Epitome of selfless social service

Ashok Sharma
An advocate by profession, Swatantra Dev Kotwal is rarely seen in the court pleading for his clients. On the contrary, he, alongwith his team members from Civil Defence is seen dousing the fire in the forests or solely sitting outside a bank on a plastic chair braving hot and cold weather while filling up the deposit slips, withdrawal forms or account opening forms of the illiterate or semi literate customers of J& K Bank at J& K Bank Housing Colony,
Udhampur/nowadays Shakti Nagar, Udhampur for
carrying out various transactions with the Bank.
Presently in his mid sixties with long grey hair and grey beard, wearing the Jacket of Civil Defence and always sporting a sweet smile on his lips, Swatantra Dev Kotwal Advocate is a household name in the rural as well as urban areas of District Udhampur.He was the first among those who started waging war against deadly corona virus since Mar 2020 when the deadly virus was taking a toll of thousands of lives per day. On the directions of Directorate of Civil Defence,Jammu and under direct supervision of District Magistrate cum Deputy Commissioner cum Controller Civil Defence,Udhampur, he chose to be among the line of ‘Frontline Covid-19 Warriors’.
Driven by the urge to do something for his countrymen during the unprecedented times of the Covid- 19 pandemic, he chose to serve his country in a unique way. He felt a strong urge to help the illiterate/neo literate customers of J& K Bank Housing Colony, Udhampur, who, in absence of public transport, would trek miles to reach the bank to draw their pension /family pension/widow pension etc.They would invariably depend on one person sitting outside the Bank wearing a mask and advising the customers to wear a mask. He would ask them to stand in a queue and then fill every body’s forms little knowing who was infected and who wasn’t, thus, braving the risk of contacting the corona virus and risking his own life.He started rendering this ‘Nishkam Sewa’ since the pandemic knocked for the first time in March 2020. Even when the spread of the deadly pandemic was controlled,he continued to render self less serivce to celebrate the 75th year of India’s Independence under the Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav’- in his unique way by filling slips,writing applications for the customers without raising eyebrows or charging any penny for his service.No wonder, he rendered all help voluntarily to the customers from 10AM to 2PM, leaving aside his lucrative practice.He performed this selfless service from Aug15, 2021 to Aug 15,2022 at J&K Bank Housing Colony (Udhampur).
Mr. Kotwal’s selflessness did not end here. As he completed the patriotic and voluntary task on Aug15, 2022,he was once again inspired by PM Modi’s clarion call from the ramparts of Red Fort on Aug15, 2022 to treat the next 25 yrs of ‘Amrit Kaal’ to be ‘ Kartavya Kaal’ of every citizen to build India of our freedom fighters’ dreams. So he decided to extend the period of his ‘ Nishkaam Sewa’ upto Aug 31,2022.In this way, as he says he, being a Civil Defence Volunteer and social activist, will be rendering his contribution to build India. Though he is required to attend Civil Defence Camps on some days for about one or one and a half hours organised by Civil Defence, HQ, Udhampur, he compensates his ‘Nishkaam Sewa’ by working for additional hours and thus doing’Over Sewa’
Mr Kotwal’s selfless service ‘through pen’ has been appreciated by many Officers, prominent persons and organisations. The District Administration, Udhampur conferred on him the prestigious ‘ Covid-19 Warrior Award’ on the auspicious occasion of Independence Day, 2020 and Republic Day, 2022 for his long, distinguished and poetic services in the war against corona virus. Smt Indu Kanwal Chib, the then Deputy Commissioner Udhampur uploaded his urdu poems on coronavirus & Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav’ on the official facebook page of Information and Public Relations Department,Udhampur,which were highly appreciated for carrying motivational messages .In June, 2022,DIG Civil Defence SDRF and Homeguards, Jammu appreciated him for his long spread performance till date in Civil Defence Wardens/ Volunteers meeting.
Here are presented the excerpts of his interview:
AS: Who inspired you to go for Social Service?
SD: My father was both an ideal and inspiration for me. Right from childhood, hewould tell me the stories of great struggles, selflessservices of freedom fighters and social reformers of those times. He would also impart me spiritual knowledge and moral teachings of all the religions. My father’s role model was Gandhi Ji. He was so influenced by Gandhi Ji’s life and principles that after doing his LLB from Lahore (now in Pakistan)in 1940, he didnot opt for the lucrative legal profession. Instead, he preferred to be with the illiterate, ignorant, and backward people of his native region ‘Illaqa Bamhag’ ( now divided into Udhampur & Reasi Districts). He remained there till 1965 and served the poor and illiterate people by combating the social evils such as untouchability, illiteracy, child marriage, litigation, etc through awareness and mediation. He was so popular among the masses that out of love and respect, the local people across the vast Bamhag region would call him ‘ Bamhagi Gandhi’.
AS: Very interesting! Tell the readers more about your father,an unsung hero.
