Tuesday, Nov 29, 2022

Still scarred, Jhajjar bank guard who fought off rioters doesn’t want to return

Clutching at his heart, Yadav whispers, “I had a pacemaker surgery three years ago. I am worried the machine will break. I do not want to think of that night."

jat agitation, jat protest, jhajjar bank, jhajjar bank guard, rioters, jat agitation rioters, reservation row, reservation protest, india news, nation news Hawa Singh Yadav spent 8 days in ICU. Prem Nath Pandey

HAWA Singh Yadav lies on a cot in a dimly lit room, staring straight up at the ceiling, a blank expression on his face. Visitors still keep milling around the bank guard who didn’t give up his post while under attack during the recent Jat agitation in Haryana, saving an estimated Rs 100 crore in cash and valuables, but the 53-year-old admits he is “tired”.

Clutching at his heart, Yadav whispers, “I had a pacemaker surgery three years ago. I am worried the machine will break. I do not want to think of that night… Ghabrahat hoti hai (I feel anxious).” Around six years ago, the retired Armyman had suffered a stroke on duty that has hindered mobility on the right side of his body.

Watch Video: Jhajjar Bank Guard Who Fought Off Rioters Doesn’t Want To Return
[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uBdJDIetaJ4%5D

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Yadav returned to his home, in Khedi Kumhar village of Jhajjar district, on March 2 after eight days in ICU. His medicines and a file with his treatment records lie next to him, beside his pillow.

Around 4 km away, in Jhajjar city, the SBI Patiala branch that was witness to the madness of that February 20 evening is desolate. A cash-dispensing machine lies charred and upturned inside the ATM, while burnt wooden planks and broken furniture are strewn outside.

The only object not covered by soot in the main bank building, whose glass door is shattered, is a table, behind which sits a policeman.

The mob came around 5 pm, when Yadav was the lone guard on duty. While the branch has a staff of 12-13, it had been shut for two days due to the Jat stir.

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Police say around 500 men attacked the branch. Yadav puts the number at 1,000-1,500. “It was a sea of people, barging in from all sides and above.”

One by one, he watched them break the lock on the main gate, try to pry open the ATM machine and later set it on fire, and then attack the next three levels of bank security — the shutters, sliding gate, and glass door. He stopped them from entering as he kept firing.

Yadav had earlier rushed out when the mob broke through the main gate, holding aloft his 11 mm boregun. “I wanted to show them I had a gun,” he says softly.

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Some of the rioters tried coming in through the roof. “I could hear them cutting it with a chisel,” he says. It’s that sound that haunts him. “It was pitch dark, there was lot of smoke, my eyes were burning, and there was that sound. It was sort of like a railway engine.”

Laali, his wife of over 35 years, also heard that noise on the frantic calls the family was making to Yadav’s mobile. Her face covered with a pallu, she shudders, “It is all we could hear… louder than the gunshots. It was like a knife cutting away a stone.”

The bank roof bears the holes the men managed to make. Yadav says bottles full of petrol were lit and thrown down these holes, followed by chilli powder.

From the front gate, an LPG cylinder was sent crashing in next, but it couldn’t make it to the main building and went off near the ATM. However, Yadav says, time was running out for him. “I was trapped.”

Yadav started calling up people for help. It had been one hour since the rioters arrived. Yadav would stay in the bank for seven more.

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Baljeet Yadav was at a wedding in a neighbouring district when he got a call. His younger brother used to be Yadav’s classmate in school. “Hawa Singh called up his brother Umed and his son. They told my brother,” Baljeet says.

The way back through the curfew wasn’t easy. By the time he reached the village and went to “recce” the bank with his brother, it was around 11 pm. “Around 50-60 people were still trying to enter the bank. They had put a ladder across from a neighbouring building. The bank building was on fire,” Baljeet recalls.

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He approached the rioters with trepidation, fearing the worst for Yadav. “I thought nobody could be alive inside this furnace. But they said a man was firing from inside and had killed some Jats. They swore they would not let him live,” Baljeet says.

Baljeet called up police, including SP Sumit Singh (he has since been transferred). “Police told us that to save one life, they could not risk sending so many people, that we would have to wait it out,” he says.

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Baljeet and Hawa Singh Yadav’s two sons decided to make an announcement for help from the village temple loudspeaker. Around 11.30 pm, Baljeet, Yadav’s brothers Umed and Raju and sons Narender and Vijender, along with 15-20 other men drove back to the bank in two tractors.

Meanwhile, the branch manager of the bank, Pahuja, kept calling up Yadav to keep his spirits up. “Every hour I called, told him not to lose hope. Police told me they had constraints, but I had to boost him. I told him to think of the best things in his life, to keep fighting. I told him how proud we all were. I did not know what I was saying, I was just babbling… It is hard to put this into words,” Pahuja says.

Yadav remembers little of these conversations, including the one he had with the SP. “The officer asked me if I would recognise his car in the mob. He said he would come in a white car with lots of men,” Yadav says.

The 53-year-old crawled his way to the bank’s broken glass door to watch out for the car. “My eyes were burning, maybe that is why I did not see the car,” he says.

At 12.30 am, his friends and brothers thought of another plan. They ran to the crowd, screaming, “Hawa Singh, you murderer, we will not spare you… See how we slay you.”

Baljeet says the tired mob was happy to let this set of new, enthusiastic “supporters” pass. Raju went as close as he could to the outer gate of the bank, and called out urgently to his brother, “Hawa Singh, it is Raju. Do not fire. I am coming for you.”

“I found him lying down, coughing and spluttering,” Raju says. He carried his brother out, as Yadav’s friends gave cover and kept up the ruse, still hurling abuses at the “mad man” firing inside.

Yadav was rushed to Aarvy hospital in Gurgaon. Doctors diagnosed him with tachypnoea or highly irregular breathing, leading to severe respiratory distress, palpitation and suffocation. His discharge summary says he suffered injury to his lungs.
The bank authorities have registered an FIR against unknown persons for looting and dacoity. No FIR has been registered against Yadav, though there are claims he shot and injured the attackers.

A local police official says they are looking at what happened “from both sides”. However, he adds, “No one expected that man (Yadav) to come out alive. If he had not been there, the bank would have been looted for sure.”

Pahuja estimates Yadav saved at least Rs 100 crore in jewellery and cash. “He could have run out when he saw the mob. I do not know how he gathered the courage to stay,” he says.

Those who know Yadav though aren’t surprised. Villagers call him ‘Naik Sahab’, for his Army stint that included key deployments such as during Operation Blue Star, against the LTTE in Sri Lanka, in J&K, and at the Arunachal Pradesh-China border. Sube Singh was with Yadav and 9 others from the village in the 11 Kumaon Regiment in 1982.

“Hawa Singh always loved his gun,” Sube Singh recalls. “During Operation Blue Star, there were strict orders that soldiers had to stay in groups of 50-60. Yadav would plead to be in a firing position. In Jaffna in Sri Lanka too, he was always the last one to keep firing. We joked that if our commanders were not there to save us, Yadav would lead all 11 men from our village to their death.”

Yadav digs out a photograph of him in his Army uniform, next to a recommendation for a job in the civil services. “I can fire with both hands. I am that good,” he smiles, for the first time.

But then the memory of that evening clouds his face. Insisting he didn’t shoot anyone that day, he says, “I aimed at the legs.”

In the melee of extracting him, Yadav’s beloved gun got left behind, along with his mobile. Lying down again, he says, “I do not want to go back to the bank. I am tired. I only want a job for one of my sons in my place.”

First published on: 14-03-2016 at 02:40:32 am
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