Why did I pursue the Dacoits?

It obvious from my experience that the evaluation of junior officers is done very superficially, irresponsibly and cosmetically.  The evaluation done once a year can ruin the career of an officer.  Officers junior to me got service seniority of 1984 while I got it from 1987!  33 junior officers were promoted over me.  The then Raigad Superintendent of Police went around saying, “See, not only did I deny Khopade his medal, I have also pushed back his promotions!”

Actually I wasn’t bothered by his remarks at all.  Nobody from my family had ever joined the police.  Coming from an average rural agricultural family, till the whole Ram Sham encounter happened I wasn’t even aware of the existence of the Gallantry Medal!

I started thinking to myself, “Why did I pursue the dacoits?  What did I risk my life for?”  I realised that the answer lay in the way my mother had brought me up and the values she had instilled in me.  My family was of limited means, but mother if a neighbour fell ill she would prepare some sweets for them.  She would feed a neglected elderly person.  The plight of people poorer than us would melt her heart.

I spent 15 days in the Yeravada Jail with Dr. Kumar Saptarshi during the Agriculture college agitation.  The work of S. M. Joshi and Baba Adhav these touched our hearts and inspired us.  Though all these agitations my outlook towards the police changed.  So when I joined the police, the oppression of the Adivasis by Ram and Sham would anger me greatly.  I understood the pain of Balu Bhasma.  The car, the bungalow and the powers – all these were given to me to protect people like him.  Then why shouldn’t I take initiative.  Should I just stand and watch as goons threatened and harassed hapless Adivasis?  This was the feeling that motivated me to go behind the dacoits.

My service began with the Panvel posting.  When I heard that these dacoits had been absconding for 22 years spreading their reign of terror, I immediately wanted to put an end to them.  I never even dreamt that such an endeavor would make me eligible for a Gallantry Medal.  But the Raigad Superintendent of Police started telling people, “Forget the Medal, but I saved Khopade’s skin.  Otherwise an offence of murder would have been registered against him for killing Ram and Sham.” 

How can one respond to such an officer?  I, a father of 2 extremely young kids had risked my life without thinking twice.  Instead of applauding my work, he initiated an inquiry against me.  Is this justice?  I faced this inquiry for the next 8 years. My appeal about reconsidering my adverse ACR was ignored and the senior officers stood by their original remarks.  My career was ruined.

I was denied promotion into the IPS due to the bad 1987-88 ACR I had received.  The former Raigad SP told people, “See how I managed to not only deny Khopade his medal but also his promotion!”  Once a friend remarked to me, “How can someone who can’t get justice for himself unsure justice for others?” 

My depression and frustration was escalating day by day.  My wife took me to a psychiatrist in Mumbai who put me on medications and ECT treatment.  A friend advised me to meet the Chief Minister himself.  “If he decides he could definitely help you out”, said the friend.

After thinking for a lot of days I decided to visit ‘Varsha’ - the CM’s official residence.  I made up my mind, took copies of all the applications and all relevant documents and reached there at 7:30.  I had expected a maximum of 7-8 people to be there, waiting to meet the CM, but found a fun-fair like crowd of cars and people outside.  Inside, the waiting room was packed with people of all sorts: Rich suits, clean Khadis, soiled farm clothes and turbans. I stood in a corner for a long time.  After a while I sat down in a little space on the sofa that had just emptied, keeping the papers in my lap.

There was a constant cacophony in the waiting room.  I was waiting for my name to be called.  The clock chimed 9:00 am and then 10:00 am, but my name wasn’t called.  Some people around me looked troubled, while some were cracking jokes, laughing and making others laugh. Some people had come for getting transfers, others to cancel them, some had come for permits while others had come to request withdrawal of court cases.  Some had come to complain against the district collector while others wanted permits and permissions for setting up everything from industries to colleges.  What was I doing here? What would I say when the CM calls me inside and asks me what it was I wanted?  A Medal?  And what would I say if the CM asked me, just like the Director General of Police had - “Don’t ask for the Medal like a beggar asking for alms”?

I didn’t have a satisfactory answer.  I didn’t know why I was sitting there.  What difference was it going to make whether I got the Medal or not?  But then I remembered the bullet scars all over my body.  It felt like these near fatal injuries were not getting their due.  Then another thought struck stronger.  Why ask for a Gallantry Medal?  Why ask for it as if asking for a favour?  Why hold my arms hoping for the Medal to fall in to my outstretched palms?

The clock struck 11.  I stood up with a start.  The number of people aorund me was still the same.  As I walked out of the Chief Minister’s bungalow, I felt a strange new strength surging in my body and I walked out on much steadier feet.

Struggle for a Favourable Annual Confidential Report (ACR)

While lying in GT Hospital I had first met Mr. Syamsunder Shinde who was Deputy Collector and my neighbour in Panvel.  Eventually we became close friends.

Now Mr. Shinde insisted that we should do something about the Medal.  He took me to meet Mr. Bhaskarrao Patil who had been the Collector of Raigad when the encounter had happened and had visited the place of the encounter.  He had also visited me while I was in the Hospital and helped me out and was also a support for my family.  He knew about the jealous and unjust behaviour of the then Raigad Superintendent of Police.  I told him that along with the Medal I had been denied my promotion into the IPS as well.

He took me to meet his relative Mr. Rohidas Patil, the Minister of State for Home who heard my story and after he was convinced about the injustice done to me sent a proposal to the Chief Minister.  The CM’s secretary rejected it saying the incident was too old and couldn’t be sent further.  A friend advised that I should meet the CM who could easily by pass the Secretary and send my proposal to the Central Government.  Mr. Sharad Pawar was the Chief Minister then.  I hailed from his very own constituency, but was not acquainted with him at all.  While this discussion was going on, my neighbour from Bhiwandi Mr. Faizan Azmi, a political activist, was also present.  He said, “I know Pawar saheb very well.  Your work will be done!”  Faizanbhai introduced me to Mr. Barorakade (MLA) who took me to Mr. Pawar.  My work was done and the state government sent my proposal to the central government.  Later the proposal was rejected by the Home Ministry of India because it had been sent after 7 years instead of within the time limit of 1 year.  I was devastated.  The sight of the bullet scars on my body was depressing.

I explained to Mr. Rohidas Patil that the adverse ACR given to me for the year 1987-88 were unfair.  After scrutinising my work he recommended that the adverse remarks be purged from my record.  The CM accepted.  The senior bureaucrats whose job it was to create the next generation of effective and enthusiastic officers through encouragement and motivation of young officers turned out to be rigid and apathetic.  It was the politicians who showed flexibility and viewed my case sympathetically.