The Maoists have put a price of Rs 50 lakh on Inspector Ajitesh Singh’s head. Some among them nearly claimed it on January 9, 2006. Singh’s team, riding on motorcycles, was ambushed. Splinters from five bullets struck him.
Two of them have been surgically removed. Three still remain lodged in different parts of his chest.
“The Maoists enticed us,” recalled Singh. “They set fire to the house of a panchayat leader in an area they largely controlled.” This was Shankarpur village north Chhattisgarh, where Singh was then posted. “Our team went to investigate. Nothing happened. On the way back, just as we thought we were safe, they struck.”
There were three landmine blasts. There were no casualties but they forced the team to halt. Immediately Maoists hidden around started firing. In the shootout, two Maoists were killed and three policemen injured. The worst hit was Singh.
It turned out to be his last encounter with the Maoists.
He has never been the same man since. He has breathing problems and recurring backache. Doctors have warned he’ll lose part of a lung if he undergoes more surgeries to remove the bullets. He might well become unfit for active police service.
Singh was promoted to inspector and posted at the relatively safe Akaltara town in Jangir district. He was recommended for a gallantry award after he was injured, but never got it.
His record comprises eight armed encounters with the Maoists. “It is the dedicated effort of policemen like Ajitesh Singh that has brought about a significant reduction in Naxalite activity in north Chhattisgarh,” said R. K. Vij, Inspector General of Police, Chhattisgarh.
Singh led his first encounter on March 4, 2004, during which the police made their largest ever haul of Naxalite arms and ammunition, and killed a leading member of the group’s state committee, Raman Kodaku.
Singh, 34, is married, with a three-year-old son. “Whether he gets an award or not doesn’t matter. I’m proud of him,” said wife Chhaya.
Born into a large, lower-middle class family of seven siblings, the son of a government schoolteacher, Singh once nursed a strong desire to join the army. He tried twice, but fell ill just before he had to take the physical fitness test. He then joined the state police in 1999. But he maintained his life had been no less dramatic than that of an army man.
“Fighting Naxals is just as demanding as braving the enemy on the battlefield,” he said.