Discretion is the Better Part of Valour

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Hemashri recounts how she handled a violent mob – an experience that she had shared during a training session of officers. Read more in the weekly column, exclusively for Different Truths.

He was an impressive, articulate speaker. The handsome senior was lecturing on handling law and order situation. He first gave a power point presentation and shared his own experiences. He was the one who was implicated and as punishment, he was denied promotions. When all his batch mates rose to a much higher position, he was still stuck up in a lower level post. How could a person stick to a job in spite of such humiliation – it made me very curious? He must be an extraordinary person to be able to endure it all. He must be too good to be invited as the guest for the training. It was rare to have a speaker like him from amongst the officers. Most of the invited speaker bureaucrats were potbellied, pan chewing, a frustrated lot. Many of them left us completely demotivated.  I was wondering what the purpose of a training is. He was a charming man – may be in his late 40s or early 50s. His lecture was highly illuminating –“Discretion is the better part of valour. In a law and order situation, first, ensure safety for self and then decide your next course of action. There cannot be fixed golden tips to handle law and order situation because every situation is unique. It is basically common sense and presence of mind of the officer that would guide. Experience will gradually give the confidence.”

After his presentation, he asked us to narrate real-life law and order situations and our learning points. A few of our officers narrated their stories of extraordinary bravery, some of which were an obviously exaggerated version of reality as we knew them very well. I do not know why but those stories reminded me of my experience which was kind of “anti-climax” because I was scared, unlike those brave soldiers. My situation was compelling. Maybe to put rang mein bhang. Here’s my story.

I was posted in Cachar district of Assam during 2004 Parliamentary elections. One of my assignments was to ensure the operation of the control room round-the-clock. I was pregnant at that time and my husband was away from home camping in the flood affected area called Katigorah. Due to excessive rain, some parts of Silchar town was submerged and there was demand for relief from people in those affected areas. At around 8 am, I went to the Control Room for the usual round and as I checked entries in the register, I heard a hue and cry near the gate. I saw through the window that a crowd, armed with sticks, were arguing with the two security men. I was the only officer in the huge Deputy Commissioner’s Office campus. The crowd looked angry and agitated. I first called up the officer in charge of the nearest police station and then I called up our Deputy Commissioner and informed that a group of angry people armed with sticks have gathered near the gate and we need police immediately. The lady Deputy Commissioner told me to face the crowd and to convince them to restore peace. I was very confused and as I peeped through the window, I saw a few men trying to jump over the gate. The officer in charge the police station had arrived along with a senior magistrate but situation appeared out of control as already some of them had crashed in the campus. Without wasting a single minute, I rushed towards the unused toiled near the control room and locked the doors. Minutes later, I heard footsteps of many people searching for the officer in charge. I heard loud sounds of smashing glasses. I could hear my own heartbeat racing up. The unexpected visitors were uttering obscene words. Everything happened very quickly within a few minutes. Finally, all sounds stopped and everything was very eerie. I felt apprehensive even to open the door. I came out and saw the room where I was sitting that had been ransacked. Papers were thrown all over and glass panel of the table and doors were all broken. I rushed to my quarter as I felt very unwell, possibly due to the stress and anxiety.

I confessed before my colleagues that till that day I was confused as to whether I did the right thing by overruling my senior. At that moment I was guided by common sense. I do not know if, in my final months of pregnancy, I should have dared to rush to confront a violent mob. At that moment, maybe, I was more concerned about my unborn baby.

After hearing my story, the smart officer said, “You did the right thing.”

Till date, that was the most critical law and order situation I had encountered. Before joining in that office, it was learnt that even a Deputy Commissioner had done the same thing – flee away by jumping out of the window to save himself from an angry mob. The mob had destroyed some documents in his chamber. This incident was very conveniently utilised for many years. Every time, a crucial file was dislocated, it was stated, “During the incident, this file was reportedly destroyed by the mob.” God only knew how many were actually destroyed by the mob or hidden by some interested parties.

A few years back, I saw a video clipping where one of our officers showing extraordinary courage rushed to overpower an armed policeman, who opened indiscriminate fire, injuring many. The officer managed to disarm the mentally disarrayed policeman and saved many lives that day. This officer was awarded gallantry award by the Hon’ble President of India. Our officer that day clearly violated the basic principle taught to us by our experienced and knowledgeable senior.  Maybe bravery and martyrdom are just two sides of the same coin.

The man who never got a promotion, our guest speaker, won everyone’s heart that day.  He instantly taught people like me a lesson on endurance.

I do not know when again I may encounter the next law and order situation as a magistrate. For me discretion shall always be the better part of valour. I have the sanction of an expert to abide by this golden rule.

There may not be a gallantry award but I shall be around to tell another story.

©Hemashri Hazarika

Photos from the Internet

#ControllingMob #HelpingOthers #Valour #Gallantry #GovernmentGallimaufry #DifferentTruths

Hemashri Hazarika is an Officer of the Assam Civil Service since 1997. Her research on Assam Civil Service brought reforms in 2015. A first-class Postgraduate in Economics from Gauhati University, she was awarded JRF/NET by UGC in 1997. Her experience as a bureaucrat has sensitised her to human sufferings. A solutionist by passion, she takes an active interest in issues related to Governance, Development, Women, Children, etc. Reading, Writing, Speaking and Painting are her hobbies.