“To see real heroes, look around you”
- Mao Zedong
On April 24, 25 CRPF soldiers were killed by the Maoists in the Chintagufa-Burkapal area of Sukma district in Chhattisgarh. Their guns were looted, bodies were mutilated, and the Maoists tried to plant an IED inside one of the bodies. Bastar is an undeclared warzone with the term ‘security forces’ is used for the state police, the district reserve group (a force made of local youth and surrendered Naxals) and the CAPF (BSF, ITBP, CRPF), fighting side by side. But in recent past, those killed in the conflict are almost always from the CRPF.
In Bastar, CRPF serves alongside the state police. They have little control over the location of their camps. Their deployment is irrational, making them easy targets of the Maoists. There is a failure of intelligence sharing between the forces. With severe shortage of equipment, they are facing the guerillas of the fourth most deadly terrorist organization in the world, according to the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism. Still CRPF is giving them a tough fight, which they should be proud of.
The CRPF is often questioned on their ability to do their job. Many of us believe that the CRPF rapes and loots in the tribal villages, not knowing that most such cases are against the other forces. There is almost no case against the CRPF, which is a disciplined and professional force. Maoists blame and demoralise the CRPF to gain strategic advantage on the field.
Historically, CRPF has been the force that has held India together. They are deployed in almost every challenging situation that India has faced. They go into hostile areas when needed the most. From Kashmir to Bastar, it is the CRPF, which receives bullets, grenades, IEDs, stones and abuses. There are several incidents where the CRPF men were hit and did not retaliate out of the concern for civilians.
A CRPF battalion is made out of soldiers from the country. Those killed in Bastar are sons of poor farmers from Bihar, Tamil Nadu, and West Bengal. Some people believe that these soldiers are paid to die, but are they paid enough to be mutilated post death? Even in martyrdom, they are made a mockery of.
The Maoists have realised this and have, in their latest press note, appealed to the soldiers to leave the forces and join them, claiming soldiers are not their class enemies. If that is so, why do they spread fake propaganda stories of exploitation (which are the same since last 50 years)? They have replaced the earlier enemy figure of landlords and moneylenders with that of a poor CRPF soldier. In the past four or five years, the Maoists have stopped killing everyone else, and are only targeting the CRPF.
The reason for this is because the CRPF are the first ones to enter many villages in Bastar with the message of democracy. Thanks to the protection they provide, even the most interior areas in Bastar now have roads and bridges. These developments give people the option of coming out of the Maoist indoctrination, and they detest it. The CRPF are the check against the inhuman atrocities of Maoists, who have now crossed all limits. A few days before the Burkapal incident, the Maoists cut the head of a former sarpanch of that village, threatening people not to go to the forces for support. Still people go to the force for support, much to the disappointment of the Maoists.
To support the forces, a comprehensive strategy for solving the Maoist issue is necessary. Formalisation of the unified command against the Maoists is required. Improving inter-agency coordination and access to integrated intelligence will help. They should also have better coordination with various development bodies in their area of operation. Changing the CRPF’s status from unorganised service category, (against which they have gone to Supreme Court), will provide them with better opportunities of promotion. If the top boss of CRPF is also a CRPF officer instead of belonging to other services, things will change for good. The recent social media outbursts by the soldiers will slowly dwindle if handled earnestly.
The CRPF has the potential to free Bastar of Maoist violence. They are the real Gandhians with guns, and are the reason for India being a flourishing democracy.
Amit Kataria is Collector, Bastar. Syed Areeb Ahmad is PMRDF Fellow, Bastar
The views expressed are personal