Anil Chowdhry, IPS, AGMUT
We were about 60 young IPS Probationers undergoing rigorous outdoor and in-door regimentation at the National police Academy in Mt Abu (Raj) to become leaders of the Indian Police in 1969-70. Avatar Singh Atwal (a Sikh), an ex – Short Commissioned Captain of the Indian army and Arun Narain Singh a dashing young man from Darbhanga Bihar (now no more) shared a room close to mine in the Rajputana Hotels Estate (IPS Probationers Officers Mess). On Sundays and holidays, I would visit them for a chit chat and noticed a beautiful replica of The Golden Temple on Shri Atwal’s study table with Sikh scriptures kept neatly next to it. I never forgot to bow before it in reverence which was acknowledged by Atwal with a gentle smile. “He is a deeply devout Sikh Anil,” Arun used to whisper in my ears. Atwal was one among a group of about 10 Ex-Army officers who were being trained with us. They were given seniority of 4 to 5 years ahead of the 69 batch. Atwal was given 1964 and allotted to the Punjab (his home state) cadre. He stood out as a quiet, humble and gentle person with a smiling face during the entire duration of our one-year training at Mt. Abu. After the Passing Out Parade (POP) we parted to go in different directions to join various state police forces, hoping to meet again, some day.
As years rolled by, I was posted to Srinagar (J&K) as Astt. Director Intelligence Bureau (IB) in 1982. While travelling from Srinagar by train to Delhi- Allahabad to avail LTC with my family in early 1983, we broke journey at Jallandhar to visit our Mausi who lived there. Atwal was then posted as DIG Range Jallandhar. He was delighted when I called him on phone, and invited us to his home, for breakfast. We spent a very pleasant hour or two with him and his family talking, especially about the scourge of Sikh terrorism raising its ugly head in the form of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale heading the Damdami Taksal and living within the precincts of the Golden Temple. “Wahe Guru ki Kripa se sub theek ho Jayega, Anil – not to worry” was Atwal’s comment. But how is the situation in Kashmir, he asked. Well, it’s quiet and peaceful on the surface, but subterranean undercurrents appear ominous, was my response. We parted that day with his promise to visit Srinagar with Mrs. Amrit Atwal and his young 6-year-old son Harbir during my posting there.
Like the rest of the nation, I was deeply shocked and saddened to hear that after offering prayers at the Golden Temple Atwal was gunned down from behind on the steps of the Golden Temple by Major Singh Nagoke, a close lieutenant of Bhindranwale’s around 7:30 am on 25th April, 1983. His body kept lying there for a couple of hours since the Amritsar District authorities did not permit the Police to enter inside the Holy Shrine amidst intermittent firing from within. They continued to plead with the Damdami Taksal hierarchy to hand over the mortal remains of Atwal but to no avail. Finally, it was a young IPS officer posted in there who, I am told, motivated a group of Police men to go inside and retrieve his DIG’s mortal remains.
There are several versions which began doing the round as to why Atwal was shot. One was that he was close to Darbara Singh C M Punjab to get Bhindranwale to the negotiating table. And another is that Atwal had gone to the as part of an ongoing back room operation by a central intelligence agency. But there is no way to authenticate this. But he was a frequent visitor to the Shrine which piqued a section of Bhindranwale and they shot him in irritation! While the Amritsar police was prevented from entering the Shrine on that day, not much later, the numbers of armed terrorists swelled to such an extent that the Indian Army was made to march in. And the rest as they say, is history…
In recognition of his supreme sacrifice Atwal was awarded the President’s Police Medal for Gallantry, posthumously. Mrs. Atwal was inducted to the Punjab Civil Service on compassionate grounds and his son, years later joined the Punjab Police as an Inspector. He is now an S P serving in the Punjab.
Two more very young and dashing IPS Officers, Arvinder Singh Brar (1979 batch) and K R S Gill (1982 batch) were gunned down while jogging in the National Institute of Sports, Patiala around 7 am on December 14, 1987. Three armed terrorists came to the stadium wearing track suits pretending to be sports persons and shot down the two IPS Officers. While Brar died on the spot, Gill succumbed to the bullet injuries on way to the hospital. Brar hailed from Village Abal Khurana in District Faridkot. He was a born sportsman and a dashing personality. He had served as PSO to Shri Julio Rebeiro then heading the Punjab Police. On account of his daring pursuits of Sikh terrorists, the threat to Brar’s personal security was perceived to be so high by Shri Rebeiro, that he talked to the DIB and persuaded Brar to leave Punjab and join the IB on deputation in Delhi. I fondly recall running into the young, tall, handsome and well-built officer in the corridors of the North Block. I was then heading I B’s Delhi unit and was quite impressed by Brar’s Joi de vivre, wit and humor. He was a national record holder in breast stroke swimming and had attended a pre- Montreal Olympics camp. He was also a crack shot with his pistol, getting all in the Bull, I am told. Young Brar was not the one to be kept away from active policing in uniform, just reading and writing in plain clothes in the IB, and he sought reversion to his cadre within 6 months. It was the Bureau’s well-founded policy not to keep unwilling officers on its rolls.
After re-joining the Punjab Police, Brar was posted as SSP Patiala badly infested by armed terrorists. Brar was a health freak and regularly jogged in a public Park early mornings. At 7 AM on that fateful day Brar and Kunwar Ranbir Singh Gill also posted in Patiala as SP Hqrs. Together began jogging in the Park, Unfortunately, neither officer carried his personal weapon or an armed escort on that tragic morning when both were shot dead in cold blood. The two slain officers were aged just 32 and 31. The three of the four assailants were later tracked down and neutralized by the Punjab Police.
Arvinder was survived by his wife Sukhbir, his batch-mate in the IAS and two minor kids, a boy and a girl. After serving in the World Bank in Washington DC she now lives in Punjab and both kids are settled in the US and Canada. Interestingly, Arvinder’s younger sister Amrit also joined the CRPF as a Dy SP where she has been fighting terrorists, tooth and nail in Kashmir and elsewhere. In Kashmir she was nicknamed “Jhansi Ki Rani” since she went after the terrorists with a heavy hand. She was inducted to the Punjab police to fight Sikh terrorists like her brother, by KPS Gill and later absorbed in the Punjab IPS cadre. She is now serving as Asst, Ispr Gen of Police (Crime) in Police Hqrs. Chandigarh.
K R S Gill hailed from Village Verpal, District Amritsar. He had quit service as a Veterinary Doctor to join the police. He was survived by his wife, a Doctor by profession and a six-month-old daughter who also became a doctor and is now married to a doctor. In addition to farming in their village, the Gill family also owns a house in Ghee Mandi Amritsar, where after 10 years of effort, they have been able to erect a statue of his martyred brother and also named a road after him, Gills younger brother informed me proudly. Both Brar and Gill were awarded the President’s Police Medal for Gallantry and Brar was also awarded a Padmashri, posthumously.
Like Atwal, Brar and Gill, hundreds of brave Punjab Police officers laid down their lives to free their home land from the clutches of terrorists. At the height of terrorism in the Punjab in 1991 and 92, it is estimated that Sikh terrorists killed about 5000 civilians of whom 1005 were police men (80% Punjab Police personnel). However, I have personal knowledge of only these three. During Police Commemoration Day Parades observed nationally on October 21 by laying wreaths at Police memorials and reversing arms, the throats of officers announcing names of those who had laid down their lives in the past one year in the Punjab used to become parched! Let us together salute and bow to those brave Police Officers who made supreme sacrifices in the line of duty.