The Inward eye

All in a day’s work, in J&K

I was J&K DGP when a massacre was reported in a remote village in Doda district. The then CM Farooq Abdullah insisted on accompanying me in a helicopter to the site. The events of the day are vivid in my memory, as also the quick and exemplary decision-making

All in a day’s work, in J&K

File Photo

Gurbachan Jagat

During my posting as Director General of Police in Jammu and Kashmir from 1997 to the end of 2000, militants were still very active in the state and there was a strong foreign hand in the form of infiltration from across the border. One of the most affected districts was Doda, which is bigger in size than the entire Kashmir valley. There were hardly any roads and the terrain was mountainous and forested. Militants crossing over from Pakistan regularly used one of the routes passing through Doda into the Valley.

It was a difficult area to secure, but the population there was supportive; and we had recruited a large number of special police officers (SPOs) from there to assist the security forces. These SPOs were substantially useful for gathering intelligence inputs.

However, because of lack of roads and a suitable transport system, sometimes it took a couple of days before the information regarding an incident was reported to the police.

I remember one such incident when information was received that about 21 persons had been massacred by militants in a village in Doda. By the time the information was conveyed to me at night, two days had already passed. The then Chief Minister, Dr Farooq Abdullah, was camping at Patnitop, and in the morning I took the state helicopter and stopped at Patnitop to inform him about the incident. He insisted on accompanying me and we took off in a short while.

Although we had been given rough coordinates of the village, we were unable to locate it. In the meantime, a police team headed by a DIG (Rajendra Kumar, who became the DGP later) was proceeding on foot to the village.

While flying over the area, we noticed a farmer ploughing his land. Chief Minister Abdullah insisted that we land and ask for proper directions. The pilot expressed his hesitation because one could not rule out the farmer being a militant sympathiser. The presence or absence of militants in the area was also not known to us. However, we did land.

While he could not give us clear directions, Dr Abdullah asked him to accompany us in the helicopter. Much against our wishes, we managed to squeeze him in and took off. After sometime, he pointed out the place to us and we landed. Villages in these areas were not a compact group of houses; these were spread over several adjoining hills.

At the site of the crime, there was no presence of any living human being — only an abandoned dog was sitting there. We entered a mud house and found bodies of men and women strewn all over and the smell of death and putrefaction hanging over the place. It was a macabre scene.

Meanwhile, we enquired about the DIG’s location because further action could be taken only upon his team’s arrival. We proceeded towards the DIG’s location, which was at quite a distance, and found him and his team coming up through a dry mountainous stream. We landed there again and discussed the incident with the DIG, who was walking with a bandaged foot due to an injury sustained by him. He was/is a courageous person. We realised it would take another two days for them to reach the spot.

After some discussions and on the insistence of Dr Abdullah, we decided that the police party would be split into groups of four-five persons each and airlifted to the site. It was a hazardous task to fly to the same spot, land and then come back for the next group, specially because we were unaware of militants’ absence or presence near the site or near the place where we had landed. Finally, the last group also left by helicopter, leaving behind only the two of us — the then Chief Minister and myself. Both of us were unarmed and standing at an unknown and isolated location. We looked at each other, smiled and must have prayed. However, even in the midst of that lurking danger, Dr Abdullah continued with his unending flow of jokes and short stories. He did not mention the situation even once and kept on narrating stories from his vast repertoire.

Finally, the helicopter came back and we took off for Patnitop.

Through this unconventional decision, the DIG and his team reached the crime scene early and coordinated with other security forces. This was a display of courageous and astute leadership, coupled with a concern for the welfare of the police personnel. I am sure the lesson must have gone home to the police officers and policemen who took part in that operation. I had already discussed the issue with the DIG and left for Jammu to prepare for whatever the next day would bring in — never a dull moment!

— The writer is former chairman of UPSC and former Governor of Manipur

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