Sacrifice worth just Rs 1,500!

Chhattisgarh youths get paid a measly sum by state govt to fight Maoists.

india Updated: Jun 05, 2006 12:27 IST

Tribal youths in Chhattisgarh are being paid a measly Rs 1,500 a month by the state government to fight Maoist rebels, even as most of them get killed within a few months of their signing up.

Chhattisgarh has been hiring thousands of local tribal youths, many of them minors, as special police officers (SPOs) to fight Maoists. Almost 90 per cent of these youths, from the impoverished forested and iron ore rich Bastar's Dantewada region, fall in the death trap for just Rs 1,500.

Officials say a majority of these SPOs either get killed by Maoist guerrillas within two-three months of their appointments or become permanent physically disabled as rebels chop off their hands or legs.

"The government began appointing tribal men as SPOs late last year to take on rebels in Dantewada district after the guerrillas became relentless. These men are offered 8-10 weeks of moderate training," a senior police officer said.

"These SPOs mainly act as informers and assistants to the main police force and actively participate in all anti-Maoist operations in their respective areas to dismantle the rebels' terror network," the official added.

The government has so far appointed at least 4,000 SPOs and most of them are guarding the relief camps, a prime target of guerrillas during recent months.

Nearly 50,000 tribesmen have deserted their native villages in Dantewada after the government launched an anti-Maoist movement Salwa Judum (peace mission) last June.

The refugees, including women and children, have been accommodated in 27 different ill-protected relief camps.

"Only a few SPOs have been given weapons and training but most are armed with traditional bows and arrows. Since they belong to the extremely impoverished belt of country, they agree for posts of SPOs only to get killed within weeks of their appointment," a home department official admitted.

Of the 162 civilians killed in Chhattisgarh since January, a staggering 52 were SPOs.

Most of the deaths go unrecorded as the rebels dump their bodies in thick and inaccessible jungles where police and paramilitary forces seldom dare to venture.

Human rights groups say the government is endangering the lives of tribal youths by putting them in the line of fire as SPOs.

"But the government has been planning to recruit more and more SPOs as they provide perfect information about rebels' movement at the local level. The central government reimburses the amount being spent by state government on SPOs remuneration," the home department official added.

First Published: Jun 05, 2006 11:47 IST