Sukma Killings: Caught between a rock and a hard place
7 years after the Dantewada massacre the life of a CRPF jawan remains the same
April has been a particularly bad month for the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF). On March 11 this year, 12 Jawans were ambushed by Maoists, but the incident did not get the attention it deserved as the results to the UP and Punjab elections were hogging the headlines. What's the reason for the spike in these casualties? The recent killings in Sukhma suggest that nothing has changed since the April 2010 Dantewada attack that resulted in 76 CRPF jawans being mercilessly gunned down in a Naxal ambush. Lessons have not been learned nor adapted to the standard operating procedures that are followed by our para-military forces. The most recent ambush raises some very pertinent questions. Did the CRPF unit get critical warning of such a big Maoist presence ready to attack the para-military force? If it did not, then the absence of crucial ground level intelligence is a cause for major worry. Eyewitness accounts suggest that villagers had sought permission of CRPF troopers to allow their cattle to graze where the para-military force was deployed. The injured jawan who survived believes that these villagers were apparently ascertaining troop presence and how well guarded the unit was. The CRPF unit was part of a road opening party (ROP) that has the responsibility to track down an improvised explosive device (IED) along a path. These ROP are a common feature in conflict areas including Kashmir. All vehicular movement on a road takes place after the ROP has given the green signal. In this case the CRPF was helping build a crucial road through the jungle that would bring government services to tribals living in inaccessible areas. According to Chattisgarh CM Raman Singh the construction of this road was being resisted by the Maoists.
The Naxals are a clever lot. According to police sources they know exactly how the CRPF conducts itself. They are aware that CRPF jawans live in tough conditions with bare minimum resources and they are more than keen to return to their bases before sundown. Mosquitoes are another major threat to their existence besides the unpredictability of the Maoist movement. The security forces are perennially unsure of who is a sympathiser and who is a Maoist. The Maoists prey on these fears and have greater access to technology than what was available earlier. Now they have begun to plant pressure bomb under trees- that goes off when a jawan is resting under a tree. Then there are the IEDs that are used to blow up police vehicles. Minesweepers are ineffective when it comes to identifying a bomb as this area has a significant presence of iron ore. In summers this area is extremely parched and there is no water to take a bath. In other words, most of the brave jawans fight not just the Maoists, but also the elements of nature.
The Maoist struggle against the state began as a peasant movement and later it mutated into an attempt to preserve their fragile identity, livelihoods and minerals. It is a difficult trade-off between pursuing development and preserving tribal culture. What should the state do? Allow the tribals to live in penury or allow mining companies like Vedanta and National Mineral Development Corporation (NDMC) to mine various metals and act as engines of job creation? There have not been easy answers, but what has been witnessed is a bitter fight between the tribals and the state with the former progressively losing their dignity and livelihood. The forest contractors and the employees of the mining companies employ muscle power to break their resistance. In Chattisgarh and Jharkhand, there are widespread stories of rape and killings that never go reported, but feed the angst of the common populace. It allows many of these victims of ‘development’ to seek comfort from the instant justice that the Maoists provide in their kangaroo courts against the ‘guilty’. At the face of it, this may seem an improvement over how casually the state’s legal justice movement moves, but the locals are in reality stuck between the firepower of the State and the brutality of the Maoists. Their pristine life destroyed by the violence that doesn't go away.
More worrisome is the manner in which our young jawans are allowed to die. Why weren't drones employed? What about something as basic as human intelligence? The top brass will give many excuses, but the truth is that our police forces are not treated properly. In recent weeks they are being violently confronted in different parts of the country by gaurakshaks. In Saharanpur, Agra, Jharkhand and even in Madhya Pradesh they are being beaten up and restrained to act against the violators of the law. In Kashmir, they are subjected to brutal attack by stone pelters. All this is lowering the morale of these brave people. Although good policing, technology will help, what will really ensure a long term solution is the strengthening of the criminal justice system and policies that do not alienate the masses.