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Uniforms Everywhere

india Updated: Dec 16, 2011 19:01 IST
Danijel Majic
Danijel Majic
Hindustan Times
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Delhi is a city of many faces. One of them is that of a man with a thin moustache who smiles at you cordially while the muzzle of his rifle is aimed at you. He stands watch at the entrance to the bazaar. The letters CISF are emblazoned on his left shoulder, and the corresponding letters in Hindi on his right. Wherever you go in Delhi, the Central Industrial Security Force is not far.



Anyone visiting Delhi for the first time might think that the military has taken over power in the Indian capital city. The omnipresent CISF with its khaki or camouflage green uniforms remind one too much of an army unit. Actually, however, the approximately 128,000 men and women armed in India by the CISF are part of a special police force that reports directly to the central government rather than the regional police forces responsible for law enforcement. Their task is physical protection.



Shri Krishna Saraswat has been a part of this apparatus, which is presently responsible for more than 300 facilities all over the nation, for 14 years. He served as bodyguard to two Prime Ministers - another task taken up by the CISF after its establishment in 1969. Today, he is a press officer. In his office in a well-guarded complex of governmental buildings, the files are stacked high. Civil servants entering the room salute him.



Saraswat rarely calls the CISF by its name. He uses the English expression "the force." It seems a noticeably martial word in the officer's otherwise selectively civil language. "The force" has to take a step ahead every day, he says. "From day to day, there are more challenges."

There are plenty of "challenges" in India. In the northwest of the subcontinent, in the region of Jammu and Kashmir disputed among India, Pakistan and China, the military battles separatists supported by Pakistan. In central India, Maoist rebels control large parts of the country, and in the northwest, in Assam, various tribes fight for more autonomy. As the capital city, Delhi is the preferred target of attacks. Just this September, Muslim extremists set off bombs in front of a courthouse in Delhi, killing eleven people.

Private businesses as customers

To date, with every "challenge," the competencies of the CISF have been expanded. Two years after the hijacking of an airliner in 1999, after 11 September 2001 the government gives in to the demands. In 2007 the CISF also takes over security controls in the metro of Delhi, for which the police was previously responsible. Since 2009 the force can be hired - for a fee - by private businesses.

Saraswat is proud of the fact that not only taxpayers finance the CISF, but also the facilities it protects. But, he is especially proud that "the force" continues to grow. In the near future, 17,000 additional civil servants will be hired. "After all," says Saraswat, "the challenges have also grown."

Danijel Majic is an FR intern who has swapped workplaces with a journalist from the Hindustan Times for four weeks.