I was surprised at the Commissioner’s regard for Inspector Chougle. He had been hand-picked to be the Senior Inspector, though he had protested; he loved rural Maharashtra, and with his quaint accent had tried to convince the Commissioner that he be allowed to continue in some district town. I had noted that he was particularly fond of the Nashik, Kolhapur, Aurangabad and Satara districts. The citizens and local media of these district towns loved him, and he in turn loved what he considered were his ‘roots’. I did not interfere in his conversation with the Commissioner. Chougle’s transfer orders, however, followed swiftly, and he reported to duty quietly.
It was the late ’90s and I was heading Zone 4 of the Mumbai Police Commissionerate. Things were tough on the communal front, and there were frequent clashes between different communities, especially in the ‘Kapad Bazar’ area of Mahim. I was told that he was taking detailed rounds of the area around Mahim Police Station and holding staff meetings at regular intervals. Chougle had arrived.
I went around my daily office tasks. Zone 4 was heavy and the stream of visitors in my office back breaking. I could manage all this but the frequent communal disputes and skirmishes would rattle me no end, most of them centering in Mahim. “Is Chougle losing his magic?” I would wonder. My staff officer Shinde, however, continued to be an ardent admirer of his and wouldn’t let me utter a word against Mahim Police (read as: Inspector Chougle).
On my way home, in the slight December chill of Mumbai, I recevied a call from Shinde: there was serious trouble in Mahim. I instructed my driver Jadhav to head directly to the scene. Jadhav was already tuned into the wireless set and took no time to change directions. While I looked at my revolver, I noticed my guard Munde do a barrel check on his STEN gun. Things can’t be that bad, I thought, but no harm if Munde is on alert. He had put on some weight and needed to exercise more or his emergency-response abilities would be affected. Many thoughts were going through my head.
Our car slowed as we approached Mahim. Too many people were out on the road. The Control Room Officer on the wireless set signalled in that a particular community, enraged at the failure of the police to solve a case of the rape and murder of two nuns, had taken to the streets. Their evening prayers had ended with the local priest exhorting them to condemn the police failure.
Another community, led by a local municipal counsellor (who had come to my notice as being highly mischievous) was also on the streets against the alleged strongarm tactics of local police. Chougle had been arresting local goondas and breaking the back of local gangs with strict action under the recently-effected National Security Act (NSA). I was fully aware of this and had been supporting him.
The atmosphere now was already charged with communal feelings. These two communities facing off on congested Mahim roads presented a considerable threat in the area.
Since my car could only inch through the crowd, I disembarked with Munde close behind. Walking through the mob, walkie-talkie in hand, I suddenly heard the Commissioner of Mumbai Police on the radio. He was calling for the Mahim Senior Inspector.
Chougle responded, and the Commissioner ordered him to arrest the unruly priest who had decried the police. Chougle politely but firmly informed the boss that it would only inflame the situation. The Commissioner, sounding tense, disagreed and ordered the arrest a second time. Chougle explained his view-point once again, and the boss ordered the arrest for a third time. This time Chougle replied quite firmly, “I am the man on the spot, sir. Allow me to act as per my perception of the situation.”
The wireless set that had been so noisy until then was dead-silent for a full minute. For once, even the Control Room Officer, so fond of interrupting everyone, had lost his voice. I was, of course, numb. No one dares talk back to the Commissioner of Mumbai Police, least of all on a wireless channel, where everyone could hear the exchange.
That night Chougle picked up the mischievous municipal counsellor and his cronies, advised the priest to remain in the church and not lead his people on the streets, and patrolled the area till the wee hours with his staff. Eventually, the crowds melted. Tired after a night-long protest, everyone went home. They dared not cross the limits set by Mahim police, so there was no violence. Slowly, Mahim returned to normal.
The issue of the Inspector’s disobedience was never discussed. I wondered if it had ever happened, perhaps I heard it wrong. After all, wireless sets are very noisy, and there were too many people radioing at the same time.
It was the end of the year and the Commissioner called each DCP separately to review our performances. I reported in my best uniform, saluted, and took a seat in the Commissioner’s awe-inspiring chamber. At the end of a detailed discussion on the achievements of my zone and its officers, just when I was getting up to leave, the Commissioner asked, “How have you rated Inspector Chougle?”
For a minute I was speechless. So the incident did happen, it was not my imagination.
“He deserves 10 out of 10,” the Commissioner boomed. “He is professional and dares to differ in the interest of a cause. It is difficult to get such officers, young lady. Keep in mind: he is the best we have. Value him.”
Taken aback by the strong words of the otherwise quiet Commissioner, I saluted and left the room without disagreement.
Inspector Chougle did get 10 out of 10 but I do not think it would have bothered him even if he had got less. Last I heard, he had been addressing different communities in an effort to bring them together. He never asked about his rating, nor did I tell him because, knowing him, it would have been pointless.
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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