A police officer to be proud of

Ajay Kumar Srivastava, Police Inspector, Ahmedabad

The exemplary conduct of police inspector Ajay Kumar Srivastava demonstrates what a lone individual who decides to follow his conscience and do his duty can achieve and the difference that such an individual can make to society. By his selfless commitment to the ordinary citizen, irrespective of caste and community, Srivastava helped redeem every peace-loving Gujarati’s faith in the policeman’s uniform.

PSI Srivastava has always been on very good terms with the Muslims in his jurisdiction and enjoyed their trust and respect. Full of pithy stories and cultural tidbits, Srivastava has an enviable lineage — his maternal grandfather was none other than the famed Urdu poet, ‘Firak’ Gorakhpuri (Raghupati Sahay).

In February-March 2002, Srivastava was posted in the Detection Staff at Shahpur in Ahmedabad. Calls for help started pouring in as soon as trouble started in Ahmedabad early in the morning on February 28. Shahpur with its mixed population is a communally sensitive area. PSI Srivastava tried to answer as many calls and rescue as many people as possible.

At around 3 p.m. that afternoon, he received a call from a local, Nasirbhai, who told him that about 32 Muslim women were stranded in a house in Khanpur. When he reached there, he saw that a menacing mob had surrounded the area, hurling stones and burning objects at the trapped women to prevent them from escaping. The first and second floors of the building had been set on fire and some gas cylinders had also been exploded there. The women were trapped on the third floor. Apart from the physical danger they were in, the traumatic incidents had shattered the trapped women’s faith in the police force. The failure of other men in uniform to assure them security led them to suspect Srivastava’s credentials. Srivastava was firm, quick and fearless with the mob whom he first controlled virtually single-handed. Still, it took him 40 minutes to convince the trapped women to trust an officer. He then risked life and limb by jumping into the raging fire and fortunately managed to save them.

In another incident, PSI Srivastava managed to rescue several families, some of them Hindu, who were stranded and whose houses had been set on fire. On the night of March 1, PSI Srivastava got a call from Mai Fateh Shah near Shahpur. The Muslim locality there had been completely surrounded by a murderous Hindu mob about 15,000-20,000 strong. About 400-500 people were stranded inside. The locality had an iron gate that was kept closed by the Muslims and had also been electrified to keep the mob away.

There was stone-throwing on both sides. Armed with petrol and diesel bombs, the Hindu mob was ready to attack and it was feared that if the Muslims were not rescued, a major loss of life would occur. In this confusion the policemen had to shout to communicate with the Muslims who were asked to let them in. Wary of the police, the Muslims were reluctant to open the gate.

Finally, PSI Srivastava went in alone. When he entered, a few Muslims rushed towards him with shouts of "Kill him!" PSI Srivastava admits that for a moment he was terrified and thought that he would indeed be killed. However, he took strength from his faith his God and in his mission to help these people. He explained that he had come to help them, not to kill. He pacified them, and convinced them to trust him so that he and his colleagues could effect a rescue. Once the Muslims were convinced that he was was sincere in his desire to help, PSI Srivastava was able to win their confidence. While his colleagues controlled the mob outside, he escorted the traumatised and stranded Muslims to safety.

In yet another incident, near Halim ki Khidaki, 100-150 Muslim families were stranded in a colony off the main road. A road about 10 metres long links the colony to the main road; the colony is also vulnerable from behind. That day, a crowd of about 5,000 people attacked the chali from the main road and another mob, 2,000 strong, attacked it from behind. PSI Srivastava rushed to the spot with another vehicle. The police fired tear gas shells to keep the mob at bay. However, the mob would disperse from one side only to re-group and attack again from the other side. This went on the whole day as PSI Srivastava, with the help of his colleagues and two police vehicles, managed to prevent the mob from traversing the 10m stretch from the main road to the colony. The stranded families were finally rescued that evening and arrangements were made to take them to the SRP camp.

During the initial 4-5 days of intense violence, PSI Srivastava went without sleep or rest. He couldn’t go home or see his family. Although his wife was worried about his safety and his children missed him at meals, they understood that what he was doing was very important and were happy that he was doing a good job. Later, he fractured his leg while trying to rescue a stranded police constable and he was forced to take rest.

PSI Srivastava maintains that there was no pressure on him to act in a partisan manner and that he got full co-operation from his seniors. He feels that some policemen must have feared that there would be repercussions if they did not co-operate with the mobs and acted accordingly; and this attitude has given the Gujarat police force a bad name. He also believes that the police were clearly outnumbered and under-staffed for disturbances of this scale and were unable to reach all the trouble spots. This also led to allegations of partisan behaviour.

PSI Srivastava was transferred to Vadodara after the riots but his family continues to stay in Ahmedabad. Every Raksha Bandhan day, many Muslim women from Shahpur leave behind rakhis at his home, even if he is away. He makes it a point to visit Shahpur whenever he is in town. As soon as he enters the area, residents surround his motorcycle making it difficult for him to drive on. His popularity among the Muslims of Shahpur continues to be as high even two years after he was transferred out of the area.

Archived from Communalism Combat, June 2004 Year 10   No. 98, Cover Story 2




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