A week after the violent clashes between protesters and police at South Mumbai’s Azad Maidan, tales of unlikely heroes continue to emerge. The latest to join the hall of fame are the director and two security personnel of the General Post Office (GPO) near Fort, whose alertness and swift intervention not only saved the lives of two young police constables but also protected the heritage monument and its staff from being harmed by the mob.
Security guard SG Sawant (45) and his supervisor SS Patil (51) were on duty that afternoon when trouble started. Sawant was deployed at Gate no 1, near CST station. Demonstrators shouting slogans were hurling stones and damaging BEST buses. They were even thrashing policemen on bandobast duty.
Around 3.30 pm, Sawant was called on the intercom by Shobha Madhale, director of the GPO, who resides on the second floor of the building. Upon being briefed by Sawant about the situation outside, Madhale immediately instructed him to lock all the main gates. Sawant then passed on the instructions to Patil, who was on the other side of GPO, and he too swung into action.
In the face of danger
“A mob of 50 to 60 young and middle-aged men, armed with stones, iron rods and swords, who were shooed away from Azad Maidan were running towards CST, creating mayhem en route. They were assaulting bystanders, policemen and were even vandalising public property and vehicles,” said Sawant.
Meanwhile, Madhale was growing increasingly worried about her son Shreyas, who was away at a school function. “I SMSed him, asking him not to come home because of the tension in the area. Around 50 to 60 GPO employees had moved out of their offices onto the building terrace to safeguard themselves.”
Patil added, “I had instructed all the security guards to ensure no demonstrator barged into the GPO and only those displaying government identity cards were allowed entry.”
“Two young police constables, who were battered badly by the mob, came to Gate no 1 and requested me to open the lock. They wanted a safe place to get some rest and I obliged,” Sawant said.
The policemen were asked to stay in the postal drivers’ rest room. After spending a few minutes there, they went further inside the GPO.
According to Madhale, when she came to the main door, she was surprised to spot two uniformed men lying on the veranda of her second-floor flat.
She added, “One of the constable’s trousers were torn and both had been thrashed by the mob with police lathis. They were scared and wanted a place to hide.”
“I was surprised, the constables climbed 80 steps to reach the second floor. After staying there for a few hours, they left the place when the situation was brought under control later in the evening,” said Madhale.
Madhale is keen to have dialogue with cops and the private agency that supplies guards to the GPO to ensure the security personnel have adequate training to handle riot-like situations.
Bhagwan Sonawane, Constable, JJ Marg police station
Stationed: At CST depot
“The mob hurled stones towards us when the riot broke out and one of those rocks hit my face just above the right eye. The cut started bleeding, but I continued to stay on the spot and control the crowd. We managed to disperse the protesters and bring the situation under control near CST depot. I was later brought to the hospital for medical attention.”
— As told to Naveen Nair
GPO gates were without locks
According to security officials at the GPO, the main gates never had locks. It was only after 26/11 and when Madhale took charge that the post office bought some locks. They did come in handy last Saturday.
Hardly few metres away from Gate no 1 of the GPO, was an underground diesel tank that once used to store 12,000 litres of the fuel for post office vehicles. Luckily, the storage tank was dry on Saturday.
According to Madhale, post 26/11-terror attack and as per the advice of police who had inspected GPO, they stopped storing diesel in their underground tanks. Out of 40 mail-collecting vans, which were all plying on diesel, 25 switched to CNG. The remaining 15 still ply on diesel, and are filled up at fuel stations.