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Hard Battles, Harder Lives

Posted by ajadhind on July 20, 2010

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A week with the CRPF in the jungles of Chhattisgarh gives BRIJESH PANDEY a first hand view of what the forces are fighting in India’s bloodiest internal conflict

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THE RAIN is coming down in uneven patterns, making an irregular rhythm in the middle of the jungle. It’s been three hours and we have been walking warily. Looking here, there, waiting for the enemy. Ramesh Kumar Singh, now a veteran with the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), one of the world’s biggest paramilitary forces, hasn’t said a word for three hours. I’ve been trying to get him to talk; I now walk behind him, wondering. Oddly, the rain helps us focus. We are in the heart of Maoist territory in Chhattisgarh, where fierce Maoist squads have been slaughtering CRPF men. There are 16 men in Ramesh’s detail. We have walked 15 km through slush and we head for the shelter of a tree as the rain gets heavy.

Suddenly, Ramesh turns to me. “You can see the terrain for yourself. All of a sudden, a tribal comes before us and we don’t know if he is a Naxal. If we open fire and an innocent is killed, we are doomed and if we don’t open fire and let that person go, he could jolly well turn out to be a big Naxal leader who will plot our death and even then we are doomed. It’s not death per se that we are afraid of, but the ignominy after death, which hurts us. A Naxal’s death is covered properly and people want no Naxals to be killed. But what about us? We are the expendables, like 25 and 50 paise coins. We count for nothing, at least not in Delhi,” he says.

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It’s my first moment inside the mind of the CRPF. For days, men like Ramesh have been written about, spoken about, trashed at length, and generally ridiculed for the beating they’ve been taking at the hands of the Maoists. Now it comes. Ramesh says he’s been in Kashmir, a sort of gold standard for the services. He has a wife, a son Shubh and a daughter Janki, barely 18 months old. “She was so soft that I was afraid I might hurt her when I hold her,” he says, breaking into a toothy smile. Many years ago, he applied to serve in the CRPF because his best friend was selected in the Indian Army. Both wanted to serve India.

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“It was a very volatile in Kashmir but we knew who we were fighting. Most importantly, we knew that New Delhi was behind us. Here, in Chhattisgarh, it is different. We were dumped here. We are treated as if we are fighting a personal battle with the Naxalites.” Estimates suggest there could be a thousand militants in the Valley. There are several more in the Red Corridor. In Kashmir, the CRPF has 70 units on law and order duty. In Chhattisgarh, the CRPF has about 18 units. That is like 18,000 men to fight the Maoists and 70,000 to keep peace in Kashmir.

Almost always, Ramesh has to walk. Here, a walk can be risky. But using a vehicle could be deadly. The Maoists have been blowing up many CRPF vehicles and the force is wary of driving around its men. So they walk. And they brood. Their enemy hasn’t backed off yet. In the telling and retelling of the stories, the legends of the Maoists get bigger and the CRPF has fewer victories to talk of. “They don’t leave battles halfway. Once the fighting starts, they never back off,” says an officer who doesn’t want to be named.

‘One incident best defines our morale . Abour 5 km from our camp, the Naxals stole our rations. If we can’t defend our food, what can we do?’ asks a jawan

We have by now got back to a camp because the rain is heavy and won’t allow a long patrol. It is dark. The camp is fortified by Concertina wires, a type of barbed wire. There is a check post at the entrance, manned by four commandos, each armed with an assault rifle and finger on the trigger. A 32-year-old jawan is passing by. He too has served in Kashmir. “We never felt that we are the unwanted children of India. Here, in the jungles of Bastar, we are like destitutes,” he says.

It’s strange. The CRPF has three lakh personnel but it may be allowing the Maoists too much mindspace already. There’s a sense of resentment. The spirit appears to be low, not a good state to fight a war. “You tell me what I should concentrate on. Should I fight for the flag, or worry about food and water? I don’t know when I could be shot. I know that I earn my livelihood from the force and I should not talk like this, but tell me, what should I tell my wife who has become paranoid after the Dantewada massacre? Every time she knows I am going for a patrol or an area domination exercise, she goes hysterical.

“Seventy-six members of the 62nd unit died and all we heard was how incompetent we were. How we were not trained properly, how we didn’t know a thing about road opening drills and how we violated standard operating procedures. Do the higher-ups living in Delhi even know what they are talking about? Are they even remotely aware of the ground reality? The country is not behind us.” By now he is shouting with rage. He says the force doesn’t have enough units to secure a stretch of road once it has been cleared.

