Until last year, the police station in this town was much like any other in the state — a group of nondescript buildings in a compound. A grey-coloured police station in the middle, some offices to one side, shabbily maintained red-brick living quarters on the other, and another building at the back where the Home Guards rested between shifts But on July 27 last year, Dinanagar, which takes pride in an incident-free innings during the Punjab militancy, found itself the target of a terrorist attack, and the police station the epicentre of a day-long stand-off with three terrorists. They had entered the town dressed in army fatigues shooting at random civilians and a bus.
They eventually stormed the police station and holed themselves up in the building at the back from where they fought a pitched gunbattle with police commandos until they were eventually killed. In all, seven people were killed, including four civilians, and 15 were injured that day exactly a year ago.
The gutted double-storied building of the terrorists’ last stand is at the back of the police station, the two rooms on the first floor and the connecting open balcony between them still bearing all the signs of the fierce firefight of that day, the terrorists scurrying between the two rooms as the police engaged them from the terrace of the main building — bullet marks on the walls, the front portion crumbled with the pounding it took, and even trails of blood under the windows from where the terrorists fired back at the policemen.
The two rooms below are now locked, and have become a resting place for dust-covered two-wheelers that form case property of other cases registered at the police station.
Five policemen were sleeping in the first floor rooms when the terrorists entered the building, firing indiscriminately, perhaps mistaking it for the living quarters.
“Three of the jawans died, one managed to scale a wall despite a bullet injury and another hid in the bushes behind as he was little overweight and could not escape over the wall. He kept hiding there till the gunbattle ended and all the three terrorists were killed,” a policeman on duty at the station said, recalling the terrorist attack.
Another said that the police station had become a sight-seeing spot since the attack. “Many curious people come to see the site of the battle, and the building where the terrorists were hiding. We take them around sometimes,” a policeman told The Indian Express.
But hopefully, said he and other policemen at the station, not for long. There are plans to demolish the structure and build another at the same spot.
The main police station also bore the initial minutes of the attack, when the terrorists entered the building, firing bursts from their automatic weapons right from the door and flinging a small grenade to gain access. All the signs of the forced entry including the hole made by the explosive on the floor are still intact. There are no plans to redo this building, and the policemen at the station appear to have got used to these.
But fortifications have come up on the terrace. A gun-toting policeman stands guard at the sentry point at the front of the terrace overlooking the road. A similar “morcha” at the back overlooks the gutted building behind.
The hospital next door, which also caught some bullets when the terrorists fired at a woman who leant out of a window overlooking the police station, killing her, has also not redone its wall.
From the roof of police station, a building barely visible through the trees is where SP Baljit Singh, the seniormost policeman to die in the operation, had taken position.
For the policemen who were at the station on the day, the memories are still as fresh as if it was yesterday, as they point out places where the main incidents took place. DGP Sumedh Singh Saini led the operation at the police station, with 28 commandos of the Punjab Police’s SWAT team. The army had sent its own teams but Saini was clear it would be a police operation.
As the day wore on, one policeman remembers Saini, who had converted a room on the ground floor of the police station into the command room, shouting to the policemen on the terrace: “Je gal nahi bandi taan main karaan kuchh (Should I come and help you if you are not being able to do the job?)”.
The policemen who are still at the station from that time count themselves fortunate for surviving the attack, and more importantly, that the three men did not notice the family quarters.
“If they had run into this building,” one policeman said, pointing to the 30-apartment complex,”it would have been a tragedy on a different scale, there would have been many more casualties”.