Editor: Read Chapter XVIII here.
‘If this goes well, our careers will be made and the Police Commissioner can expect to become the next DGP. Felix Sir will definitely be promoted to DIG next year, if we nab the actual culprits.’
Since the conversation took place during a toilet break, Rajesh and his fellow officer, an SP, stared at the blank white tiles in front of them as they spoke.
‘Right now, I am not fussed about promotions. I hope the raid goes off well and we catch the bastards.’ Rajesh was certain that he wouldn’t be going to Kerala in December to meet his mother and uncle and introduce them to Anjali and her parents if the attacks continued.
‘Do you think it’s genuine?’
‘The tip off? Maybe, but I don’t understand why the caller wouldn’t disclose her identity and called from a public booth.’
‘I wouldn’t worry about that. Our people aren’t used to trusting the police. I wouldn’t read too much into it.’
‘We ought to keep the place under observation for another day at least before we move in.’
‘What are you saying? What if they find out? We won’t get another chance like this. Right now, the only question is whether we should do it ourselves or if we should wait for the NSG units to arrive.’
Rajesh and the other officer walked back to the war room where the tension was so thick that one could cut it with a knife. Felix Fernandes, the officer who was set to lead the police raiding team, walked about as if he had springs under his shoes.
‘The DGP called to say he will be here soon.’ A large map was spread out on a long table and the location of the hideout was marked with a few drawing pins. A couple of men sat with headphones hoping to capture any conversations flying through the air in that area. From their faces and frowns, it was clear that nothing of importance was being divulged.
‘I wish we had SWAT teams like they do in the US. You know, police commandos who are trained to carry out assaults and who do nothing else, day in, day out’ an officer said.
‘Brother, the day we are as good as the US is some way off,’ was the quick rejoinder from another officer.
‘I guess the ATS will run this show.’
‘Anti-Terrorism Squad. That’s what they were set up for.’
‘Couldn’t we wait for a day for the NSG to arrive and take them along as observers? After all, aren’t they better at this stuff?’
‘What?’ Half a dozen officers verbally pounced on the man who wanted them to share the glory with the much vaunted NSG. ‘What makes you think we can’t do it ourselves?’
They could hear the sound of approaching footsteps and they all straightened. The DGP and the Police Commissioner walked in.
‘I’ve spoken to the Chief Minister. He has agreed that we can do this ourselves. We’re going to go in today evening.’
‘Yayyyyy’ the men cheered. Everyone was eager to go in and do something. They were tired of waiting and being at the receiving end, of not being in control and of the fear which had enveloped the city and its inhabitants, including them.
‘I’m just wondering if I should go with them or stay here and supervise.’ No one doubted that given a bit of encouragement, the Police Commissioner would happily tag along for the expedition.
‘For God’s sake, don’t be silly. You are too senior to participate in such things.’ The DGP sounded as if he was shocked beyond words. He also didn’t want the Police Commissioner to get too much glory, in case the raid was successful. ‘Rajesh, you’re going too?’ the DGP asked Rajesh.
‘Of course Sir, I am also going,’ Rajesh said patting his Glock 19 compact, though he was pretty sure that his presence would add little value. His Colt M4A1carbine was on his lap. The rest of the officers were equally armed to the teeth. My God, we have not even trained as a team, Rajesh thought to himself.
On impulse, he blurted out, ‘Sir, just to play it safe, can’t we keep this place under observation for another day before we carry out a raid. What if there is a mistake or…’
‘And have them blow up a few more buildings?’ the DGP’s reply was curt.
‘Have we at least checked with the slum dwellers? Maybe those living near that shed will have an explanation for the men congregating there? We could show them the photos we got from Russia and ask them if they recognise any of the men in it,’ Rajesh persisted.
‘Rajesh, you should know this better than anyone else. Maoists are very good at cultivating the locals. You can be sure that some of the locals in the slum are helping them already. If you start asking around, you are bound to tip them off. I can’t believe you are asking such questions.’