The jawans have heard of the report submitted by EN Rammohan, former Director General of the Border Security Force, on the “leadership failure” and “lack of coordination between the CRPF and the state police” that led to the massacre. “We are here to assist the administration, but there is no reciprocity on their part.”

RAKESH CHAUBEY, 27, from Bihar has spent six years in the force and was posted in the Northeast before this. His father died when he was 14 and he has since been responsible for his mother and two younger brothers. He says he would have quit a year ago if he didn’t have to feed his family. A year in the force can mean a lot. Now, the basics are haunting Rakesh. In sorties, it’s like he is in a zone. He has a sharp instinct for danger. His mates say he is like an animal, sensing threat a mile away. Curiously, all that vanishes when he reaches his camp. He can’t get a hang of how pathetic it can be. “Often, we drink water from a pond used by animals. We wouldn’t advise it to anyone. Half the time, our jawans are vomiting.”

‘Even if my father dies today, I will not be able to move out of my camp for days. You become more aware that nobody cares,’ says Mahesh Prasad, a veteran CRPF jawan

“Have you ever seen a war being fought like this? We don’t know if we are here to assist the state police on law and order or to flush out Naxals, or merely to oscillate between troubled territories, getting our jawans killed for no fault of theirs. If this is a war, please tell me why the whole of Bastar range has not been declared a war zone? If it is a disturbed zone, please declare so. If the Bastar region is not that, then please stop calling Naxalism the biggest challenge the country faces,” he says.

Fear stalks the CRPF. Small Naxal groups ambush whole CRPF units, using surprise to strike at a vulnerable target and then disappear into the jungle. It’s not as if the CRPF is not aware of the nature of combat: units deployed in Chhattisgarh undergo a two month “preinduction” or “conversion” training. They are taught the topography of the place and situation, jungle warfare, and how to survive in the terrain.

But no amount of training can work without adequate backup. Senior officers are angry that, even though a whole company was wiped out in Dantewada, the DG did not deem it fit to station another unit there. It would have come as a major morale booster and conveyed the message to the lowest rung that future strikes will lead to strong retaliation. But nothing of the sort happened.

Unlike Maoists, who have a precise conception of the political goal of war, the CRPF jawans are supposed to be apolitical, obeying orders without question. But whispers about political games being played and corrupt practices do infiltrate through the concertina wire that surrounds their camps. They know there are factors beyond their control that are not officially acknowledged. Like connivance between the local administration and the Naxals. They cite an incident when an MLA went to a Naxal-dominated area, which was heavily mined in his black Scorpion without security, and returned unscathed. Even when the Naxals declare a complete bandh, vehicles of the forest department move freely because they apparently help in exploitation of forest resources.

“One incident will best define how good our morale is and how powerful we feel while operating on the mined roads of Chattisgarh. We were posted in Chintalnar .There is only one bus which plys once a day. That bus was carrying ration for the whole camp. The bus starts at 6 am. Just 5 km before our camp, the Naxals put up a check post and took away the ration. The whole camp depended on that ration, but we couldn’t do a thing. When we can’t save our food, imagine the kind of morale we will be in, when it comes to saving our life,” Rakesh says.

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The feeling is strong that the CRPF is discriminated against. For instance, the CRPF moves directly from one conflict zone to another, meaning that 90 percent jawans have spent entire careers in combat zones. In the army, three years of tough posting entitles one to a family station.

Then, before the army moves into position, proper barracks, mess and other facilities are prepared. Army supply corps move in to make proper arrangements for food and other essentials, which is not the case with the CRPF. A commanding officer of a regiment would identify much more with the welfare of his unit than the IPS officers posted as commandants of CRPF unit for three-year terms. Typically, they keep contact with CRPF jawans to a minimum.

IN A force known for its discipline, speaking your mind can lead you into serious trouble. But Mahesh Prasad, who has seen action in two other war zones, blurts out this is the worst he has seen. “For the last one and a half years, we have been dumped here with bare minimum facilities,” he says bitterly. “Several times, we had to eat rice with tamarind juice. Is this how we fight a war? Would they treat the Army the same way?”

‘Often, we drink water from a pond used by animals. We wouldn’t advise it to anyone. Half the time, our jawans are vomiting,’ says Rakesh Chaubey

“Even if my father dies today, I will not be able to move out of my camp for several hours and the agonising wait can extend up to four days. Where is morale after that? When you hear about the way the survivors of the Dantewada massacres were treated, you become all the more aware that nobody cares if you live or die. When these kinds of news circulate, it hurts. Even if I have to go on leave, there is no facility that I can be dropped to in Raipur, safe and sound. I am fighting with Naxals but when I go on leave or when I am on my way back from home, I travel that distance at the mercy of God or the Naxals. What morale are you talking about?”

