Special Police Officer (SPO) Surya was earlier a Maoist who had left the guerilla organisation when he grew disenchanted with their methods of violence.
The rebels killed his father when he (father) failed to turn up for a meeting called by Maoists. This was a turning point for Surya. He decided to fight the rebels and became an SPO.
“During the Salwa Judum (a tribal militia distinct from the state police) campaign, I found several victims of Maoist violence coming together. That gave me the strength to take the rebels head-on,” said Surya, a member of the Koya commandos, a squad of fighters.
The recruitment of SPOs in Chhattisgarh began when the Salwa Judum movement started in south Bastar in the middle of 2005. The Supreme Court had disapproved of the Salwa Judum.
SPOs, who are mostly local tribals, were roped in by the state to support the security forces in the war against the Maoists. They are not in regular employment. “We have long seen the atrocities and violence unleashed by the rebels on villagers, who cannot resist. Rebels have been picking up girls to induct them into their cadre,” said woman SPO Madvi Shanti, who had fled from the clutches of the rebels.
A group of SPOs underwent rigorous physical and arms training while another was taught how to use simple weapons. The former are Koya commandos in Dantewada — the state police believe they are a terror for the rebels.
Earlier the SPOs were paid a monthly honorarium of Rs. 1,500, which was raised Rs. 2,150 in 2008.
After the CRPF massacre in Dantewada on April 6, they will now get Rs. 3,000 a month. “We are working not just for the money. Many of us have the land of our ancestors,” said SPO Soyam Chandra. “We are trained to use arms and have been provided with sophisticated weapons,” said Soyam Jaydev, another SPO.
Kattam Ganga, who has a strong antipathy towards the Maoists after his brother and father were killed by them, is upset equally with the police.
“We collect information from villagers but senior police officers don’t take timely action. Some of our informers were found to be killed by Maoists later,” Ganga said.
Their hiring created controversy when it was alleged that the state police were recruiting teenagers.
Notable citizens like historian Ramachandra Guha and former bureaucrat E.A.S. Sarma challenged their hiring in the Supreme Court in May 2007 as being tantamount to the state arming civilians.
It was said that the police used these young tribals as informants, and relied on them to negotiate little-known and remote forested terrain, which are home to the Maoist guerrillas.
Special police officers of Chhattisgarh thus have a dual problem. They face flak from human rights groups as well as suffer at the hands of Maoists.