Jasai Phata & Nanded Incident.

SRPF is known for its high discipline, quick response and effective action.  It is the backbone of the Maharashtra police,  I had opportunities to test out its reputation. When I was posted as commandant.  SRPF was pressed into service in every single serious riot.  My very first posting in the police was as sub-divisional police officer panvel.  I had to use a SRP platoon in the very first year of my service.

When I joined at Panvel, an agitation on the issue of land acquisition for Nehru Port & CIDCO was in full swing under the leadership of the local MLA.  As a part of this agitation, they had blocked the road at Jasai Phata.  I had one SRPF platoon with me.  We had diverted the traffic towards Uran and Panvel by a different route.  Hence there was no untoward incident despite the squatting on the road by the agitators for four hours. 

People were squatting quietly.  However a naughty kid pelted a stone on the SRPF bus.  A jawan slapped this urchin.  A person clad in white Nehru shirt turned up and demanded an explanation from the jawan for slapping the boy.  Another Jawan, noticing this heated argument, without a second’s thought hit this person on the head with his baton. The white Nehru shirt was stained by the blood flowing from the injury.  This person turned out to be the local MLA himself.  The mob got provoked by the sight of the blood stained shirt of their MLA and started pelting stones.  I came to know about this incident much later.

As soon as the stone pelting started, I ordered all the officers and men to get ready for action.  Besides the platoon of SRPF I had 150 constables and ten officers of the District police.  The SRPF fell in line very promptly.  I took the shield form one of the jawans.  We started advancing towards the mob, parrying the stones with the shields.  We could barely advance seven or eight feet holding in one line.  We could protect our heads and the body by the helmets and the shields but we could not avoid the hits on the legs.

Instead of our advancing towards the mob, the mob started advancing towards us!  SRPF Jawans started shouting, “Sir, order the firing, Sir please order the firing!”  I turned back to summon the district police.  How many of them did I find behind me?  None!  Not a single police men out of the 150 of the reputed Maharashtra police was behind me.  Moreover, out of the ten officers only two had remained behind me!  Later on I came to know that the rest of them had taken shelter in a godown.

When we were advancing towards the mob, two SRPF jawans surged forward with their lathis and plunged into the mob.  I was shouting at them to fall back.  “The mob will lynch you,” I warned them, but they would not stop.  Ultimately I had to order firing to get the mob under control.  I took stock of the situation.  I counted the number of injured, the number of broken lathis, the number of the rounds fired.  Only five rounds were fired under my orders.  I collected those five empties.

Another jawan poured seventeen empties before me.  One of the two jawans who surged forward despite my orders, had fired 17 rounds of his own accord.  One of the persons in the mob had teased him by lifting his ‘lungi’ and flashing his private parts at this constable.  Enraged by this act, the constable had chased him firing at him from his rifle.  When I narrated this incident to my superiors and colleagues, all that they had to say was that I was a poor leader.  “How can a jawan do this?  It only shows your poor control over the force.”  I had to meekly accept this criticism.

Twelve long years after Jasai incident I had another experience which is equally important.  In a place near Nanded there was dispute between Hindus and Sikhs over a Gurudwara land.  In 1994 it came to a flash point.  There was tension between the two communities.  Scuffles started, police fired in self-defense, killing a Sikh young man.  A group of Sikhs went berserk.  They went round attacking anybody they came across with swords.

The SRPF unit just kept itself confined to the police station compound.  They did not step out to intervene.  By now I had logged sixteen years in the service.  I already had the Presidents Police Medal for Meritorious Service and the Presidents Police Medal for Gallantry.  Nobody was questioning my leadership qualities.  Why did the SRPF unit then not stop the violent mob on its own?  Why did the offices and jawans of my district not intervene on their own initiative to ward off the voilence?