Sunday, February 8, 2009

"You hesitate before firing that first bullet-n then it doesn’t matter"

An exclusive interview n photo-shoot with daring super-cop Shaheeda Parveen

She can make your heart flutter with her charming smile n stop the same heart beating with her steely gaze- if she chooses to do so! 

At the age of 25 she vowed to wipe off every militant operating on the soils of J&K –in the process herself becoming one of the prime targets for the militant groups. But Shaheeda Parveen has lived an extra-ordinary life between bombs n bullets and is no average woman.

I asked her casually upon my chance meeting with her, how Mumbai should have handled the terror attacks..?

“Terrorist plays with your fear- which is within you- take out that fear factor, and he is just a common thug who can be beaten to death! They fired all over the city and we let them escape- if we had only grouped together and pounced upon them-there would have been much lesser causalities! itne saare log milkar un terrorists kee boti boti noch dalte ( so many people together could have physically torn their limbs apart)”

To understand this statement you will have to know a little more about the woman whose name became synonymous with courage n ‘encounters’ in the militancy infected state of Jammu & Kashmir,-the bold & beautiful super cop Shaheeda Parveen- the only police woman so far from Jammu & Kashmir police cadre to have been awarded the prestigious President Police medal for gallantry in year 2002. 

Between 1997 n 2002-she was responsible for wiping off a number of dreaded militants( the number would go as high as 80 plus); she was under extreme threat from militant groups, a lot of her body guards n informer s were killed – and she was one of the prime targets for Lashkar-e-Toiba…but then that never fazed her. How could I ever miss the opportunity of looking at her through my lens! This was no actress playing a character but courage personified

I first met her on my trip to Nagaland where I was the guest of the Corps Commander 3 Corps Lt. Gen. R K Loomba AVSM (all thanks to my dear friend Rahul). It wasn’t difficult to single out that graceful woman in that party hosted in honor of the General… I was introduced to her as a fashion photographer from Mumbai and I could not resist complimenting her on the way she carried herself and the gorgeous woman that she was. She had sparkling charm and an easy smile n when Mrs. Loomba told me she was capable of killing a terrorist with equal ease- I almost choked on my smile. 
Her charismatic demeanor contradicted the fact that she had in the past, with equal ease, fired an Ak-47 into the body of a terrorist. But the moment you speak to her about the killings of the innocent, her pupils dilate with rage , the obvious fiery resolve making her eyes look like that of a tigress on the hunt.

And the change in her eye color makes you take a hasty step back.

This was before the Mumbai terror attacks. I never forgot her. So when she recently paid a visit to Mumbai, I decided to do a story on her extra-ordinary life.

In a family of six siblings, Shaheeda was the youngest. Born and brought up at Poonch, she graduated and decided to do something meaningful with her life and not just some regular job. During her interview for a teaching job, everybody prayed they get the job and she prayed that she did not! Teaching as a profession wasn’t meant for her! She had lived a tough life- her father having expired when she was just 4 yrs old. By the time she finished her M.Sc., she was clear in her head she wanted to join police force. Militancy was then at its peak and she had seen many a beautiful lives n families being destroyed as a result of the mindless killings in the name of Jehaad. Her decision to join the force didn’t go well with her orthodox n conservative family who even put up an advertisement in the paper-saying they had nothing to do with her. But Shaheeda ensured she cleared all her tests and in April 1995 she joined the J&K police as Sub-Inspector….eventually completing her basic training at Udhampur Police Academy and then three months advanced Weapon Tactics Course under CRPF.

She was one of the first woman commandoes to be a part of the elite Special Operations Group (SOG), the Jammu and Kashmir police's commando wing.

She was now ready to take on the militants head on. Armed with her strong Intelligence network and an Ak-47 on the side, she meticulously planned search n destroy operations-that made her a much feared name for the terrorists in the valley.

How did she prepare herself mentally for such a tough job, where blood flowed easier than water and even when you got to sleep, your silences are filled with innocent screams n sounds of bullets?

It all started when the horrific sight of slain bodies of an innocent family of eight people including an old woman & children shook her completely ,scarring her soul forever. Her eyes had filled with tears as she lifted the body of the dead child in her arms, but she hid them as she had to quickly learn to deal with such ground realities and also earn the respect of the force she would eventually be leading in operations. She would never again let a tear fuzzy her vision. And over next seven years, that sight gave her the strength to chase militants in rough terrain and 10 ft high grasslands holding grenades n firing bullets from her AK-47.

