Officials say demands for removal of CRPF camps are politically motivated

Two separate incidents of alleged assault on village women by Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) jawans have triggered a spate of protests in the adjoining districts of West and East Singhbhum. In both areas, villagers and tribal leaders have renewed their demand for removal of the CRPF camps.

Senior CRPF and police officials said enquiries were on against the accused jawans, but termed the demands politically motivated.

On September 24, Sumati Gop (19) accused a jawan of Battalion 174 of attempting to assault her when she had gone to bathe in a stream in Salihatu village in Chaibasa in West Singhbhum. Two days later, a 15-year-old girl in Pathragoda village near Musabani in East Singhbhum accused three CRPF jawans of 193 Battalion of forcing her to strip, after which they took photographs and a video. In the First Information Report registered at the Musabani police station on September 26, the girl, a student of class IX, accused three jawans of accosting her when she stopped on her way back from her tuitions to talk to a friend Ajay Mardia from a nearby village. She says they beat Mardi and chased him away and then made her strip.

“Are these CRPF men here for our raksha [protection] or their bhaksha [to consume us]? I cannot rest till they put these soldiers in jail,” said the girl’s father.

Senior CRPF officers said the jawans of 193 Battalion intervened when they found the two adolescents in an intimate position.

“We do not want to join issue with the locals. We take very serious notice of any instance of indiscipline by our staff and we will enquire into these cases,” said Inspector General and CRPF spokesperson M.V. Rao. “The protests against the setting up of camps in these districts, however, go back prior to these incidents and some groups are utilising this for their own interests,” he said. The CRPF has initiated a Civic Action Programme (CAP) since 2010 in an attempt to “bridge the gap between the forces and the civilians.” Under this, it has been training tribal girls in batches of 30 to 60 in the “trades of security guard, house-keeping, motor driving, beautician, computer, nursing,” training 330 girls so far.

Opposition

At Chaibasa in West Singhbhum, villagers and tribal leaders opposed the setting up of a CRPF camp at an abandoned airfield on the outskirts of the town since construction began in April. The town is 40 km from the Saranda forest, the focus of last year’s anti-Naxal police operations. “They cannot set up this camp without consulting the traditional Manki Munda tribal leaders,” said vice-president of the Adivasi Bhartiya Adivasi Mahasabha (ABAM) Mukesh Birua. On October 3, over 200 policemen kept watch as thousands of Ho tribals carrying sickles, axes, bows and arrows gathered in Gandhi Maidan in Chaibasa to protest against the assault on Sumati Gop, who belongs to an OBC community. Jharkhand Mukti Morcha MLA from Chaibasa Deepak Birua was among the leaders who addressed the protest rally.

Over 100 km away in Musabani in East Singhbhum, the September 26 incident triggered a fierce protest. Santhal tribals from Pathargoda, Musabani, and 20 other villages surrounded a CRPF camp located in the town and set fire to a CRPF board. The CRPF resorted to a lathicharge and registered an FIR naming 18 villagers.

“Last year, a CRPF jawan entered a house in Harijan Basti and tried to assault a woman. We tied him to a tree and beat him. Now this,” said Kanhu Hemrom the pradhan of 70 Santhal families in Musabani. “They assault our women. They flash torchlight in our eyes and stop us on our way in and out of the village. We have lived here for years. Who are they to stop us?” said Gulai Tudu, his neighbour.

In both instances, the accused jawans have got bail from the Chief Judicial Magistrate in the cases registered at the local police station. The jawan accused in the Chaibasa incident has resumed duty. In both instances the jawans were charged under Section 354 of the IPC and have got bail. At Musabani, a senior officer from Battalion 193 spoke said on condition of anonymity that “after a preliminary enquiry, two of the three accused have been suspended.”

(Some names have been changed to protect identity)