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The Rediff Special/Archana Masih

Daroga Absaloom's punishment

August 09, 2004

Rebellion was sweeping through India and Daroga Absaloom was suddenly at the centre of it.

He had heard news that the neighbouring thana [police station] had been set ablaze.

The nationalists had set fire to the Scottish thandedar and had left him to die.

Now, they would be attacking his thana any time.

The Quit India Movement in August 1942 was meant to be a nonviolent struggle but things had all gone wrong.

Indians had responded to Mahatma Gandhi's call on August 9 in Bombay's Gowalia Tank, which would later be known as August Kranti Maidan, for a final struggle at Independence.

But Gandhi and scores of other Congress leaders were imprisoned by the British within 24 hours and the movement had ceased to be peaceful.

Nationalists, charged by Gandhi's slogan of Karo Ya Maro [Do Or Die] were attacking British institutions.

Railway stations, telegraph offices and government buildings like Daroga Absaloom's thana in rural Bihar.

The thana was small, but its jurisdiction covered a large area. Ten sipahis [constables] were assigned to maintain law and order, but sensing violence, they had all fled.

Daroga Absaloom had two guns that the British government had allotted to his station.

He knew he wouldn't need to use them.

He was an Indian who had faith in his countrymen. They would not harm him, but still he hadn't confronted large-scale public ire before.

If he wanted he could have fled too, but duty demanded he stay at his post.

So Daroga Absaloom stayed put to defend his thana alone.

He pulled up a chair, dressed in his full uniform and sat on the verandah waiting for the nationalists.

His family -- three sons and wife -- stayed locked up in his home across the thana. His second son was five; through the chinks in the door, he was keeping the watch just like his father was.

In those days, a rural police station did not have a boundary wall, sometimes not even a gate. So when the sea of men arrived, they came from all sides.

The locals knew Daroga Absaloom. He knew them.

The leaders marched up to him, threw his uniform cap and put a white khadi topi on his head. Some other men climbed on to the roof, tore the Union Jack and replaced it with the tricolour.

Congressmen spearheading the struggle had been joined by ordinary Indians, all desperate for freedom. But Daroga Absaloom knew too well that times like these were opportune for local ruffians to make trouble in the name of nationalism.

"Give us the guns," a man shouted from the rear.

Daroga Absaloom had hidden the weapons in his house thinking they would be safer there.

On finding nothing in the thana, the men turned towards the house and began pounding the locked wooden door.

Inside, his wife cowered with her children in fright. She could see that the house had been surrounded by countless men. It would only be a matter of time before they broke in and feared the worst. What if they were torched too?

She saw her three little boys, her husband surrounded by men shouting nationalist slogans and reached for the guns.

"Here take them," she yelled and threw the guns out.

Before Daroga Absaloom knew, the men were gone, so were the weapons.

The local telegraph office sent news to the district headquarters. It would be a couple of days before the British inspector would come asking for a full report.

The British officers who presided over Daroga Absaloom treated him as an inferior subordinate. To them, he was an Indian, who had stood up for Indians in the past.

This time too, Daroga Absaloom would be put through the harsh interrogation he had been subjected to before. At that time there was nothing much he could do, except wait.

Then after nightfall, someone knocked.

When Daroga Absaloom opened the door, two Congressmen from the village were standing outside. They were carrying the stolen guns and wanted to deposit them back at the thana.

"Darogasahib, we do not want violence but cannot vouch for stray elements," they told him. "We know you and would not want your family to be harmed. It would be best to send them away to a safer place."

Daroga Absaloom put the guns back in the thana and went to seek help.

Floods were ravaging the countryside, railway tracks had been picketed, getting transport and an escort for the family was difficult.

He walked to the house of a man who he had helped a few months ago. The man was a bandit.

Daroga Absaloom had been able to persuade the English officer to reduce the harsh sentence meted to the bandit for a petty crime. On hearing his request, the bandit vowed he would protect daroga's family with his life.

Times were different then. Now, things like this only happen in such stories of the past.

"Don't worry Darogasahib, I will protect and escort your family to safety. I give you my word. Ask them to be ready at 4 in the morning," said the bandit.

True to his word, he arrived as the hour struck four. In four bullock carts covered with a bamboo mat to shield the family from the rain, he and his men loaded Daroga Absaloom's whole household and set off.

The family travelled four nights and four days. Whenever confronted with violent mobs, the bandit told them that the district doctor had been transferred and they were escorting his family to the new place of posting.

It was risky to reveal Darogaji's post. That would make the family susceptible to attack.

Through the floods and torrential rain, the caravan moved on. Stopping only so that the animals could get some rest and food, which was scarce.

