Courage under fire
It is easy to pick up the gun in Jammu and Kashmir. It’s hard to decide who you pick it up for. But for Shahida Parveen Ganguly — toughened by circumstances — taking the difficult decision to be on the side of the law was easier.
Joining the police force, however, was far from her mind when she was desperately seeking a job to ease her family’s financial burden.
“I was the youngest of six siblings. My father, a businessman in Poonch, died when I was four. Despite many hardships, my mother ensured that all of us completed our studies,” she says.
After graduating in mathematics, Ganguly shifted to Jammu where one of her brothers was posted. “The daily grind was hectic: get up at 5 am, cook for the family, teach at a private school, return to make lunch, study for an MSc correspondence course, followed by tuitions and back home again to prepare dinner,” she recounts.
She was making some money as a radio announcer when she got the call in 1995, one year after she applied for the post of sub-inspector of police. Many in her family and clan were against her taking up a job in militancy-hit J&K. But she remained firm.
After two years’ training at the police academy in Udhampur, she was posted at Rajouri, one of the most difficult areas to police in J&K. Having volunteered for the elite Special Operations Group, she led a team of 80 policemen and special police officers, many of whom were surrendered militants. Her daredevil operations against Pakistani militants earned her the Northern Army Com-mander’s commendation card (rare for police personnel), followed by another from the Director General, J&K Police.
In 2000, Ganguly was given an out-of-turn promotion. But she refused to accept until her ‘boys’ were similarly recognised for battling death every day. The J&K Police subsequently absorbed eight members of her team into the force. “Our police are arguably the most pragmatic and efficient in India,” she asserts. The police medal for gallantry came in 2002, the year she married army officer Gautam Ganguly.
It was around that time that she began receiving death threats. They did not perturb her as much as the killing of Saleema Begum, the only girl in her team. “She was shot at close range in front of 60 to 70 people at a dargah,” she says.
Ganguly, 39, was subsequently transferred to the CID before being sent on deputation to Nagaland. Posted back to the J&K Police, the mother of two sons says, “I am strong enough to serve the way the system wants me to while honouring my responsibilities as a mother and an army officer’s wife.”