In Sukma, CRPF jawans fight hostility on several fronts

first_img“They must be worried about me,” says Deepchand Sharma, as he tries to make a call from his wireless in local loop (WLL) phone. “I want to tell them I am safe, but phones are not catching network the past three days.” Mr. Sharma is a Central Reserve Police Force constable, posted in a camp near Burkapal village, Sukma, south Chhattisgarh. On April 24, a Maoist ambush killed 25 of his comrades.For him and the other jawans, the lack of cellular towers in the area means that most of the time their mobile phones are reduced to music players. That is their minor complaint.Into the furnaceThere are 150 men posted here. The jawans have no dormitories; they sleep 30 to a large shed, and there are not enough beds, so some sleep on the floor. There are no cabinets to store their belongings. All 150 share six toilets; inevitably the queues are long every morning.“This is where Ram Mehar slept,” a jawan said, showing a dilapidated bed with a torn mosquito net. Mr. Mehar was one of those who lost their lives.The tin roof has turned the shed into an oven. There are ceiling fans, but as a jawan says mordantly, “They are for display.” There is no electricity in this part of Sukma; the camp has five generators, but those are effectively decorative too. “Supplies come once a month,” another jawan says. “It is impossible to run the generators for a month with the oil we are provided.”The men try to keep drinking water cool by covering bottles with wet cloth — with more dark humour, they call these their refrigerators — but the heat wins: a jawan poured hot water from his bottle on this reporter’s hand to demonstrate, saying, “You can cook rice with this.” Joining in on the grim laughter, another jawan points to a WLL handset: “This is our Doordarshan. It works once in 15 days.”Battle for healthIn their barracks, the heat is overpowering, but on patrol, there is more than sweat to deal with: plants and insects provide itches. Most of them suffer from rashes and infections in sensitive body parts. “It’s difficult to show it to a doctor here,” a jawan says. The nearest CPRF field hospitals are seven kilometres away in opposite directions, in Chintalnar and in Chintagufa. But the men cannot drive there or even walk the road: that would make them easy targets for the extremists.Instead, they must deploy a “road-opening party” — at least 70 jawans struggling through the forest, each carrying 15 to 20 kg: weapon and ammunition, rations, and lots of water to cope with the +40°C heat. (On longer patrols, the load doubles, as they must carry their own food and the means to prepare it.) The result: it takes hours to get anywhere.A jawan puts it like this: “If someone falls ill, only God or a helicopter can save him. In any case, the doctor [at the field hospital] only treats major ailments. Every month, someone is down with malaria.”Roads of bloodAt Burkapal, the jawans’ task is supposed to be anti-Maoist operations. But, as with many CRPF bases in the area, protecting road projects takes up much of the time, a job that feels thankless. Crooked contractors, the jawans say bitterly, stretch out jobs to make profits, while security personnel die. “But when we say no to providing protection,” an officer says, “the police and administration blame us for everything to hide their own incompetence.”Road protection leaves little time and few personnel for patrols. And as for the essential intelligence-gathering, an officer says, “The only way to get proper inputs is human intelligence. But we don’t know the dialect, and local forces are not posted with us.” Despite Home Ministry guidelines, there is hardly any civil police deployment. “You will find only one or two in every CRPF camp.”“The camp is the only place where we can say we are safe,” a jawan says. “Danger awaits even just outside the gates. There have been killings of civilians and security men hardly a few metres away. Everyone is hostile, even the civil police.”The constant danger means that the men are always tense. “Even a wireless set has a 12-hour battery life,” an officer says, “But the men are on alert 24 hours a day. How long can one stay alert?”An officer says, “We don’t get transfers for years, and then mostly to tough areas.” A jawan says, “We get leave twice a year. But to go on leave, the only way is by helicopter, which has limited running hours in this area. When we get leave, it is with short notice. We can’t book berths, so we travel in unreserved compartments. Even going on leave is like punishment.” Another adds, “Even for marriage or funerals, we must wait for a couple of days for leave to be sanctioned, then for the helicopter to arrive.”“Prisoners live better,” a jawan says, “and yet the government wants us to fight like Black Cat commandos.”A senior officer wearily sums it up: “We die of weather and diseases. Those who survive, the living conditions kill us. Those who survive that, the Maoists and the IEDs [improvised explosive devices] kill. Death is always staring at us.”last_img

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