A batch of 20 women forest guards from Sironcha division has undergone commando training at Gadchiroli’s Jungle Tactic and Survival Course (JTSC), to become the first women commandos in the state’s Forest Department.
The one-month training began on February 8 and the women, in the age group of 19 to 24, underwent training in weapon handling and firing, setting up ambush, carrying out raids, nakabandis, patrolling in formation through the jungle and surviving for days in the jungle in emergencies.
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They are posted in eight ranges — Sironcha, Asarali, Zinganur, Dechhlipetha, Pranhita, Bamni, Jimalgatta and Kamlapur — in Maoist-affected Sironcha division.
“This is probably the first time in the country that women forest guards have been given commando training. This was undertaken on the recommendations of the Deotale Committee, which was set up by the High Court to look into teak wood smuggling in the Sironcha forest,” Deputy Conservator of Forests Prabhunath Shukla told The Indian Express. “Theses women guards are expected to play an important role in tackling teak smugglers,” Shukla said.
Although teakwood smuggling has come down after many villagers involved in the racket —operated from Telangana — surrendered early last year, it is still going on in some pockets. Violent clashes resulting in fatalities often take place between forest staff and smugglers’ gangs along Indravati and Pranhita rivers, which are used to smuggle teak logs across to the other side.
“The smugglers use women as shields to escape from forest guards. This is why our presence was essential,” said Neelima Salote, 23, the senior-most in the new batch of commandos.
“We were very nervous when we first took SLRs in our hands. But after firing a few rounds, the nervousness disappeared,” Salote said.
The women were given rigorous training. “It made a world of difference to our confidence,” Salote said. “People often make chauvinistic remarks about women patrolling the interiors. We don’t care about such statements anymore,” she added.