Hints of the history of the Maharashtra Police Headquarters in Colaba come from unlikely places — like the sailors knots carved into its stone pillars. Around 150 years ago, the building had opened as the Royal Alfred Sailors’ Home. It served as the state Assembly until the construction of the Vidhan Sabha and as the police HQ since the late 1980s.
Now, it will house a museum — part morgue, part memorial, part viewing gallery and part corridor of filing cabinets filled with stories of 797 police personnel martyred in the line of duty.
Over a year in the making, the Martyrs’ Gallery will officially open on Thursday – the 12th anniversary of the 26/11 terror attacks.
Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, Home Minister Anil Deshmukh and the families of the 26/11 martyrs — IPS officers Hemant Karkare and Ashok Kamte; inspectors Vijay Salaskar and Shashank Shinde; and assistant sub-inspector Tukaram Ombale — as well as sub-inspector Prabhakar Aalam, who was killed during an encounter with Maoists in Gadchiroli in 1992, will formally inaugurate the gallery.
Over the last one year, the police have compiled a list of martyred personnel beginning 1960. The gallery exhibits names and pictures where available, of police martyrs until 2019. It is part of the extensive conservation and restoration work undertaken by architect Abha Narain Lambah and first conceptualised by former state director general of police Datta Padsalgikar.
Vickramh Sharrma, a Pune-based technology consultant who was roped in to work on the project, said that the initial brief from current DGP Subodh Kumar Jaiswal was to build a simple memorial. “The initial idea was to just display names of the martyrs. Anything else would look too flashy. DGP Jaiswal did not want anything that would glorify the police,” he added.
Lambah, Sharrma and Pune-based agency Setu Advertising finally settled on an interactive museum. “We want to tell visitors about the lives of the dead police personnel. Bollywood puts the police at the bottom of the ladder. Sab kuch hone ke baad aa jaate hain. Very few people know about the conditions in which they live,” Sharrma said.
“We did a demo of the gallery recently when we had invited families of the some martyrs. The way they put their hands of the names of their family members told us that we had done our job right,” he added.
The stories have been categorised by decades and the circumstances in which lives were lost — battling Maoists, terror strikes, investigating crimes, law and order situations and relief and rescue operations, said Sanjiv Singhal, Additional Director General of Police (Administration). As many as 167 of those lives were lost in Gadchiroli in over five decades in ambushes, encounters, landmine explosions and abductions.
The stories behind the names and faces recall specific moments of exemplary, hark back to movements for a separate Vidarbha and Khalistan, the anger directed at the Sikh community after former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated, and above all, every day stories of a policeman or woman coming to the rescue of ordinary citizens.
There was constable Pradeep Nimbakar, who rescued two persons from drowning in Kurla during the July 26, 2005 deluge, but drowned while trying to save a third person; constable Arjun Nerkar, who was killed by a mob in Bhusawal targeting members of the Sikh community and ransacking the town on October 30, 1984; sub-inspector Lakhmersingh Sardar, who was gunned by suspected Khalistani terrorists in Vikhroli in 1990; sub-inspector Sitaram Chaudhary, who was murdered by a mob in Bhandara on May 1, 1973, agitating for a separate state of Vidarbha and constable Rajendra Deshpande, who was stabbed to death while protecting a cook from a thief in Satara on March 21, 1987.
It fell to Setu Advertising to pick 17 stories from 797 as subjects of short films. Six of these films focus on the police’s continuing war with Maoists in Gadchiroli. “DGP Jaiswal wanted to show the real picture of policing without dramatising it. He asked us to focus on the incident and how it affected the martyr’s family and colleagues,” said Nikhil Khaire of Setu Advertising.
Khaire and his colleagues interviewed families, friends and colleagues of martyred police personnel in their homes. “We shot interviews with widows at the sites where their husbands had been killed. That is where the emotions really came out,” he added.
Among the agency’s hardest interviews was of Lata Patar, whose husband Ashok and his colleagues were killed in an ambush by Maoists at Kishtapur in Gadchiroli in November 23, 1993, while cycling from village to village as part of the district administration’s awareness campaign.
“The first time she went to the place where her husband shot was when we filmed her interview. She was shivering and crying throughout,” Khaire said.
The short films will play on three TV screens in three languages while sombre music plays on in the background in the corridor designed to resemble a morgue. The finest words printed in the gallery belong to English poet and epitaph writer John Maxwell Edmonds — “When you go home, tell them of us and say, for your tomorrow, we gave our today.”
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