It was in the month of January 2001. I was then posted at the bank’s zonal office in Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand state. Occasionally, I had to visit various branches in the state of Jharkhand for official purposes. Many areas in Jharkhand were infested with Maoist rebels then. From the security point of view, we used to travel during the daytime and reach the safe town areas before it’s dark.
I and my colleague Sanjay were going to Deoghar district branches for an official visit. Deoghar has the famous temple of Lord Shiva. It’s a Jyotirlinga. Deoghar is also known as Babadham, and also famous as Vaidyanath Dham. In the ancient Vedic period, this place was known as Ketakiban or Haritkiban. After the construction of the Baidyanath Temple in the sixteenth century CE, the place is called Deoghar or Baidyanathdham.
According to Hindu beliefs, the demon king Ravana worshipped Lord Shiva at the current site of the temple to get the boons that he later used to wreak havoc in the world. Ravana offered his ten heads one after another to Shiva as a sacrifice. Pleased with this, Shiva descended to cure Ravana who was injured. As he acted as a doctor, he is referred to as Vaidya (doctor). From this aspect of Shiva, the temple derives its name.
Our wives said that they would also go along with us as they wanted to pay their obeisance to Lord Shiva and pray there. Only we two were going, so there’s enough room in the car. The kids were also having vacation — winter vacation, so there was no issue. We thought that it would be nice to have a little excursion with the family — a business-cum-pleasure trip. When we go to work, they could enjoy time together in the hotel. We could also do our job unbothered.
We left Ranchi early in the morning so that we could reach Deoghar town by sunset. We had to pass through Giridih district on the way, and many areas in Giridih district were then occupied by the Maoist rebels. Besides Giridih, the Maoists had a strong presence in some parts of the Hazaribagh district. By the grace of Lord Shiva, we safely reached Deoghar before the Sunset.
The next day, our Deoghar branch manager arranged for our visit to the temple. We prayed inside the temple and offered puja. Needless to say, our official job for which we went there was completed on time. It was our time to return to Ranchi on the third day. We got a bit late in the morning to start our journey, which was a bit expected on a winter morning and of course, when we were with the kids.
We reached Giridih at around noon. There is a restaurant in Giridih called the “Bewakoof Hotel“. A few other eateries with similar names have opened in the town. Bewakoof has become a brand in Giridih. We finished our lunch hurriedly at the Bewakoof Hotel. We had to make up for the delay. While having lunch, Sanjay and I were pondering whether we should stay in Giridih town that night. There’s a bank branch in Giridih town, so arrangements for stay wouldn’t have been a problem. I had been to Giridih a few times before because of work. There was only one problem — there was no hotel in Giridih that our wives would like to stay. If there was a delay in returning from official duty by one day, people might comment that both of us were having fun with family — that thought was also in the back of our mind. Ultimately, we decided to go ahead, reach Bagodor and then we would assess the situation there. If it became dark, we would take a detour via Barhi, which means an extra drive about an hour and a half. Bagodar is situated on the GT Road (NH-2).
When we reached Bagodar, the sun was setting. It was not dark then. We could see the last rays of the Sun. We saw a car entering Bagodar-Hazaribagh Road. So, we thought of going to Hazaribagh straight and there’s always a rush to reach home. We would pass by Bishnugarh in twenty minutes, and then there would be no worry. Bishnugarh is a jungle area and was a Maoist den then.
We were driving smooth on the Bagodar-Hazaribagh Road for about 10-12 minutes, and suddenly we saw a car standing at some distance ahead of us. We got alarmed. It was at one of the turns, so it was not visible from a distance. We knew what we were fearing was going to happen to us — a highway dacoity. I told the driver to take the car on the reverse and we told our wives to hide their purse under the seat of the car, and let everyone be quiet, no matter what happens. Except for the necklace and earrings, we asked then put it in the bag and hide it under the seats. We also left some money in our purse and threw the rest of the cash under the seat. We need to have something to give them otherwise they would kill us. We also knew that if they checked the car, then we won’t survive because they would find that we tried to fool them. Still, we had to take risks. We can’t afford to lose everything.
It was a narrow meandering road through the jungle, it was impossible to drive fast on the reverse gear. As our car could hardly turn back, it was surrounded by 5-6 armed men with their faces hidden behind the cloth. All of them had pistols, guns, and grenades in their hands. One held a pistol next to my ear. Another approached Sanjay with a grenade in his hand. I had never seen a real pistol held so close to me. We told them we would listen to them and follow their instructions. They shouldn’t harm any of us.
Sanjay was sitting right next to the door. And I was between the driver and Sanjay. The rest were on the back seat. Sanjay’s little son was on our lap. The dacoits told us to hand them over the cash. We opened our purses and quietly handed over the cash. They asked for our wristwatches: we gave them. Then they asked the ladies for jewelry, they handed them their chain and earrings. The kids were so scared that they could hardly make any sound. It was so quiet that we could hear our breathing. I had never seen a real dacoit in my life before this day.
A few more cars were standing in front of us as a victim like us. The jungle has become quite dark by now. Darkness sets in the jungle sooner and where there is the fear of robbery, darkness falls quicker. There was a queue of buses, trucks, and cars ahead of us. That time in darkness was the scariest time as any unknown misery could fall on us. They suddenly said that they would check our car if anything was hidden and that was the most terrible time. We thought that we were doomed then. The guy who was carrying a grenade near Sanjay asked him to get out of the car. He said: “Please come out sir, we want to check the car.” Never expected such polite treatment from an armed dacoit robbing us at the gun-point. Calling us “sir” while robbing us! We didn’t miss this word even at the scariest of the moments.
At that moment another car stopped behind us. It was the car of the local legislator. They left us and rushed for that car. We felt a bit of relief. From the number of vehicles, we could asses that they were doing for some time.
Suddenly we saw the entire gang of around 20 armed men vanishing in the darkness of the forest. We saw some men on police uniforms. Maoist rebels also wear the same uniform to deceive people. We didn’t know then whether we should feel relieved or we were getting dragged into a bigger danger. Luckily, they turned out to be real cops. Thank God! Har har Mahadev!
The policemen asked us to turn back and take the detour. We told them that we would go ahead: “Now, we don’t have any fear as everyone down the road and in nearby villages know that we have been robbed and so no one will come to rob us.”
We found that those dacoits cut a huge tree trunk and fell it on the road to block it. The bus passengers and all the men put hands together to move the heavy trunk. We cleared half the road enough for a vehicle to pass. Then we moved ahead to our home.
There are some excellent Dhabas (roadside eateries) after Ramgarh on the way to Ranchi. We took our cash, purses out from beneath the seats and entered one of the Dhabas. We called our homes and informed them from there that we were robbed on the highway but we were all safe and we could protect and save enough to have drinks and dinner there before reaching home.
It was a very scary evening that I will never forget. Even today, I could recollect the incident with every detail.