By Shreya Haridas
Chennai, Jan 26: Ex- IPS Officer Walter I Dewaram is resting in den that is his office in Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Chennai, after a restless career in the civil services. From leading the anti-naxal operations in Tamil Nadu, to curbing down the fisherman agitations along the Marina Beach, he has lead both pro-poor and anti-poor operations. As his name is often heard with Veerappan’s, the notorious sandalwood smuggler who was hunted down under Dewaram’s leadership, his other achievements sometimes go unnoticed. Dewaram, soon to be 80, delves into the memories of his thrilling career as an IPS officer.
Walter Devaram was born and brought up in Munnar, Kerala, where his dad worked in a tea estate. Inspired by his father and grandfather who were both ex- Army, he decided to pursue that path.
As the Police Commissioner of Chennai, you shot into limelight because of fishermen issue. How do you see it so many years later?
When I became the Commissioner of Madras city, MGR was the CM.
One day, MGR ordered that the entire stretch of Marina Beach be cleared of fisherman. I don’t know the reason behind it to this day! There were 30,000 families depended on fishing in the Marina…But I had to carry out the order.There were massive strikes against it and the situation got very aggressive and out of control.
Actually, people leave constables to handle the situation, but I did not want to do that. I am a sharp shooter. So I went out into the field and shot down 3 leaders of the protest. The crowd disappeared then and there.
But at the time of the protest, the Supreme Court passed an order restoring the fishermen’s rights. We did not know of it then. So three lives lost for nothing. I feel very sad.
Was no action taken against you for shooting down the men?
No…a small enquiry was conducted, but no action was taken against me as everyone knew that it was the only way out.
Also, this was not the only occasion where I shot down people. My first posting was in the Nilgiris. There, the cordate factory workers blocked the road in front of the police station, for arresting some workers in some issue. I saw a man opening a jeep’s bonnet and trying to set the engine on fire. Immediately, I had to shoot him down. I shot three more rounds and some people got injured.
Your name also featured in the anti-Naxal operations in Tamil Nadu?
Charu Mazumdar had the ability to inspire a lot of people. In Dharmapuri and Nellore, Naxalism become a serious affair. There places had very poor people… they worked for a daily wage of Rs 1.
Landlords, money lenders and people who harassed women were targeted and killed.The situation was so grave that people would close themselves inside their houses after 5 pm.
For controlling the situation, MGR sent me to Dharmapuri from Madurai. The naxals threatened me with writings like “ Dewaramrenduvaram” (Dewaram in 2 weeks)
The main leaders were caught soon and were taken in a private car to Thiruputtur. One of them threw a bomb in which two constablese and tree naxals were killed. Many encounters followed this. In one I was also injured.
In eight months, we cleared Dharmapuri and Vellore of all Naxals. All of my team members got gallantry medals for this attack.
The victims’ and heroes’ families have conducted a commemoration day since 1972. I have attended 37 out of 38 of them. I am very particular about this function.
Did your experience in the anti-naxal operation help you in encountering Veerappan?
Veerappan encounter came up after my retirement, that is, when I was 58. The fight to catch Veerappan was entirely different as we had to go into the unfamiliar parts of the Sathyamangalam forests.
For this encounter also, I preferred my old anti-Naxal team. It was very difficult in the forests. We had to carry food also with us. Each group stayed for 15 days in the forest. When we came back we had 50-60 leeches on us.
There are many names that come to my mind when I think of this operation..likeAsok Kumar, Gopalakrishnan etc… It was due to all their bravery that the operation was possible.
After Veerappan was killed, I requested the then CM Jayalalithaa to give all members of my team some reward- Rs 1 Lakh and 1 promotion. Jayalalithaa always gives more than what we ask for… so she gave everyone in the team 3 lakhs, one promotion and a house aid..that is how even I got my own house.
Dewaram arranges the books by his side and shows the photo frame placed on his office table- he proudly shows off how Jayalalitha pinned a gallantry medal to his uniform. Amidst other wall hangings like a hunting gun, there is also a calendar by Gold’s Gym, with the name of a club started after Dewaram.
You were once interested in joining the Indian Army. Tell us about that.
I could not qualify for the Army.
I was a senior under officer in the NCC and lead the Madras contingency at the Delhi parade. I also had fulfilled other requirements to be recruited into the Army. I was very sure of my selection. But somehow, I couldn’t make it.
So you did not have any back up plan for your career?
While giving tests for the Army, I joined the Madras Christian College for BA History. After I got to know of my rejection, I took a one-year Physical Education course at YMCA, Bangalore.After that, I Joined for MA History I Annamalai University. I finished it in 1962, which is when we had the Sino-India war.
Army was then recruiting people for the war, but unfortunately, the war got over when I reached NEFA (North Eastern Frontier Area). They let me know that they would take me as an Emergency Commission Officer soon.
In the meantime, I joined a college in Manipur as a lecturer.
One of the colleagues in the college persuaded me to appear for the Civil Services Exam, seeing how good I was in studies. He also pointed out the lack of job security in the Emergency Commission.
I appeared for the exam and passed it.
How did your IPS career start?
After getting selected, I had to undergo training in Mussoorie and Mount Abu. Then for on-field trainig, I was posted as an ASP in Tuticorin . Afterwards, I was made an SP in Ooty. I married my wife in Ooty.
Do you still think of how your life would have been if you were in the Army?
I am happy that I did not join the army. There are so many army officers who have never seen action. But I have had a very exciting career as an IPS Officer. I have had an adventurous life.
What kind of issues did you have to manage when in office?
I was always in some kind of law & order situation.
For example, there is a place called Keezhvenmani in Thanjavur. When I was the SP in Thanjavur, there was mass exploitation of the poor by the land lords, and some were even shot down by the landlords. In oe instance, women and children were locked up in a house, and the house was set on fire by the landlords, thinking it was empty. My team and I somehow settled up the whole issue. I will show you some interesting article, it will show you what all IPS Officers can do.
Dewaramopened a book full of newspaper cuttings. It had articles spanning all fields from wildlife, jallikattu, cricket, sports news to new civil servants whom he admires. He opens up a page with a cutting about Merin Joseph IPS, a civil servant in Kerala. She had extradited a criminal from Saudi Arabia.
After we settled up the issue in Keezhvenmani, CM Karunanidhi asked me to bifurcated Thanjavoordistrct into two. It was I who divided it into the existing Thanjavur and Nagapattinam. I remained the SP Nagapattinam.
Did you have a good relationship with the politicians?
Yes! I will tell you an incident.
When I was the SP and T V Antony was the collector of Nagapattinam, DravidaKazhagam (DK) conducted a procession at Thiruvazhoor, the birthplace of Karunanidhi. It had obscene pictures like naked Rama and Sita. So I went to meet the leader of DravidaKazhagam, EVR Periyar, with Antony and requested him to stop the procession. He succumbed to our request without much ado. Thus a big law and order situation was avoided. He was a very polite man.
He had actually condudcted this same procession in 1971 in Salem. This is a controversy currently as Rajinikanth spoke about it. Nobody knows if this is true. But it is actually true, as the Thiruvazhoor procession happened after Salem procession.
I have interacted with Periyar, Karunanidhi, MGR and Jayalalithaa. All had very good relationships with me.
What do you do nowadays?
We have a lot of work here in Tamil Nadu Athletic Association…like selecting teams for different events. I have also taken the teams to places like Japan, Jakarta etc for competitions. I am the President of TNAA. We sent 64 athletes to Guwahati this time and they have won the national championship. Usually Kerala wins it.