The entire room was angry with Rajesh, who for a moment considered giving them examples of the number of mistakes he had seen being made while fighting the Maoists purely because of police officers acting in haste and the number of dead bodies left behind as a result.
‘Listen young man, I know you are clever, but a decision has been reached by officers who were wearing uniforms before you were born.’ Rajesh decided to say no more.
‘There’s no easy way of doing this. We will have to rush in, as silently as possible, approaching the shed from both sides,’ Felix said and Rajesh’s heart sank as he realised that no one was thinking of taking prisoners. Felix continued speaking, ‘Yesterday, the men started gathering at six thirty and they left at around eight thirty. Let’s assume that today too they will do the same. If we leave for the target site at six thirty, we should reach there by seven. That should give us plenty of time to do the job.’
‘Rajesh, you stay with Felix in the command vehicle.’ It seemed like an afterthought on the Police Commissioner’s part, but Rajesh felt that it made sense.
There was no shortage of vehicles for the ATS, which also had several Mahindra Marksman armoured carriers in its arsenal, but since discretion was the need of the hour, the thirty-strong assault team was to be transported to the stakeout on the outskirts of Dharavi in a fleet of small vehicles, travelling separately. The target building was an abandoned shed in which, around twenty five men were seen to congregate for a few hours every day after sunset, according to the informer.
The ATS had its men observe the place for the last thirty-two hours and found that the previous day, a group of around fifteen men had gathered there, for reasons unknown. The men wore workmen’s clothes. Further, just as the informer had pointed out, a couple of relatively well-dressed men arrived in a beat up Maruti 800 carrying with them some large boxes which could have contained weapons.
The men inside the target building had chosen it well. The shed was at the end of a long row of huts and dilapidated buildings. On one side ran a dirty sewage drain and on the other side of the shed, lay the sprawling slum. A road ran alongside the sewage drain on the other side. It was difficult to ford the sewage drain and approach the shed without alerting the people inside. Similarly, any approach through the slum would cause a commotion and raise an alarm.
A wireless operator put his hand up and announced, ‘They are starting to arrive. Two men have arrived.’ A hush fell over the officers. This was it. Rajesh looked at his watch. It was six twenty-five.
‘Two more have arrived.’
Within a gap of ten minutes, fourteen men had arrived. ‘It’s got to be those bastards. Why else would a group of workmen gather inside a smelly shed at this time of the day?’ one of the officers said. The others nodded.
‘The Maruti 800 has arrived. Two men inside. No, a woman as well. Three adults. Two men and a woman. They are carrying two large boxes. Heavy boxes. They are carrying them with difficulty.’
‘Gentlemen, let’s go,’ Felix announced. They moved out silently, their weapons fully loaded.
It took them forty minutes to get to Dharavi, thanks to a block on the way, which made them take a detour. Thankfully, the traffic was very light or it would have taken them much longer. Rajesh and Felix were in a jeep which was loaded with wireless equipment. At the approach to Dharavi, the vehicles split into two groups and approached the target building from two sides, one from the side of the slum and the other group, which included the command vehicle, by the sewage drain. The stench from the drain was so intense that the officers approaching from alongside the drain were forced to hold handkerchiefs to their noses. When they were around two hundred and fifty metres from the target, they stopped for a few moments to get their bearings.
‘Team B move! Team A will follow in two minutes,’ Felix ordered. ‘Section Leaders take over!’
The policemen got off their vehicles by the sewage drain, which wasn’t very deep or wide. The shed had a small window facing the drain but it was closed and hence there was no way of seeing if any activity was taking place inside or if those inside had seen them. The entire area was pitch dark. Rajesh looked at the luminous face of his watch which said seven fourteen. Didn’t the informer tell them that twenty-five men gathered in the shed every day? I wonder if this small shed can take twenty-five people, Rajesh thought. He wondered what was going on in Felix’s mind. Would he give those inside a fair warning and call on them to surrender or would he order the men to storm the building, which would lead to inevitable casualties?
