While Officer Ghule seemed anguished, I was speechless. The IPS is a disciplined force. Our conduct protocols do not permit us to protest against the Government. We discuss our views about actions of ‘powers in the chair’ either at home or in hushed voices in office corridors, but that too is rare. In fact, I have observed that if someone is critical of the establishment, most officers either remain quiet or change the topic. Thus what Ghule told me was beyond belief.
Inspector Chougle wearing a black band on the shirt of his uniform! Unimaginable. Understanding the gravity of the situation, I decided to visit the Local Crime Branch office of Satara, headed by Chougle.
A district Superintendent of Police has no particular routine and seniors encourage us to move around, instead of staying office-bound. We are expected to be men and women of action. Today, I was rushing to verify this information reported by Officer Ghule so gravely to me half an hour earlier.
Alighting from my car, I proceeded to the Crime Branch offices. Entering quietly, I saw Inspector Chougle sitting on a chair, intensely interrogating a young man. So engrossed was he that he completely missed my arrival. Noticing my movement, he looked at me blankly for a minute, then got up hurriedly. The person he was interrogating was taken by surprise and jumped up, standing with folded hands. The scene would have been quite funny, except that the vivid black band on the Inspector’s arm made it anything but.
I instructed the office staff to take the suspect away and, alone with Chougle, enquired about the black band. Without blinking he said, “Not in My Name.”
Oh my God, it had reached our small district town too.
“But we, in uniform, cannot protest,” I said sternly. I was talking to an officer who had put in 20+ years of service and knew that wearing a band of protest is serious indiscipline.
I repeated my observation to the Inspector. We stood facing each other in uniform, senior in age challenging authority, the junior reiterating the sanctity of uniform and the authority of the state. Our roles seemed to have reversed. Feeling suddenly very low, I took Chougle’s chair and sat down. He stood defiant in front of me.
“But why the band?” I asked him again.
“Madam my sons study in Pune. On the weekends or holidays they come home either by train or by bus. My wife often worries about them, but I tell her that they are safe. Today when I read about Junaid’s murder in broad daylight on the mere suspicion that he carried beef or ate beef, I thought of his father. To share a father’s grief and my own sense of helplessness in saving a child, I am wearing the band. I had to give vent to my aakrosh. These inhuman, senseless lynchings have to stop. This is my way to protest what is going on in the country in the name of caste and religion. Ma’am, please leave me alone.”
For the second time the same day, I was speechless. I tried to reason with the Inspector, but it was futile. I could see from his grim face and defiant eyes that he was in no mood to listen. There was total silence in the office. I departed with what grace I could, and Officer Ghule, who seemed to have followed me, was patiently waiting outside. He did not speak, but I saw him following my car in his jeep.
Officer Ghule is an Inspector of the District Security Branch. His duty is to inform Mumbai about all important events in the district. “He will be the reason for Chougle’s suspension,” I thought. Once his report reaches head office in Mumbai, revealing that Inspector Chougle wore a black band in solidarity with ‘Not in My Name‘, the Director General of Police is bound to suspend Chougle from duty, followed swiftly by disciplinary action. A bright career poised for a tragic end, I could see.
The rest of my day was spent managing citizens’ anger, and protests against cow vigilantes. My head was heavy at the prospect of losing a dedicated officer loved by citizens and admired by policemen. “How will we handle it?” I kept wondering.
In the evening, Inspector Ghule informed me that the suspect Chougle was interrogating had confessed to committing a series of house robberies. I noted with distress that Chougle had not informed me himself as citizens had put me on the mat for my inability to prevent or detect a spate of house robberies that had hit Satara town and the district of late. “Was inspector Chougle not stretching it too far?” I thought.
As Mumbai asked for details about the protests, we got busy preparing the report. The Director General’s office was surprised that a small town like Satara could have so many protest marches supporting ‘Not in My Name‘. I was also surprised, but this sleepy hilly district had amazed me before. “Let the “powers in the chair” have a taste of the citizens’ wrath,” I thought sadistically.
Since Inspector Ghule was taking a while to prepare his detailed report on the protests to be sent to Mumbai, I decided to go home, have dinner and return to office. I informed the control room and left. My dinner that night tasted bland, and the atmosphere at home seemed dull. The TV kept showing photos of a young, smiling Junaid followed by his grief-stricken father. It was getting too grim for me.
“Maybe Chougle is right in voicing his grief while I am a coward in my silence.”
Brushing aside these thoughts I left for my office to sign the report for Mumbai Head Office, and in a way to sign the suspension order of Inspector Chougle.
With my habit of reading each word of the Marathi report, pencil in hand, I reached the end of the report about the number of protests in Satara city and other parts of the district, with approximate numbers of protesters, men, women, and students. All facts were captured by Inspector Ghule, who is well known for his love of detail. But no mention of Chougle and his black band.
Surprised, I looked up. Ghule stood in front of me with his expressionless face. I knew he would not volunteer any information. A proud Security Branch officer, he observes and writes but does not talk. So much for his devotion to the khufiya job, I thought with distress.
“Why have you not mentioned Chougle and his black band?” I asked at last. I did not want or expect any favoritism. If Chougle has been insubordinate, he will have to pay, or others in the District Police will follow suit. This had been my policy in the past too, but Ghule was quiet. On my goading him again, he looked blank for a moment, then said something I will never forget.
“Ma’am, Inspector Chougle wore the black band that was visible, I wore it on my heart that was not visible to you. Many policemen on duty at ‘Not in My Name‘ protests also wore the band on their hearts. We did not have the courage that Chougle does. This is my way of admitting my cowardice and acknowledging the moral courage of the Inspector. My report shall not mention him, but if you want, you may please add it in the report.”
Had I not been sitting down I would not have been able to withstand the enormity of what Ghule had said. It took me five full minutes – maybe more – to come to terms. Ghule waited for me and my pencil to add the paragraph. But my pencil failed me.
I slept very well that night. The Mumbai office accepted the report as it was, no queries raised. I have kept the pencil to remind me of the moral courage that some officers have and that I so sadly lack.
The author, Meeran Chadha Borwankar, is a serving Police Officer of Maharashtra Cadre.
She believes that her uniform enables her to expedite the social change she wants to see in India, especially for girls and women.
To contact Meeran, visit her website:
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