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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Why bother about security or Banaulikar?

Why bother about security and verifying madrassa students who don’t want to be verified? If anyone wants to blow us up they will. A terrorist visiting Goa can see how he can waltz in any time he likes and waltz out any time he likes. If the authorities do catch him, all he has to do is get the ear of the media and cry human rights abuse. Before you know it, he will be walking out a free man and the police who dared to interrogate him will have to apologize to him, preferably in front of a smug MP. Why bother really? We’ve reached a stage where the here and now could be the only reality we know. We should observe King Momo’s decree a month from now – Eat drink and be merry for tomorrow you may die.

On Christmas Eve the Home Ministry’s hysteria levels were higher than the bunkers on the beaches. One would have thought that the bunkers would have alert security personnel scanning the sea and the sands with sharp eyes and ears. A woman was raped next to a bunker on a beach and there was no guardian of the law in or around the bunker when he was most needed.

And then there’s Deu Banaulikar, a cop who seems to be a throwback to the times when policemen wielded power not just a lathi. Banaulikar belongs to that school of thought which believes in slapping first and asking questions later. I remember being hugely impressed by Banaulikar one sunny afternoon in Panjim opposite Azad Maidan.

I was talking to an Assistant Public Prosecutor friend on the pavement when she hailed Deu Banaulikar puttering along on his scooter. He was a police inspector then. He stopped to say hello. So there we were: two western-dress wearing women and a man on his scooter. Or so that must have been the thought on the mind of the tempo driver who was parked a few metres away.

The tempo driver must have wanted some entertainment so he revved up his engine and inched closer to Banaulikar sitting on his scooter and discussing the progress of a case with my prosecutor friend. I watched in fascination as the tempo rolled to a stop six inches away from Banaulikar’s scooter.

Benaulikar did not turn a hair but a subtle change in his demeanor told me he knew what was happening behind him. He turned to look at the tempo driver who honked and gestured rudely to move. Banaulikar waved him on. The driver gestured even more rudely and honked again. Banaulikar continued his conversation. The tempo moved six and a half inches more. It banged Banaulikar’s scooter.

I continued watching in rapt attention. One had a distinct impression of a black panther going completely still with flattened ears ready to spring. In one fluid instant the inspector put his scooter on its stand, moved to the driver’s door of the tempo caught the driver’s face in his right hand and with his left wrenched open the door.

The driver fell out, clad in singlet and bright blue shorts, terrified in a tangle of legs. All bravado completely gone he knelt down at Banaulikar’s feet and put his hands together weeping for mercy. The owner of the shop recognizing Banaulikar was horrified and came running out to intercede. A crowd collected. My prosecutor friend made clucking sounds and asked the inspector to let him go. Banaulikar allowed the shop owner to hustle the wailing driver back into his tempo and drive away. He turned back to my clucking friend and continued his conversation with her as if nothing had happened.

One hears all sorts of stories of Deu Banaulikar. I would not know if he is a good or bad policeman, but I do know that he commands respect. And when decision makers of Goa decide to strip him of that respect not only do they damage him; they damage the people of Goa who look to officers like Banaulikar to be first in the line of fire in case of a terrorist strike. We do not look to fat ministers and MPs hiding behind their personal bodyguards to protect us – we know they are too busy protecting their own skin.

When they forced Banaulikar to apologize to the inmates of the madrassa they guaranteed one thing: no policeman is going to take the verification of migrants seriously. So why worry? Thanks to our montris and South Goa MP, if anyone wants to blow us to kingdom come no one’s going to stop them.

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