A jeep rumbled down in reverse into the sewage drain and threw a portable pontoon into the stinking water. ‘Move!’ Two bright yellow searchlights were directed on the shed from either side.
Soon the men from Team B were across the drain and they stood in a line alongside the sewage drain. More boots could be heard and the men who formed Team A took up positions outside the door on the other side.
For heaven’s sake, give them some warning. Ask them to come out within thirty seconds before you start shooting, Rajesh wanted to say, but he didn’t. This wasn’t his show. If anything went wrong, he wasn’t the one on whom shit would fall.
The small window opened and a head poked out.
‘Police!’ the head disappeared immediately after the warning cry, but the window remained open.
‘Shit! They’ve seen us,’ Felix cursed. ‘Team B! Quick! Grenades into the shed!’ Felix ordered. Within seconds, five members of Team B took out a stun grenade each and one by one they ran up to the window and lobbed a grenade inside the shed. In between the blasts, they could hear men screaming. Then, there was silence once more. By now, a number of curious slum dwellers had gathered to watch the operation.
‘Team A, into the building. Kill anyone who doesn’t surrender. Shoot to kill, take no risks.’ A big cry went up and the door was kicked open. The men went inside firing.
‘I’m sure these are the men we are looking for. There’s no mistake. If the ones inside are innocent, they would have surrendered on their own by now,’ Felix muttered to Rajesh who did not even bother to respond. Did he think that after five explosions from stun grenades, innocent men would have the presence of mind to put their hands up and surrender peacefully?
The shed wasn’t big enough to take all of Team A and Rajesh could see that some of the men were still outside.
‘Any casualties? Any casualties?’ Felix asked.
‘No Sir, we are all fine sir.’
‘Thank God! And all those inside?’
‘They are all dead Sir.’
‘All of them?’
‘Yes Sir, we killed each one of the bastards.’
‘They should have taken a few prisoners,’ Felix muttered to Rajesh. ‘Never mind. I’m coming over to take a look. Gather all the weapons and pile them outside.’
‘You coming?’ Felix asked Rajesh.
The acrid smell of smoke mingled with singed and burning flesh. There were four big cartons on the floor, both partly burned and still burning. It looked as if the blasts from the stun grenades had ignited the fire. Most of the men bore multiple shot wounds. The sole woman was still sitting on a chair, though the chair itself had tilted over and hit the nearby wall, a look of puzzlement on her face. The bullet which penetrated her forehead had left a small entry wound but punched a fist sized hole on the back of her head.
There were two other chairs, both overturned, but they had no occupants. A wooden tripod stood in one corner, broken. Around the tripod were several broken black tiles.
‘Have you found any weapons?’ Felix demanded, his voice hoarse with a mixture of anger and irritation.
‘No Sir, we haven’t.’
‘Look in those boxes. What’s inside?’
The flames were stomped out and the burnt boxes opened.
‘Looks like paper. Maybe these were books,’ there was some nervous laughter.
Rajesh felt nauseated and walked outside. He walked through the policemen standing outside the door and kept walking towards the slum. The crowd of bystanders had grown and there were at least a couple of hundred people watching silently.
‘Any idea what went on inside that shed?’ Rajesh asked a man.
‘Classes. To teach them to read.’
An older man walked over to Rajesh, his body shaking with anger. ‘They used to have literacy classes in that shed for uneducated workmen. A group of fine young men and women used to come there every evening to teach. What have you bastards done to them all?’
Not very far away, Tarun stood watching, a look of grim satisfaction on his face. He took out his phone and took a picture of the burning shed and then dialled a number.
‘Darling, it went off as planned.’
‘Good. I don’t have to courier any more teaching materials to those wonderful young people in those colourful boxes, do I?’
‘No honey, any way they are dead, I think, but that was a brilliant idea on your part. I wouldn’t have thought of it.’
‘Of course not my dear stud. Now, I didn’t fall in love with you for your brains, did I?’ Tarun wasn’t very amused and he hung up.
Featured Image (Cover): Nisha Joseph
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