More damningly, CRPF jawans feel expendable because they think Naxals are killing them only to exert the “right amount of pressure.” This is why, goes the thinking, Naxals are not targeting senior officers — no IG, DIG or DM — although they have the firepower and reach. “Even they know that killing us would not warrant a deadly reply. You start killing IPS officers and see what happens.” Such gloomy conclusions are incubated in despair. “By God, the layman reading newspapers or watching television must surely think a bunch of bumbling idiots have been sent to fight highly motivated and efficient Naxals,” says Prasad. The last straw, he says, was a DGP telling the world he can’t teach us how to walk.

“For the last one and a half year, the theatre of war has changed considerably, but no fresh assessment has been done”, says a senior CRPF officer. “Nobody asks how much additional force is required. No concrete plan is on board.” He says they need better communication system and an excellent intelligence network because the Naxals are becoming better armed by the day. It was still raining when I left for Raipur to catch my flight to Delhi. I couldn’t help a last thought: the CRPF might never win a war like this.

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Posted in CHHATISGARH, IN NEWS, JHARKHAND | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Jailed Maoists to launch agitation

Posted by ajadhind on April 28, 2009

HAZARIBAG: More than 100 Maoists lodged at Hazaribag Central Jail launched agitation for fulfilment of their demands, jail sources said here on

 

Sunday.

The jailed Maoists, led by sub-zonal commander Sunil Ganjhu and senior Maoist leader Mithilesh, have submitted a 20-point charter of demands to the jail administration. The demands include better provision of power and drinking water in all the jail wards, provision of mosquito nets and halt on transfer of prisoners from Hazaribag jail to other jails.

A senior jail official said the Maoists had launched agitation in support of their demands on earlier occasions also. But, this time, they are angry because Rs 25,000 and a letter sent by Sunil Ganjhu’s beloved Sarita Ganjhu was recovered from his possession. The letter was seized by the police when Sunil was taken to the sessions court here in connection with a case.

Police had then lodged one more case against Sunil, Sarita and the courier. Jail sources said in the first phase of agitation, which will continue for a week, Maoists will take meal only once a day. In the second phase of agitation, which will also continue for a week, they will skip both the meals served everyday. If the administration still fails to fulfill their demands, they will then go for indefinite hunger strike.

The Maoists have also warned the jail administration not to suppress their agitation. Hazaribag jail superintendent Uday Prasad Kushwaha said he has received the charter of demands submitted by the Maoists and he has informed the authorities concerned about the agitation.

Kushwaha said talks are on with the Maoist leaders to end their agitation on the jail campus. He said facilities are provided to the prisoners according to the jail manual.

Posted in JHARKHAND, NAXALISM | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Months of planning went into Naxal attacks

Posted by ajadhind on April 18, 2009

SOURCE
NEW DELHI: In a well coordinated action spanning five states, over 700 armed Red ultras did exactly what they planned for the first day of polling.
The violence unleashed by them in defiance of the presence of over 50,000 security personnel claimed 19 lives, while the fate of several villagers abducted by the Maoists was not known till late on Thursday evening. Though the number of polling booths affected by their attacks remained quite low (71 out of 76,000 across all Naxal-affected states), the well-choreographed violence succeeded in keeping voters away from polling stations in almost all naxal-affected parliamentary constituencies in Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Orissa and Maharashtra. The Maoists — as reported by TOI on Monday — had planned such attacks in February when they asked their cadres to prepare for simultaneous attacks in the run-up to polls to scare voters. Accordingly, they had launched attacks in Orissa, Bihar, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh early this month, taking 48 lives — including 42 security personnel — in the past nine days. Officials claimed the attack only proved right their decision to hold polls in all the naxal-affected states together and in the first phase itself. The decision gave security forces from outside three weeks to work out a partnership with their counterparts already deployed there and to achieve area domination, besides better coordination among agencies in different states. They said that spreading the polls in the naxal-affected areas over two phases would not have given security forces the time to familiarise themselves with the topography and establish area domination. It would have also helped naxalites, adept at swiftly moving resources, to attack more targets. Security agencies stressed that it was not a one-sided affair. Ultras too had to face reverses in the wake of counter-attack by local cops in coordination with BSF and CRPF. But, the casualties among the security forces — 11 out of 19 — exposed their vulnerability in Red zones. Officials in the home ministry said majority of casualties occurred due to BSF’s failure to follow standard operating procedures (SOPs). Ten troopers lost their lives in a landmine blast in Latehar in Jharkhand as they preferred to travel in a bus even on the landmine-prone tracks — against the usual practice of walking through such areas, they added. Officials mentioned how such a precautionary step taken by CRPF men saved their lives a day before when they got down from their vehicle while passing through the vulnerable area in Jharkhand. As a result, their bus was blown up, but it didn’t result in major casualties. Incidentally, the home ministry reminded the paramilitary forces to follow the same SOPs in the naxal areas in the wake of the Jharkhand incident on Wednesday. BSF chief M L Kumawat, however, blamed such incidents on poor intelligence.

