Ghaziabad: “Please don’t drop the call,” station house officer Anita Chauhan knew that if 23-year-old Ghaziabad resident Abhay Shukla hung up, there was a high probability that he would attempt to kill himself — he had announced it on a Facebook live stream.
Chauhan had received the alert from Meta’s US office via DCP (city) Nipun Aggarwal at 9:30 pm, turning the SHO’s Thursday night upside down. A man’s life was in her hands, and the police had to play therapist. She only breathed a sigh of relief 55 minutes later, when the young man opened the door, weeping uncontrollably.
Fifty-two-year-old Chauhan, Vijay Nagar’s first woman SHO, had no prior experience counselling mentally ill people — she used common sense, kindness and empathy. “I was under extreme pressure. You have the number and location of a person preparing to commit suicide. And still, if you are not able to save him, you will be guilty for life,” said the SHO.
She was near her station, returning from a routine round in the police car Thursday night when she got a call from the DCP — 10 minutes from where she was, a man had announced over a Facebook live stream that he was preparing to die by suicide.
Personnel at Lucknow Police’s social media cell had received an alert from the Meta office in California about the man. Meta flagged and stopped the livestream soon after.
Chauhan’s WhatsApp pinged, four minutes after the DCP’s call, with Shukla’s phone number and general location. It was from the social media cell; Meta had given them the details.
All thoughts of dinner were forced out of Chauhan’s mind as the adrenaline flooded in. The two constables accompanying her were also on alert. They turned the car and headed to Shukla’s house in Pratap Vihar. Chowki incharge Arun Chaudhary, SI Vijender, Head Constables Rahul and Sushil followed from the station in another car.
Braving the traffic and narrow roads, the team reached the location at 9:50 pm, 16 minutes after the message. But identifying the house number at night was a challenge. She instinctively knew that if she used a loudspeaker, residents would come out of their homes. Journalists and camera crew would descend and the area would become a circus. Worse still, the police sirens could spook the young man.
So she kept calling the number she had received from the social media cell. For 25 minutes, she kept hitting re-dial—again and again and again. Finally, at 10:15 pm after over a dozen failed calls, Shukla answered his phone.
Chauhan, who had her fingers crossed, heaved a sigh of relief. Now it was up to her to convince the distraught man to not end his life. So she engaged him in conversation.
Shukla was crying profusely, but despite all her entreaties, he was reluctant to share his house number.
But she connected with him. Shukla started sharing the events that led up to this moment. He was from the Kannauj district of Uttar Pradesh. He had taken his mother’s savings—money she had kept aside for his 25-year-old sister’s wedding—to start a business. He had promised that he would return double the amount once his business was established but now he had nothing.
Chauhan was able to convince Shukla that there were ways to recover the money. She again urged him to share his house number, and that she would help him out.
After seven minutes on the call, Chauhan tried again to get his house number and she succeeded. Chauhan was just 100 meters away from his house.
She continued to stay on the call, assuring him that help was coming. Meanwhile, she sprung into action, leaping out of the vehicle along with chowki incharge Chaudhary and knocked at the door.
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Shukla lived on the fourth floor of a rented accommodation. The owner, on the ground floor, had no idea what was happening above. Chaudhary along with two constables and an SI climbed up the stairs, but the room was locked. Shukla vehemently refused to open the door and threatened to take his life if they forced it open.
“We had to convince him emotionally. The man who is on the verge of taking his life won’t listen to anything. So I kept talking to him with love and sympathy, convincing him that it was not the right thing to do,” said Chaudhary.
After a conversation that lasted 10 minutes, Shukla opened the door. There was a plastic chair in the middle of the small room and above it was a long dupatta hanging from the ceiling fan.
The first thing that Chaudhary did was hug Shukla, who broke down in his arms. The constable, Rahul, offered him a glass of water and they took Shukla downstairs to the police jeep. Chauhan, who had stayed downstairs to question the landlord, patted him on the shoulder and helped him up before setting off for the Vijay Nagar police station.
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Therapy in the station
All the policemen at the station heaved a sigh of relief when the team walked in with Shukla. Chauhan informed the DCP about the success of their operation. The social media cell of Lucknow police tweeted about the triumph.
But the work didn’t end there. The SHO room at Vijay Nagar police station turned into a therapist’s office as Shukla was counselled by Chauhan and Chaudhary for another four hours.
The counselling session revealed that two months ago, Shukla resigned from his job with a private company in Gurugram where he earned a commission for sending faulty mobiles for repair. The 23-year-old was earning well and riding on his success, he decided to start his own business. This is when he went to Kannauj and took his mother’s savings. After the business failed, he was overwhelmed with guilt. Shukla’s father had died four years ago and he was the only earning member of his family. It was this guilt that pushed him towards suicide.
Meanwhile, the police at Vijay Nagar informed his friends who came to pick him up. Chauhan recorded a video of Shukla, where he promised not to take such a step in the future.
“It was the first such case of our lives and a very emotional one. I slept really well that night knowing that I saved a man when the situation seemed impossible at first,” said Chauhan smiling.
(Edited by Theres Sudeep)