KF RUSTAMJI: INDIA’S ICONIC POLICE OFFICER
His centennial birth year is an opportunity to celebrate the man who set up the Border Security Force and laid the ground for the first Public Interest Litigation case
Though he was born a Parsi on May 22, 1916, Khusro Faramurz Rustamji, one of modern India’s most celebrated police officers and the first Director General of the Border Security Force, was cremated, according to his wishes, as per Hindu rituals in March 2003. A passionate nationalist, Rustamji also wrote extensively on minority rights of Hindus and Muslims, and rued the fact that his journalistic writings were not acknowledged. However, now, in the 100th year of his birth, Rustamji’s writings are finally being acknowledged as religiously as his remarkable leadership in the police and BSF.
In 1971, in an acknowledgment of his leadership capabilities, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi wrote a letter at the end of the India-Pakistan war, in which Rustamji had so brilliantly deployed the might of the BSF, a force he nurtured: “As the first line of our defence, the Border Security Force had to bear the immediate brunt of the enemy onslaught. The manner in which they faced the fire and support they gave to the army played a crucial role in our ultimate success.” Defense Secretary KB Lall, in his letter to the Home Secretary also praised the role of the BSF: “A special word of thanks to the Director General of the Border Security Force and to the men and officers under his command, is overdue. It is their initial initiatives, their boldness courage and, if I may say so, imagination, which provided eventually an opportunity to the Defense Services to do their part.”
In the midst of Pakistani fury when Bangladesh was preparing for the swearing-in ceremony, selection of the place was critical. Rustamji was clear he wanted this historic ceremony to be witnessed by the maximum number of people. The spot also had to provide for the possibility of strafing by a Pakistani plane which did this ruthlessly all over East Pakistan. Accordingly, a triangular piece of land jutting into India with a beautiful mango grove was selected in a village called Baidyanathtala which later became Mujib Nagar. It was a unique way for the new Government of a new nation to be sworn in, in the midst of a global Press.
Rustamji nicely summarised this. He said, “The first process of Government of a newly born nation was to commence not in a man-made, gaily decorated and illuminated building of carpeted floor and chandelier decorated ceilings but in a place which had for its canopy the sky, and for its decoration the trees. Decades or centuries hence when the citizens of Bangladesh would look back on the birth of their country and the tragic circumstances attending it, they could legitimately be proud, among other things, of the fact that their first Government sworn to democracy, secularism, and socialism came in an area where nature had bestowed her gifts in profusion and in the wake of ceremonies which were not only immaculate but also daring in their conception and courageous in their execution.”
After his retirement in 1974, Rustamji was much sought after for his expertise. As Special Secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs, he structured the BSF, the Indo-Tibetan Border Police, the Central Industrial Security Force in the Central Police Organisation. He also initiated the formation of the Indian Coast Guard and was responsible for setting up the National Police Commission. He later became its member from 1978 to 1983.
Not many know about this but, in 1978, Rustamji visited the jails in Bihar and wrote about the conditions of the undertrials languishing for long periods. Two of his articles in The Indian Express formed the basis for the first Public Interest Litigation case, Hussainara Khatoon vs State of Bihar, which led to the release of 40,000 undertrials all over India.