Monitoring the situation in Chhattisgarh

Illustration: Deepak Harichandran  

“I can only think of a holiday.” The soldier of the Central Reserve Police Force’s 223 Battalion said this to one of his colleagues as they stepped out of their camp on December 1 in Chhattisgarh’s Sukma district. The soldier died at 3 a.m. on Tuesday, 16 hours after getting injured in a >Maoist ambush that killed 13 of his colleagues. The injured were brought back to the camp where they spent the night and the next morning struggling between life and death. The soldier who had holiday on his mind could not make it. The rest of the injured were evacuated the next afternoon, 24 hours after the ambush. “At least three more will die,” said a CRPF soldier to me. “Their organs are damaged and they just waited and waited, hoping to hear the sound of the chopper.”

It is safe to guess that most of the CRPF jawans who had been patrolling the same area of about 10-kilometre radius in the last 15 days had holiday on their mind. As a CRPF officer who is posted in the area, says, “Every morning, the soldier puts the coordinates in his GPS, and then he just wants to somehow be done with it.” The CRPF personnel who were caught in the ambush followed the same pattern every day. It is not clear what they were asked to achieve. The Maoist guerrillas had been waiting for them in an area where there are hillocks in a U-shape formation. They could only exit from the point they entered. The Maoists knew this and had set up their ambush accordingly.

After the kill, they took away a >huge cache of weapons: 10 AK-47 rifles and 30 magazines, three Underbarrel Grenade Launchers and 30 grenade rounds, one Light Machine Gun and 300 rounds, four bulletproof jackets, GPS and night-vision devices, and a high-frequency VHF Manpack radio. They left nothing or no one of their own behind.

No memory of the living

Remembering the dead — the newly dead — is a performance art in India. There is a classical conditioning to it, especially when it comes to remembering those who die of the state’s own weaknesses, of its inadequacies. Right after the ambush, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted that his thoughts were with the families of those who lost their loved ones. These thoughts will remain till he wears some other traditional headgear at his next public event, which would have happened by the time you read this. A few days ago, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh spoke about setting up a national police memorial at a cost of Rs. 50 crore. Like all his predecessors, the memory of the befallen concerns him in a way those who may be prevented from falling never will. If it did, he would not have been required to pay a non-consequential visit to Chhattisgarh, later tweeting with the same inertia that he had asked the state authorities to “monitor the situation.”

How does one “monitor the situation?” How does a state fighting a war against what it calls “India’s biggest internal security threat” not ensure that there are a couple of helipads with waiting helicopters in an area like Sukma so that injured soldiers are evacuated immediately? A few months ago, a soldier from the CRPF’s 150 Battalion was hit by a bullet on his hand as he stood inside his camp in Chintagufa. He could have easily been saved. But the injury opened up one of his arteries and he died of excessive bleeding. “Imagine, it was just a matter of clamping an artery,” says one of his colleagues.

How does a state fighting a war against what it calls 'India’s biggest internal security threat' not ensure that there are helicopters in an area like Sukma to evacuate injured soldiers?

There is a camp of the CRPF’s elite anti-Naxal CoBRA force in Darbha where, last year, the Maoists wiped out almost the entire Congress leadership of the Chhattisgarh State. A commando living there tells me there are five toilets for 150 personnel there. “I am so sick of eating potatoes, soybean nuggets and one type of dal,” he said. “How am I supposed to fight for a state that cannot even ensure a supply of vegetables for me?” Such supply, he says, is dependent on civilian transport. More than often, the driver arrives without supplies, claiming the Naxals waylaid him and looted it away. More than often, he is lying. “But what can we do!” the commando says. Every fortnight, his men offer liquor to bus drivers as bribe, hoping to get their supply of vegetables and eggs. But there is no guarantee, the commando says.

Malaria is rampant. Hundreds of CRPF and other police personnel on active anti-Naxal duty suffer from it. A few have died. “The soldiers fighting in the Second World War would have had better medicines than us,” a CRPF officer says. He says most of his men suffer from various skin diseases. “The sanitary conditions are so pathetic that half of my men can be seen holding their stomachs.”

Justice unlikely

On November 5, 2014, CoBRA commando Sujoy Mandal sent a registered letter to the Home Minister, among others. He is currently attached to his battalion headquarters in Bhandara, Maharashtra, cursing the day he joined the CRPF. His officers have put him under suspension for putting up a brave fight against Maoists and for raising a flag against his superior who did not and who also violated several standard operating procedures. His wife, Tithi, has been running around, showing documents, showing pictures of her husband with President Pranab Mukherjee after he won a Karate championship. She has kept all the receipts of the registered posts her husband has sent, explaining what went wrong in an operation, how he fought bravely and how the CRPF did not pay a penny for treatment of his injuries incurred during the Naxal attack.

In October, a CRPF commandant is believed to have thrashed one of his commandos in Gadchiroli, Maharashtra, after he refused to accept a petty order from his wife. Last month, the commando was summoned to the CRPF headquarters. It is very unlikely that he will get justice.

“The salute is done; the cameras are gone,” the CoBRA commando tells me. He has climbed on a hillock, on a small patch, where his cell phone catches a little signal. “It is tough to ask my men to fight,” he says. “They want to go on a holiday.” The signal is faltering. “I want to go home, too,” he says. And the signal is lost.

Our code of editorial values

Related Topics
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Aug 2, 2021 5:47:13 AM |

Next Story