in vain for many days I visited the editor again.  This time he was annoyed and barked, “Why are you coming here again and again?  Publishing your article isn’t the only work I have.”  I couldn’t fathom the cause for the Editor’s anger right then.  Later I found out that the editor of Dakshata was a friend of the Raigad Superintendent of Police and had desisted from printing my article on his request.  The Raigad SP was trying to strangle me from all sides.  He was probably under the impression that if the article weren’t allowed to be printed then people would never know the truth.

Resting in my house, one fine day, I found a tiny little book with the top cover torn.  I read a couple of pages and sat up straight.  The story seemed to strike a chord in my heart.  It was a story I had seen in my village as a kid.  I dived in to the book and finished it off in one single sitting.  I was deeply impressed with the book and reread it 3-4 times.  Every time I reread it I discovered newer facets of the book.  It was actually a slightly lengthy short story, but I had never read such live and impressive writing.  I thought to myself, even I could write like this.  But when I tried to I just couldn’t.

After speaking to several people I learnt that this book was infact a great piece of art of the Marathi Language.  This little book was Vyankatesh Madgulkar’s “Bangarwadi”.  Like Madgulkar, my childhood too had been spent in a semi-drought prone little village. I could easily identify with the characters in the book.  My childhood hamlet was very similar to the hamlet in the story.  In the book, a single teacher taught all 4 classes from 1st to 4th Std in the Maruti temple.  My own school was exactly like that.

Later I read the rest of Madgulakar’s works and was even more impressed.  Then I realised, instead of running behind these magazine editors why not write a book on the Ram Sham encounter?  I write the whole incident and submitted the handwritten manuscript to Mr. Dinkar Gangal of Granthali Publications who published the book under the title, “Ram-Sham: The search of Dacoits”.  Thanks to the rejection of the editor I gained the confidence of writing an honest to goodness book. Eventually the book was adapted into a prime time Hindi serial on the National Doordashan channel called ‘Badla’ and into a Marathi serial called ‘Dakshata’.

Annual Confidential Report (ACR)

I think it was the year 1987.  Junior colleagues from my batch were promoted to the IPS over me.  During my service I had never been given an adverse appraisal, atleast I had never been sent a notice saying so.  While I was wondering why I had not been given my due promotion into the IPS, the department sent me my Annual Confidential Report for the 1987-88.  Some of the remarks it contained were as follows: -

“Fair in industry and application.  Average in intelligence.  Average in initiative and drive.  His performance in intelligence field was of middling grade, not because of any lack of effort on his part but because of his inherent limitations in making perspective studies which the job demanded.  An average officer.  Has put in a routine performance.”

I was flabbergasted.  These remarks were for the period when I was working for the CID Special Intelligence branch, a post which people aspire for to improve their record.  In my case the exact opposite had happened.

I met Vasant Saraf, the senior officer who had written these adverse remarks and showed him the report.
“You mean these remarks were interpreted as adverse?”  He himself didn’t seem to know that the remarks he had written were adverse. 
“These adverse remarks have resulted in a great loss for me.  I have lost my promotion.  I am going applying to have these remarks purged from the ACR and I request you to help me with it sir.”
He sent me off with the words, “Fine, I’ll see what to do”.
I submitted my reply to the adverse report.

In response to the first remark that I was ‘Fair in industry and application.  Average in intelligence’, I said that in the 1977 Maharashtra Public Service Commission examination through which I was recruited as a DySP, I stood second in the whole state!  I further wrote that my book on the Ram-Sham encounter had been published by a prestigious and highly respected Publisher like Granthali.  I had sent copies of my book to the famous writers Mr. P. L. Deshpande and Mr. Vijay Tendulkar and they had praised it.  I added photocopies of the favorable review that these renowned authors had written about my book to the report.  So it is totally unfair to say that I am ‘Fair in industry and application.  Average in intelligence’.

In response to the second adverse remark that I was ‘Average in initiative and drive.  An average officer.  Has put in a routine performance’,  I wrote that I undertook the dangerous work of nabbing dacoits that were wanted for 22 years.  The dacoits were notorious for their reign of terror in several districts and were known to be armed with foreign made arms and inspite of knowing all this before hand I raided their hideout.  Even in an injured state I fired back and killed the dacoits.  One of the bullets hit me in the chest.  I had a daughter of 2 ½ years and a son of 3 months.  I was 30 years old when I risked my life.  I was not going to get anything by taking this risk - I was doing it for the poor adivasis who bore the brunt of the dacoits’ oppression.  An officer ‘ ’ would never have taken initiative for such a risky proposition, especially when all officers for the preceding 22 years had failed miserably at the same job.

What was the effect of my report?  Were the adverse remarks expunged?  No.  Instead the government was sent a remark saying, “I do not accept the officer’s explanation and stand by my remarks.”  The DGP has to countersign the ACR before it becomes official.  The then DGP Suryakant Jog remarked, “He is an average officer.  Has put in a routine performance”.  Moreover, in support of his original recommendations he said, “I had called Khopade over for discussion during the period for which the ACR has been written and found that his practical knowledge and overall work is of an average caliber.  Hence I stand by my earlier recommendations.”  I have nothing to say about the adverse evaluation, but his statement, “during discussion I found that his practical knowledge and overall work is of an average caliber” felt like a below the belt punch.

For the simple reason that, during that period this Director General had never even spoken to me on the phone (forget in person!) about official or other matters!  To what lengths a senior bureaucrat is ready to go just to cover up his mistaken, prejudiced, rigid and wrong statements is something I experienced first hand.  I couldn’t believe that the DGP could write such stark lies!  He was probably annoyed with me for having appealed for the Medal.  He had denied me the Medal saying  that “Medal cannot be demanded as a matter of right” as if I were begging him for the Medal. 

Everybody who knew my case was sure that I should have been given the medal.  Instead of sending a new recommendation to the Central Government so I could get my due, the DGP instead ruined my career with and adverse ACR.  At first I couldn’t understand why the DGP and DIG had acted so maliciously.  Then I realised that when MLA Mr. Joshi, Mr. Tupe and Mr. Jadhavrao had put the question to the Assembly, the DGP had had to face the music.  ‘So, Khopade is challenging our supremacy through MLAs?  Forget the Medal we’ll make sure you won’t get any further promotions either!’  What could a person like me from a poor rural background do in the face of such powerful bureaucrats?