Posted in JHARKHAND, NAXALISM, ORISSA | 2 Comments »

Maoists blow up jailer’s ancestral house in Jharkhand

Posted by ajadhind on February 12, 2009

February 10th, 2009 – Ranchi, Feb 10th Maoists Monday night blew up the ancestral house of an assistant jailer in the state’s Chatra district, charging him with torturing jailed rebels.

According to witness’, more than 100 PLGA Maoists of the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) Monday night came to the house of Chandrashekhar Dagi in Lembugua village of Chatra district, around 190 km from Ranchi. Dagi is posted in Hazaribagh central jail as assistant jailer. The Maoists asked all the people inside to come out before blowing up the house. Dagi’s mother and cousin were present in the house. No one was injured in the incident, though the house was completely destroyed.

The Maoist said Dagi was torturing rebels in Hazaribagh central jail. In Jharkhand,

Maoists are active in 18 of the 24 districts of the state.

Posted in JHARKHAND, NAXALISM | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

People’s War News [8th May 2008]

Posted by ajadhind on May 13, 2008

RANCHI: In Jharkhand more than 1,000 CPI (Maoist) activists, armed with modern weapons, blocked the National Highway 100 (NH), which connects Chatra to Bagodar via Hazaribag for four hours from 8 in the morning.

The Maoists also blew up a police vehicle in which a wireless supervisor of Giridih police Oliver Purti was killed and three other policemen were injured at Roll Pathar on Holong Ghati under Bishungarh police station. 

An eyewitness  said they also hurled powerful bombs on the police. They said, “A Ranchi- bound Tata 407 police van of the Giridih police was ambushed by armed Naxals as it reached the Holong Ghati.”

According to the reports, the Maoists, after blowing up the police vehicle captured the 5 km stretch of Hazaribag-Dhanbad road via Bishnugarh and Bagodar (NH-100) blocked it from both the sides.

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Top naxal ‘commanders’ killed in Jharkhand

Posted by ajadhind on April 1, 2008

SOURCE
Tuesday, 01 April , 2008, 13:49
Ranchi: Eight Maoists, including a self-styled sub-zonal commander and two area commanders, were killed in a fierce encounter with the Central Reserve Police Force at Mukato forest in Jharkhand’s Garwah district on Tuesday.
“All the bodies were recovered after the encounter that took place between 1 am and 2 am today,” Deputy Inspector General of Police R K Mullick told PTI in Ranchi.
Bodies of the self-styled sub-zonal commander ‘Basantji’ and Maoist area-commanders ‘Lalanji’ and ‘Rajendraji’ were identified, he said.
One SLR, four .303 rifles, four rifles, one carbine, one pistol and a DBBL gun were recovered from the spot by the security forces, he said.

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Jharkhand: 7 Naxals killed in encounter

Posted by ajadhind on February 15, 2008

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Seven Naxalites, including an accused in the killing of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha Member of Parliament Sunil Mahto, were killed in an overnight encounter with security forces at Phuljore in east Singhbhum district of Jharkhand.

Five men and two women Naxalites were among those killed in the gunbattle, DIG (Kolhan) Manoj Mishra, said.

Two ultras were killed in an exchange of fire with the Nagarik Suraksha Samiti, a vigilance organisation formed by villagers with tacit support of the district police, at Phuljhore bordering Orissa, Mishra said.

When a joint team of Central Reserve Police Force and local police rushed to the area to assist the NSS, an encounter took place with the ultras in which five Maoists were killed taking the toll to seven.

Among them was Vikash who was accused of killing Sunil Mahto on March 4 at Baghuria in Ghatsila, Mishra said.

The incident was a major blow for the ultra outfit after the Lango incident in 2003, when 11 Maoists were lynched by the villagers, police said.

Eight weapons and live cartridges were found from the spot, Mishra said.

Firearms looted from the police in the past were also recovered from the spot, he said.

“We are verifying the exact number of arms and ammunition,” he said. Police officials of the adjoining state have been alerted.

Posted in JHARKHAND, NAXALISM | 1 Comment »

 
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