As 30-year-old Mohammad Sajad lay in the Intensive Care Unit of Ranchi’s Apollo Hospital, his mother Nagina Khatun, a tall Pathan woman with her head covered with a saree pallu, waited outside. Mr. Sajad, the son of a small farmer in Chatra, 150 km from Ranchi, worked as a Special Police Officer (SPO) gathering intelligence for the police. On Thursday, when an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) exploded while the CRPF’s Assistant Superintendent of Police (Operations), R.S. Mishra, was trying to defuse it, Mr. Sajjad was by his side. Both men suffered the worst among the seven police and CRPF personnel present at the site.

“Sajjad had started accompanying the police and the CRPF, sharing information with them, from 2007. His father, who suffers from epilepsy, did not have any income and we had little land. Sajjad earned a little helping the police. I do not know what is going to happen now,” said Ms. Khatun.

On Wednesday night, the CRPF personnel stationed at Chatra recounted that there were 10 to 12 rounds of fire at the CRPF’s camp in Chak. . The next morning, they received a tip-off from the locals that an IED had been planted near Dhulki river. ASP Mishra led a team of 134 Battalion’s ‘C’ company and the State police to find and defuse the IED.

“ASP Mishra had got a SPO with him from Chatra. He led us to a place near the road, 1.5 km from the picket and made us dig there. We found an IED and used a string to drag it almost 100 meters. We were watching from 15 meters away and the ASP and Sajad kept it on the road. They were about to bend over to have a closer look when there was a big explosion,” recounted a CRPF personnel recovering in the hospital’s general ward. Doctors at Apollo Hospital said ASP Mishra had suffered serious injuries on one leg and one eye. He was flown to Delhi for further treatment on Thursday afternoon. Mr. Sajad too suffered grievous injuries in the right eye and the right leg was amputated.

Ms. Khatun said the family faced many threats and attacks from Maoists because of her son’s work. “In 2009, some men knocked on our door one night. Before we could open, they had broken it down. My husband lost consciousness and Sajjad was away. Men from the “party” (Maoists) loaded all our belongings on to a tractor and set the house on fire, as my daughter and I watched.” She said the Maoists burned down their house a second time in 2010, leading the family to shift from their village house in Pratapur to Chatra. In response to a Public Interest Litigation, in July 2011, the Supreme Court while asking the State to disband the Salwa Judum, ordered the Chhattisgarh government to desist from using SPOs in countering the Maoists. Following the July order, the recruitment of SPOs in Jharkhand too was briefly paused, but resumed after a Bench of Justices Altamas Kabir and SS Nijjar in November said the July order applied only to Chhattisgarh, not to other States. Jharkhand has a sanctioned strength of 6,400 SPOs, though senior police officials put the current number at 3,000.

“Police officials cite State police acts to justify use of SPOs. But the law says they should get a salary on par with constables, uniform, arms with license if employed as per the Jharkhand police manual, but that is not done,” said Anup Agarwal, a lawyer with Human Rights Law Network.