Under normal circumstances, the announcement of a new battalion wouldn’t garner too much attention, but Monday saw the birth of the Central Reserve Police Force’s latest 241 Bastariya Battalion, popularly known as the “Bastariya Warriors”.
As the name suggests, this is the first time that personnel have been recruited for a special unit from the Adivasi community living in the deep interiors of Chhattisgarh’s jungles, and they will now battle Maoists on their own turf.
Among the 534 personnel, 189 are women (one-third), reports The Indian Express.
The process of recruiting personnel for the battalion began in early 2017. Candidates had to undergo a battery of physical and written tests, and the ones selected, endured a 44-week gruelling training stint at the CRPF’s Anti-Naxal Training School in north Chhattisgarh.
They received training in “drills, physical and unarmed combat training, the handling of weapons like the INSAS, LMG, UBGL’s and other weaponry, as well as jungle training which included living off the land, survival, casualty evacuation, and Jungle Warfare exercises and tactics,” reports TIE.
For a long time, many experts in anti-Maoist insurgency operations have called for greater recruitment from tribal communities since they are better equipped with knowledge of the local terrain and culture. The lack of local knowledge among CRPF personnel recruited from across the country is the one advantage that insurgents have always possessed.
“All of this personnel have grown up deep inside Bastar, and know the terrain, which will be a huge asset. They also know the language, which is often a subject of disconnect between the CRPF and the local population. Their presence will increase a sense of confidence that people have with us,” a senior CRPF official told TIE, adding that, “We often see allegations made against the force. The presence of women should bring that down in two ways. One, we will be able to counter any false allegations, and second, they are locals and are less likely to be aggressive or frustrated when dealing with their own people, increasing our own levels of sensitivity.”
Moreover, this recruitment also offers local unemployed tribal youth a shot at a better life and away from the temptation of picking up a gun against the Indian state.
Officials privy to these developments, however, argue that the mandate of the recruits isn’t limited to eliminating every single Maoist with the gun, but also convincing them to drop their weapons and assimilate into mainstream society.
Nonetheless, there are multiple challenges ahead of the recruits. Many of them are from the same villages as the Maoists, and the threat to their families is real. During their training camp, two recruits lost their mother and brother to Maoist bullets because they joined the CRPF. The families of other recruits, meanwhile, have received threats that they would dispossess them of their land if their children don’t quit the force. Thus, recruits have been ordered to keep their identities a secret.
“More importantly, the Maoists that they will fight, come from their own villages and they will have grown up with them. So, we spent time telling them they are not the enemy, but people that must be brought back on the right path. How this conflict in their minds works when they reach the field, remains to be seen,” another senior CRPF officer told the TIE.
Before they enter the field of operation, these recruits will also have to undergo specific training modules. Until they are tested in the field of the battle, it is impossible to suggest whether this initiative will succeed.
Nonetheless, this is a far better idea than the Chhattisgarh government’s Salwa Judum misadventure, which featured local vigilantes hired by the State to counter the Maoists. Back in 2011, the Supreme Court passed an order for their disbandment calling the initiative unconstitutional and illegal after reports of gruesome human rights violations.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)