Nearly a year after he saved a man from jumping off a building in Churchgate, a policeman has been awarded the Jeevan Raksha Padak by President Pranab Mukherjee. The award is meant to honour acts of bravery. The brave policeman has built his career on taking risks to save lives.
At 10 am on February 15, 2016, constable Tejesh Sonawane (30) was at Marine Drive police station when a guard at the residential apartment building next door, Ravindra Mansion, ran in breathless to say that a man had climbed to the top of the building threatening to jump off.
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By the time Sonawane and a few other policemen rushed to the scene, a sizable crowd of onlookers was watching the man, 30-year-old Bigyan Sand, crawl up a water pipeline. The police, however, could not close in on Sand as he threatened to let go at the sight of uniformed policemen.
“I wasn’t in my uniform that day. So I began to climb on another pipeline while Sand’s attention was diverted by my colleagues,” recalled Sonawane.
Even as police personnel on the ground attempted to reason with Sand, Sonawane made steady progress and eventually reached the same height but stayed some distance away. “I asked if he wanted to speak to his family. Sand gave me his brother’s phone number and I dialled it,” Sonawane said.
The conversation, however, did not go the way the police hoped, as Sand handed back the phone and began making his way up to the terrace. “He warned me not to follow him up. But the brother pleaded with me to save him at any cost,” he said.
Sand, meanwhile, had retreated to a corner near the door leading up to the terrace and was preparing to jump. “We could not take the lift and climb the stairs to the terrace as Sand was standing close to the door. If we approached him suddenly, he might have jumped,” he said.
As the police assessed the situation, Sonawane had only seconds to act. “Sand had taken off his jacket and was trying to tie it around his eyes. When that did not work. He swung it in the air and threw it. He then folded his palms together, closed his eyes and prayed,” he said.
That’s when Sonawane quickly scaled the rest of the pipe and rushed at Sand, grabbing him from the rear tightly. By then, his colleagues who had been waiting on the other side of the door leading to the terrace also joined him and brought Sand down safely.
“For those few seconds, we were at the very edge of the terrace and anything could have happened,” said a relieved Sonawane. Sand was led to the police, charged with attempting suicide and placed under arrest. The police found that Sand, a migrant labourer from Odisha, had arrived in the city to find work. He had worked for some time at a construction site near Churchgate railway station, but had been unemployed after the work finished there. He was later released on bail and taken home by his brother.
In the four years that Sonawane has been posted at Marine Drive police station in the crime detection squad and the Anti Terrorist Cell, Sonawane has been involved in other incidents where he had to put fear away to save lives.
In June 2013, he rescued a middle-aged woman stranded in high tide on the narrow strip of land leading off the promenade outside NCPA. The only way out was to step on the concrete bollards half-submerged in rising water. And just three months later, he also rushed to Marine Drive where a pair of turtles had been trapped in a discarded fishing net and were crashing repeatedly against the bollards.
“The fire brigade tied a rope around my waist and lowered me down. Two other men helped to lift the net out of the water,” he said. Only one of the turtles survived. In 2014, Sonawane dove into the sea to save a man drowning in the high tide, but was unable to bring the man back to shore alive. On Wednesday, he was felicitated by Mumbai Police Commissioner Datta Padsalgikar. firstname.lastname@example.org