They were six. One of them had a torch. One had a long thick wooden branch. The rest came with rocks in both of their hands. It took a few seconds for me to realize that we were going to be victims of one of the bloody highway robbery stories we had only heard of. I had just dropped the flat wheel in the boot and Mady was fixing the spare wheel to the car. He was not going to finish it. They had come, to rob us.
The roads around Dahod district have earned bad name for highway loots in Gujarat State. The section from Limkehda to Dahod is one of the most critical among them. There might be thousands of loots executed by goons in this area from the days when roads were first built here. Dahod is as ancient as Ujjain and there are stories of Lord Rama to Aurangzeb attached to its name. The looting and killing for money is something embedded in culture for some communities of this border district. This is truth and not only Dahod Police but also Gujarat Police knows this. A robbery in any big city of Gujarat always has strings attached to such villages of Dahod. I have lived in Dahod city for four years now and traveled the Ahmedabad – Indore highway more than a hundred times. Even in the latest of the hours, i never faced difficulty.
The day was 29th November 2015, around 9:00 PM. I was driving my car back from Vadodara to Dahod on , Priyanka (my wife) was in front seat, Mady (my friend) was sitting with his wife and little Rivaan in the back seat of car. We were about 12 kilo meters away from our destination. We had just crossed Usarvan sign board. Just then something hit the front tire such that it immediately made it completely flat. I carefully pulled my car to side of road after crossing a small bridge. We were exactly at 22°50’18.3″N 74°07’00.4″E. I kept the engine on, with some bad feeling about tire getting flat. There were no village lights seen from that point. To reach Dahod, we had to change the tire. Conquering all the fear, i got out of car, saw the tire. It was so flat that only rubber was between the rim and the road. I got the jack in position and Mady took only two minute to remove the flat tire.
I took out the spare wheel from boot and picked up the flat tire to put it back. I dropped the flat tire in the boot and was reaching to help Mady. It was then that i saw them coming. My positive mind wanted to take them for villagers willing to give a helping hand. I did not react at all. Mady was busy with wheel. This somehow compelled one of them to introduce his team, so he said “humei ssor sei” (we are robbers). Mady and I realized the gravity and cooperated with them, we urged them to stay away from ladies and child. They started looking for cash and gold. They did found some cash, but we had no gold accessories. One of them forced Mady outside the highway so that vehicles passing by don’t get alerted. They made Mady sit on ground, I understood that we were in weak position. We had to cooperate. We did. Two of them took me into rocky grounds near to where Mady was grounded. One of them had my collar twisted and was repeatedly forcing me to sit down. Then they started targeting women sitting inside the car. They wanted the jewelry. Priyanka had locked the car from inside. She had realized we were in trouble. They started banging windows with branches and threatened to break the car with stones. From the car, it was difficult to see what was happening with me and Mady in darkness, but we could see what was happening around car. One of them started scuffling interiors of car and started asking for jewelry. They wanted to pull all of us in darkness so that vehicles passing by could not see the robbery being done. He caught hold of Priyanka from arm and started pulling her the way they did with me.
A thought crossed from my mind. They had come to loot. They will pull us all in darkness. One by one, they were going to rob us of every dime we had. As the tradition of robbery in Dahod goes, even if the victim cooperates, they beat up all the victims; even murder them after looting them. Just a week ago, a doctor family was robbed on same road. They cooperated, gave everything they had, and were still beaten up. A complete surrender was no guarantee for safety. I decided in that half a second that I will not go down silently. I had faith in Mady. I had faith in my God. That was it.
The next second my left leg had smashed a groin in front of me. My left hand fist had punched two repeated dents in the jaw of one who had grabbed me from collar. That was all to start our long fight. I could do only this much and was pulled down by two of them. I felt a smashing rock on my face. It broke my nose. I heard the sound of it. I felt the warm blood flooding my nostrils. It was total darkness in front of me. The next second, my reflexes pulled my body upright. I saw them running away. Mady had also punched the guy standing to guard him and grabbed his torch (The only torch they had). That robber also fled into the darkness. I saw Priyanka running to the middle of Highway to stop vehicles passing by. Rivaan was fast asleep in caring arms of his confident and fearless mother.
The battle had just begun. We had decided to fight back. Mady ran after them. I shouted like never before. I was standing with bleeding nose, in the middle of highway, with a rock in my each hand; shouting, challenging them to come back and finish the fight. Mady did the same from the other end of car. Unlike me he did not lose his temper. He shouted with false telephonic conversations like “yes we are here, you are almost there, come with police, we are here” to scare them away. Priyanka and Bhabhi were dialing numbers. The number 100 did not work. 108 did. Also called friends in Dahod, almost all of them had just been relieved from Election Duty that day. We immediately received call and showed the directions to police control room. What we didn’t know was, that night; we were not going to receive any help from police.
The robbers fled to opposite side of four lane highway jumping over the divider. We were not sure on count. We saw only 5 or 6. They might be 15, 20, even more. The manner in which we resisted, they were surely going to kill us that night. But time did not allow us any second thought. We were already at war.
We all were on highway now. The robbers pelted us with rocks from other side of road. We didn’t see anything clearly. It was like rocks raining on us from dark sky. One of the rocks hit Priyanka on a shoulder. Mady also got hit by rocks. Saving our head and body, we tried stopping vehicles passing by, but no one was willing to stop. At 9 PM the highway was still busy, many vehicles were passing, they saw we were in problem, but they didn’t stop. We cried and shouted, begged for help. Only a handful of them slowed down as we covered their way, but when they would stop to help us, they were hit by rocks from darkness of other side of road. They would get scared and take off. Leaving us again in darkness, then again the stone pelting would start. Mady had the torch, and so we could see where they were running. We also pelted them with rocks, along with all this going on; i repeatedly tried to fix the wheel too, but could not find tools that we were using. After few minutes we would see a vehicle passing by, but some of them would grasp a situation from distance and speed up. We could not stop them. Again it would be darkness and us. This went on for the longest 15 minutes of my life.
The robbers realized that we wanted a fight and we were not going to stop. They started asking Mady to give back the torch he had snatched from them. They were blind without it. They kept pelting the stones while doing so. They were starting to get impatient now. We would surely stop a vehicle sooner or later. The time frame that they might have planned was also getting over. We did make calls to Dahod, and any help from both Dahod and Limkehda would take only 15 minutes or less. We were expecting our friends to come from Dahod sooner than police vehicles.
We saw a state transport bus coming. I could see myself begging in front of two head lights speeding towards us. It was full of passengers. The driver did stop the bus, but passengers got scared and got angry on driver for stopping the bus in middle of nowhere. A private tempo taxi arrived just after the bus. People got out, they cooperated and few even jumped down from bus to help. Mady so much wanted to fight the robbers that he asked few passengers to accompany him towards rocky jungles. The public however calmed us down and helped us collect our belongings. One of them fixed the wheel and removed the jack. Our car was back on four wheels. Until now, no police vehicle had arrived. We resisted. We stopped them from robbing us. We won the battle. The real fight was yet to come.
Ten minutes later, the five of us were driving towards Dahod. Little Rivaan was safe, and the four of us were not the same people who used to be. Such incidents change our lives.
I will never forget that night of 29th November 2015.
What happened next day on 30th November 2015 is more frightening.