SD: My father was a freedom fighter in his own way. He fought the Britishers by deafeating their nefarious designs of recruiting the innocent local youth in the British Army by delivering his motivational and patriotic speeches, sometimes secretly. Manytimes, he had to remain underground for his nationalist and anti British speeches. His love for the freedom of his country can be gauged from the fact that he named his sons ‘ Swatantra Dev, Azad Dev and ‘Khudmukhtar Dev’- each name meaning freedom. After 25 years of selfless service, he returned to Udhampur to make me another ‘ Durga Dutt Kotwal’.
AS: When did you join Civil Defence Organisation as a volunteer and what are your achievements?
SD: I joined Civil Defence Organisation as a volunteer on March 12,1986 and underwent 10- Day Basic Training Course under the supervision of then Dy. Controller, Civil Defence, Udhampur, Jb Chirag Din (Dy.SP). I was appointed as Sector Warden and in 2009 elevated to the post of Post Warden. I was elevated as Dy. Chief Warden in 2010 by the then ADGP, Civil Defence, S. Gopal Reddy IPS. Every elevation and award prompted me to upgrade my skills and work more efficiently and thus earn love and respect from cross section of the society. My work has been recognised not only in Udhampur District but in Reasi and Ramban Districts too. I was appointed as social worker in District Vigilance Committee by the District Magistrate Udhampur in 2012.I was also nominated as a member of Citizens Advisory Council, Udhampur.
AS: What are the main awards which you received and your achievements?
SD: Besides receiving the PRESIDENT’s MEDAL for meritorious Civil Defence Services on January 26,2017 (It was the first President’s Medal ever conferred in the field of Civil Defence in District Udhampur),I received Director General Civil Defence (Ministry of Home Affairs, GOI),the prestigious National Level Commendation Certificate and DG’s DISC for excellent services in Civil Defence on 06.12.2003.I have also been awarded by the Civil Defence, Police and Civil dignitaries, NGOs have recognised and appreciated my selfless work wholeheartedly and issued Commendation cum Performance Certificates in my favour. For instance,
AS: Besides rendering social service, you are also actively involved in literary activities. Tell the readers, in brief, about your literary output.
SD:I contribute short stories and poems in urdu to reputed magazines and newspapers such as Hind Samachar, (Jallandhar),Zarrin Showayaein ( Banglore) & Kashmir Uzma. Till date,more than 100 short storieson multiple topics including Civil Defence Services have been published.I feel humbly proud to tell you that two of my short stories titled ‘AVTAAR KHAN’& KASHMIR KI BETI’, based on patriotism and secularism were appreciated by none other than the then President of India,Jb APJ Abdul Kalam who blessed me by issuing an Appreciation letter Dated 08.07.2003.I also contribute articles to the English newspapers on different topics and so far I have published about 300 articles in different newspapers since 1989.Moreover, I take active part in poetic events and recite poems on topics such as patriotism, environment, SVEEP, Dowry, Indian Constitution, Police Department, Role of Khaki for the Nation, Drugs/Alcohol and other such topics.
AS: Your contribution to your birth place in terms of promotion of this pictursque place as a tourist and religious spot.
SD: Since my college days, I was enchanted with the beauty of my native place surrounded by Dhar Ladha and Natha Top mountainous range (in the east), mighty river Chenab (north), Kainthgali and Saroli Dhars ( in the South) surrounded by Mata Vaishno Devi and Trikuta hills (in the west). I tried letter writing to the Govt agencies at national and regional level but desired results could not be achieved. Then something miraculous happened. On 14th of Sept, 1998 Aap Shambhu twin caves of Lord Shiv and Parvati were discovered and 3-day annual Shiv – Parvati mela Moungri began to be organised at Sar Dabbar from 1st to 3rd Jeth every year and this neglected region came to the notice of the people across the UT. Thousands of pilgrims and visitors take part in the 3-day mela. Then famous writer and columnist like Prof (Retd) Shiv Nirmohi (Padamshri ) awardee highlighted the caves in his nationally awarded book. Your articles on the caves and 3-day annual mela published in Daily Excelsior, helped a lot in bringing this region on the tourist map. I also contributed many articles in English and urdu to different newspapers to highlight the natural beauty of this region.
AS: You have contributed a lot in creating legal awareness in students. Please tell us your experiences.
SD:I was enrolled as Social activist from Civil Defence Organisation in Tehsil Legal Services Authority (TLSA)/District Legal Services Authority (DLSA), Udhampur in 2010.Since then, Ihave anchored/delivered lectures in more than 600 awareness camps/symposia, debates, cleanlinessdrives, plantations, sports events, culturalevents, National festivals, Melas etcas per directions from National & State Legal Service Authority. Precisely, allthe fundamental duties enshrined in Article 51-A of the Indian Constitution are in one way or the other are taken up for the activity to prepare the students for becoming responsiblehealthy and patriotic citizens of India. I have been awarded and encouraged by the Hon, ble Chairman (Principal District and Sessions Judge and Secretary (Sub Judge) for my consistent, devoted and poetic performance throughout.