The food that Daroga Absaloom's wife had packed did not last beyond two days. The children ate roasted gram on day three.

Guavas, on day four.

Finally, as they neared a town where some of their relatives lived, Daroga Absaloom's second son who was standing in the front spotted his uncle cycling towards them.

"Mama, that looks like mamu," he nudged his mother.

It was.

Uncle had heard news that the thana neighbouring Daroga Absaloom's had been set on fire and had set out to find out what became of his elder brother.

The family stopped him and told them what had happened. Uncle's mother had packed a tiffin for his long ride, which he gave to the starving family.

They stopped in that town, had a bath and again set off for the family home in the night.

When the five year old opened his eyes, it was morning. They had reached home.

His father who he had left five days ago had met his English superiors by then.

The officer had arrived with his force and goaded Daroga Absaloom to tell him the names of the natives who had come to the thana that night.

"I don't know them sir. They were not from my area," Daroga Absaloom replied.

"You do know them, stop protecting them," the officer said.

When the interrogation did not yield any result, the officer ordered his men to take positions at the bridge overlooking the nearest village and fire.

Daroga Absaloom frantically intervened.

They did not burn this thana, why punish them, he reasoned. It might provoke them to retaliate and cause greater destruction.

With men with guns behind him and the British officer in front, Daroga Absaloom pleaded till the inspector finally relented.

The men held their fire and spared the villagers.

But the officer could not stomach Daroga Absaloom's behaviour. He thought Daroga Absaloom was protecting the natives.

The British officer left. On reaching his office he pulled out Daroga Absaloom's service record book, dipped his pen in red ink and wrote a remark that would put an end to his Indian subordinate's career dreams.

'He favours rebels,' wrote the British officer.

In those days, a remark in red ink was a blot, the worst of its kind. 

Daroga Absaloom never got a promotion after that. His superiors ensured it remained that way.

That was his punishment.

When the British left and India was free, Daroga Absaloom was finally promoted to inspector. He had held a lot of power as a daroga, but upholding the laws of free India was a superior and idealistic goal.

Gandhi, Nehru, Patel, Rajendrababu (Prasad) were building India. Gandhi had started his satyagraha from Champaran, where Daroga Absaloom came from. He wanted to do his bit.

He went about his duties, using all that was in his power to quell the massacres that the Partition of India brought. He commanded every thana that he was transferred to with the best of his ability and retired in the 1960s.

He could have registered himself as a freedom fighter. After all, his service book was testimony. Daroga Absaloom, always the stern disciplinarian, thought it against his principles.

He did what he felt was right. He did not want any reward or recognition.

Long after his promotion, then retirement and death, he remained to be known as Darogasahib.

When the British left, he bought a colonial bungalow for Rs 10,000 in his ancestral village and lived there till his death. He chose that pristine house because the English missionaries who had lived there used to shoo him and other children like him if they ventured onto its sprawling grounds.

My father, now 67, was a child during the Quit India Movement. He witnessed the incident at the thana and told me about it  last week at a bungalow that resembled the one that was owned by Daroga Absaloom.

Today, 62 years after Indians began the movement that ultimately expelled the British, few remember that August 9 was the day when Mahatma Gandhi ignited a whole nation with three short Hindi words -- Karo Ya Maro.

Many Indians died, the man accused of killing the Scottish officer was hanged in 1943. There were many others who made sacrifices -- ordinary Indian subordinates who worked for the British Raj -- but braved their superiors' ire to protect the lives of their countrymen, in their own, quiet ways.

People like Daroga Abasaloom who no one ever noticed.

They were patriots too.

Illustrations: Dominic Xavier

The Rediff Specials

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Number of User Comments: 30

Sub: Daroga Absaloom

Great work done by Daroga. I salute him and the fellow indians at the era of Quit India Movement. After reading this story i hope ...

Posted by Jigar

Sub: Unsung Heroes

Bee-yoo-ti-full.A pity that such stories are hard to come by in a media gone politics and cricket crazy.

Posted by Sugavaneswaran

Sub: The Unsung Patriots

I appreciate this patriot just becase he is Indian, Had he been a French Gentleman in France I would have branded him as a traitor ...

Posted by Debashis Chakravarty

Sub: Daroga Absaloom

Brilliant!! The least we can do is to aknowlege the small, though singnificant, contributions made by unsung heroes like daroga Absaloom, in giving us a ...

Posted by Abhijit

Sub: A Note on Style

I find too many one or two-lined paragraphs in this article/report/piece. The urge to declare war on long-winding paragraphs is understandable. They are enemies of ...

Posted by Ranjith


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