Getting deployed in anti-Maoist operations in central and eastern India is something that every paramilitary soldier, especially the jawan, dreads. The terrain is extremely inhospitable and the threat of a Maoist ambush looms large most of the time.

Inside villages, it is impossible to distinguish between an innocent Adivasi and a Maoist guerrilla. There is hardly any workable intelligence that comes their way. Coordination with the State police forces is a nightmare, with both sides accusing each other of high-handedness.

During the day, they are deputed through the Maoist-affected areas where there is no enemy in sight. But it may be lurking close by, waiting for an opportunity to strike. Once they return to their barracks, there are hardly any facilities to enable them to take proper rest. As a result, a soldier turns into powder keg.

But still, many like Sujoy Mandal join forces like the CRPF, in hope of a better life. Mr. Mandal comes from a poor family in West Bengal’s Murshidabad district. His family had a tough time educating him. He joined the CRPF, sending money to his parents to support them and the education of his younger brother. He got married, hoping that his job would enable him to educate his children better than him.

And then he fell afoul of his senior officers. “You know”, he says, “I am a black belt in Karate. I am a trained commando. But they have stressed me so much, I don’t think I shall be ever able to produce children.”

His son’s crisis made Mr. Mandal’s father suffer a heart attack on June 12. The doctors are trying to save his life.

Sources in the CRPF say there are thousands of jawans and officers who are looking out for an opportunity to make their exit. One problem is that an officer who is directly recruited in the CRPF (or other paramilitary forces) through direct recruitment does not make it to the top. “I directly joined the CRPF as assistant commandant and have so much combat experience. But after a few promotions, I’ll be left in stagnation,” says an officer. The higher posts are reserved for officers from the Indian Police. “They come on deputation for 2 to 3 years; they have no connection with the jawan on the ground,” the officer says. As a result, the problems faced by the jawans on the ground go unnoticed. Nobody cares.

The direct-entry officers in the CRPF and other paramilitary forces are now fighting a legal battle. They want the government to recognise them as organised cadre.

In the meantime, many are trying to find ways to get out. “Many young officers like me are preparing for the civil services. Many among the educated jawans are hoping to get a teacher’s post or something similar,” he says.

Mr. Mandal’s wife, Pithi Mandal, says this episode has left her husband a broken man. “If this is what one has to face in the forces, tell me, which parents will send their son in the service of the nation?” she asks.

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