Cop who ran marathons to fund education now a winner of 2 President’s gallantry medals
Rajesh Khandwe was posted in the Maoist hotbed of Gadchiroli in Maharashtra in 2015 and has been part of 16 encounters with the extreme left wing rebels since then.
In 2015, a poor farmer’s son from Rajewadi village in Maharashtra’s Beed district achieved his dream of becoming a police officer when he completed the course at the Police Training School in Nashik and was posted as a police sub-inspector at Gadchiroli with the C-60 commando force fighting the Maoists.
Three years later in 2018 Rajesh Khandwe (29) was awarded the President’s medal for gallantry after he single-handedly eliminated two Maoists in an encounter soon after joining the force in 2015. Since then Khandwe has been part of many encounters with the Maoists in Gadchiroli.
In recognition of his efforts, Khandwe was promoted to the rank of assistant police inspector in 2017.
On August 15, 2020, Khandwe once again was awarded the President’s gallantry medal for his resolute actions against the Maoists that he carried out in 2017. But Khandwe isn’t celebrating his medal. Minutes after he got to know that he was being awarded the medal for gallantry on Friday morning, his friend and colleague Dushyant Nandeshwar lost his life in an encounter with the Maoists at Kothi outpost in Gadchiroli.
“I have lost 25 of my friends in the last five years, and the medal is a tribute to them. Every such incident spurs me to continue my tenure in this Maoist prone area of Gadchiroli,” said Khandwe, speaking over the phone.
Life has not been easy for Khandwe who as a child wanted to join the Indian Army. “I come from a very poor family, and my father could not afford our education. I studied in the village school till seventh grade and then was selected to study at Krida Prabodhani run by the Maharashtra government,” said Khandwe. Krida Prabodhani selects talented children and provides them necessary training and facilities to pursue the sport they are interested in.
As an athlete, Khandwe had excelled at a young age and was spotted by the Maharashtra government. Later, Khandwe moved to Pune for further schooling and started living in a hostel. Khandwe then used to run marathons at Kolhapur, Satara and other districts just to fund his education.
“I still remember how I used to run just so that I can get the prize money to fund my education. My goal was to join the Indian Army, but my family then did not have the money for me to join the National Defence Academy. But I still wanted to serve the nation, and that was my sole motto. Something which I had inculcated as a child when I knew about the supreme sacrifice made by Captain Krishnakant Kulkarni-Dharashivkar from Udgir,” said Khandwe.
Captain Krishnakant Kulkarni-Dharashivkar had made the supreme sacrifice, while leading a six member Ghatak platoon of the Indian Army in Kargil in 1999, when a bomb exploded and splinters pierced his skull. Captain Kulkarni-Dharashivkar’s sacrifice had a huge bearing on Khandwe.
“While I was in hostel, I had decided to join the police force and had rejected offers from many firms including the Indian Oil Corporation.”
Khandwe who gladly accepted the posting at Gadchiroli after his police training isn’t interested in leaving the Maoist affected region. “My parents worry about me a lot, and each time I call them they ask me to take a transfer out of Gadchiroli. But that is not what I want, and thankfully my wife whom I married in 2017 is very supportive of my decisions. She in fact has gone ahead and named my son Veer,” said Khandwe.
“I am not the one to back out of a tough situation. That is how life has been for me,” said Khandwe.