         “I had heard brutal stories, I had read about them, but picking up dead bodies with your own hands was a devastating experience’ she told me quietly–her mind having wandered back to the year 1997 when she had her first real encounter with death n violence,”...and these people who butchered innocents knew nothing of Allah, using His name to carry such ghastly acts”

How did her first operation go?

             Intel confirmed there were 11 dreaded terrorists grouped to execute another hit. I was super excited as it was my first operation, we cordoned off the area with a team of 20-25 boys armed with LMG (Light Machine Gun), Grenades n AK-47,but my boys got over enthusiastic opening fire before we should have. Then began the chase lasting hours…5 km over the hills… There were hundreds of rounds exchanged but we somehow lost them. I was seething with frustration as I was in charge of the SOG, but then that mistake changed the way I would plan my future operations. My seniors were still very happy at the initiative I had taken. After that I ensured with my team that there always was full proof planning. When your life is at stake you can’t afford too many mistakes”- she spoke as a matter of fact.

It’s not cinema, it’s much more real n lethal, when you execute an operation. You are risking your life n responsible for the lives n safety of your team members as well. On one such occasion her regular informer Saleema Begum (who was later on eliminated by the terrorists) provided information of some terrorists hiding in a house. It was the 9th of July 2001.

“It was confirmed Intel n we decided to act upon it. We took a civil truck, covering it with goods…but even as we approached the house, militants managed to disappear in to the vast fields of high maze. We combed the house but couldn’t find anyone. The residents of the house were scared n kept denying there was anyone present –they wanted us to leave n that further confirmed their presence. I wasn’t going to let them run away,’ she paused, her eyes turning steely again,” I walked with my team into the fields- in such places you can’t even see a feet away from where you are….

…I sensed a sudden movement about twenty feet away n then out of nowhere I was suddenly staring at that cold metal staring back at me, ready to fire in a second. But I was quicker than the hands holding that gun n shot him back,” she laughed, her face turning soft again.

She was rewarded with out of turn promotion, made into an Inspector and then later on awarded with President Police Medal for Gallantry

How does it feel to be in an operation? What are the thoughts going through your head? It surely can’t be easy…!!!

She looked at me calmly as if weighing my question, ’you think a lot before you fire that’s first bullet, and then it doesn’t matter! ‘ she continued with a smile,’ I have walked ten km under extremely demanding situations and fired for hours…and I have never been tired and always walked five steps ahead of the group…people used to be surprised how we can take only a small unit n go for ‘search n destroy’ operations! But my success was mostly due to my vast intelligence network, and my dedicated team. They fought for me, trusting me hundred percent and I ensured they get their dues, whether it was out of turn promotions, job incentives or whatever I could provide for them or get them from the department .”
She is currently posted at the Joint Interrogation Centre at Jammu, after having spent two years on deputation at Nagaland with her husband, who is a serving Colonel in Indian Army- whom she calls the ‘pillar of strength ‘in her life! 

I wondered if she regretted not being in field operations anymore- she laughs,’ well not actually!’ I have done my bit- my job was to generate intelligence, co-ordinate with army formations for joint operations- and during my period of active field service, we conducted thousands of operations which resulted in wiping off a number of dreaded militants (notorious ones like Panj Sher Khan- the then district commander RO Pak) n recovering huge amount of arms n ammunitions….”

“…..I have served my country well, and will continue to do so wherever I am posted. I have been always blessed with able superiors who always encouraged n stood by me- n a dedicated team who never questioned my judgment. My job as a police officer has given me a lot, satisfaction, recognition and even I owe my marriage to it- as I met the man I would eventually marry during one such operation,” and on that note she laughed out heartily…and I couldn’t help smiling either.

Does she ever regret having killed any one of those militants? 

It’s not about the number of militants I have killed or been responsible for, but the number of innocent lives that we have saved in the process. 

Terrorists are wasted human beings- they have been brain washed into it- reason being of lack of jobs, un-employment, those who don’t know Islam ka alaf, they are fighting for Islam. It’s sad. Allah unko kabhi maaf nahin karega! Sixteen year olds who should be studying in schools and playing cricket are trained to handle sophisticated weapons n brain washed to kill other humans ruthlessly.”

What about a movie on her life?

All this while I had been taking her pics and throwing these odd questions at her. 

‘I don’t wish to be a star – I am just a simple woman who got my country at my heart; I am a police woman who is just doing her job, and Allah would give me what I deserve”

And I thought in my head, well you surely are no ordinary woman Shaheeda, as I have met quite a few in my life! …and I truly hope she gets her due recognition in life!

She changed the way a woman would be looked up on by militants in Jammu & Kashmir.

She changed the way I would look at a beautiful woman in my life!

A few awards for her could be just the right beginning….!