Tribals in insurgency-hit Bastar dread the times when security forces come visiting their villages in search of Maoists, but not so much when Usha Kiran is in the raiding party.
Kiran,27, is CRPF’s first woman officer to be posted in the Maoist-infested part of the region and a potent PR tool for the security forces battling accusations of grave excesses, including rape.
It was only two days ago that security forces were in the news for their alleged wrong doings in Chhattisgarh. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in a report stated that there was prima facie evidence that security forces raped and sexually assaulted 16 tribal women during an operation in October 2015. The five-day operation was reportedly carried out by state police and the CRPF.
While similar operations continue to make news, Kiran – an assistant commandant with CRPF’s 80 Battallion – is the centre of attraction.
“Her presence is good as the tribal women are always terrified and worried during the operations,” points out Kunti (name changed), a resident of a village near Darbha valley.
Even Sanjay Yadav, the CRPF DIG for Bastar region agrees. “She helps the security forces during search and raid in Maoist-affected villages and secondly, her presence helps to counter Maoist propaganda of rape and molestation by security forces,” Yadav added.
A former national athlete, who represented Delhi in triple jump, Kiran is one of only two women CRPF officers on duty in Bastar. Archana Gaura, the other woman officer, is in Kondagaon, which is not as badly affected by insurgency.
Battling Maoists is a tough challenge, but Kiran opted for it voluntarily. After her induction into the force, she was given three choices. “But I preferred to come to Naxal-hit Bastar because tribals are innocents and development is not happening because of Maoist violence,” she said.
Hailing from a Gurgaon-based family with ties to the CRPF – her grandfather and father were ex-personnel of the force – Kiran said the villagers feel comforted by her presence. “I talk to the women. They are scared of male cops and officers. But with me, they are more relaxed,” she pointed out.
“She is a welcome addition to the force,” explained Vivek Uike, the officer-in-charge of Darbha police station. Security forces are hoping Kiran will help them in a makeover of their battered image in Bastar.