Meeran Chadha Borwankar who retired on Saturday after 36 years of police service, spoke to The Indian Express about her career — from the police officer Haseena Bano wanted transferred to handling Sanjay Dutt’s incarceration in Pune and the hangings of Ajmal Kasab and Yakub Memon. Excerpts from the interview:
Was it tough witnessing the two hangings — Ajmal Kasab and Yakub Memon?
I thought I would be relieved after Kasab’s hanging, but actually it felt like a stone on my head for 2-3 days. I had switched off my mobile before I entered the prison. My children had no idea what was happening. No one knew. The prison manual has a drill. You have to take the height, weight, measurements of the person to be hanged and make sand bag replicas according to that. Then you have to practise the hanging so that it is painless. The first time I saw this exercise, I got a severe headache. I could not take it. Also, before the hanging, I had to do a lot of talking to myself — that I was just doing my duty and I should not feel guilty. You only justify to yourself by saying that the due process of law has been followed. It is not as though some injustice has happened…. I now feel people involved in hangings should be counselled. “The biggest challenge in Ajmal Kasab’s case was the secrecy. Former Deputy Chief Minister and then Home Minister R R Patil Sir was very emphatic about this.” In Ajmal Kasab hanging, secrecy was priority. In Yakub Memon case, entire country was watching: Meeran Chadha Borwankar
Later, you also helped Yakub’s wife out of a problem?
A few months after the execution, a senior police officer with whom I worked in the CBI called to say that Yakub’s wife had approached them for the passport of her daughter and wanted to know if I could help. I must admit I was completely taken aback. But I was determined to help. I called up and met some agencies in Mumbai and Delhi and got her daughter’s passport work done. It had been held back because of a lapse at the time of the girl’s birth in Dubai. The birth had not been registered with the Indian embassy there. I felt satisfied after the work was done. Both mother and daughter thanked me and Yakub’s wife has met me too.
Another case you handled was that of Sanjay Dutt, one that was constantly under the spotlight.
After his appeal was turned down by the Supreme Court and when we decided to take him from Mumbai to Yerwada, the first operation was unsuccessful. We wanted to get him here quietly. I sent two DIGs to get him (from Mumbai) and they kept giving me a running commentary while on the way there. But Sanjay got nervous in Arthur Road and refused to come…. The second time, only one DIG went and we got him here without the public and the media knowing about it.
The stories abounding at that time was that he was given preferential treatment.
See, we were very clear that the media, citizens and prison staff were watching us. So we were extra cautious about not giving him any concessions. In fact, he had got an order that he should be allowed home food but we objected to it, saying only undertrials are allowed this (facility), not convicts. So he got prison food and he was okay with that. To be fair to him, he was well behaved — he counselled prisoners, contributed to the FM channel of Yerwada prison.
One day… I decided to do a surprise check at Yerwada. Not even my driver knew I was going there. I just made him turn there. I went where Sunjay was. I found lots of books, some bidis (which were checked), some cigarettes, scripts and most interestingly, I discovered he had found out my full history. He told me he knew I was from Fazilka, where I had studied, and that I am Punjabi. So the surprise was on me!
Last week, I was at Mumbai airport and went to pick up some magazines in the business-class lounge. As I turned around, standing behind me was Sunjay Dutt! I told him who I was. He seemed stunned and kept saying, ‘ Oh ma’am’. He suddenly said, ‘Ma’am can I please hug you?’
You have also handled the case of Haseena Bano, Dawood’s sister. A movie on her was released some days back?
In the Mumbai crime branch, we used to get news that Haseena was using Dawood’s name and extorting money. Though information was there, there was no complainant. One day, an officer came and said they had a bona fide complainant. But while we were registering the FIR, this woman disappeared…. Teams were formed to track her down and we also did a technical surveillance. We were closing in. One day, some officers came to me with a recording. It was Haseena saying: “Aisa karo. Ek special namaaz karao. Yeh Meeran Borwankar ki yahaan se badli karao!”
Has gender ever been an issue in the department?
When you reach higher posts, gender is immaterial. But I do remember one incident from my younger days. I was DCP, Port, and holding charge of Zone 1 in Mumbai. This was in 1987. On Dussehra day I got a call on the wireless that CP has been gheraoed in Kamathipur area and all DCPs should reach. When we reached, there was a huge crowd and communal tension was at its peak. The crowd closed in on me and I felt these guys could take away my revolver. I started negotiating with them. After 5-6 minutes, they told me I could go ahead and meet the commissioner. I told them they must make way for me…. So they made way for me and I reached the commissioner. And his first reaction was, ‘The control room sent you for me?’ It was such a gender-loaded statement.
What are your future plans?
I want to mentor and counsel girls — our society is gender biased. The BHU incident reiterates this. Girls from rural and B-towns have it much worse. They are talented and want to do something but because of a restricted environment they are low on self- esteem and confidence. Since I too hail from a small town, I would like to guide them…. I recently released my first book for the youth, Leaves of Life, based on incidents in my police career.