Starting May 2018, over 240 women combatants, who are currently undergoing training as part of the 743-strong Bastaria battalion being raised by the CRPF, will join men from the force fighting Maoists deep in the jungles of South Bastar. Their task, however, would not be limited to fighting the rebels.
At a recent high-level meeting to come up with “out-of-the-box ideas to combat Maoists”, the CRPF has decided to spend more energy building bridges with local tribals in the jungle than in combing the forests with Kalashnikovs in hand. It is for this — to shift the focus from “area domination” to “people domination” — that the force needs women more than men.
After their training, the battalion, drawn entirely from among tribals in Bastar region, will be deployed in Bastar. “They will help us build bridges with the local population as they know the language and the culture. We are specially pushing for women as villagers will be softer towards them and when they accompany our men, no one will accuse them of having committed rape,” CRPF DG RR Bhatnagar told The Sunday Express.
While CRPF men have in the past been accused of sexually harassing tribals, the force has always denied the allegations. Sources said the force’s outreach to local people has remained limited due to this. “No one wants to be accused of something like this and then suffer an inquiry. That is why most of our men avoid being in contact with villagers,” a CRPF officer said.
Contact with villagers has also been poor because of greater focus on area domination and anti-Naxal operations, and the fear of villagers revealing details of force movements to Maoists. However, this approach, sources said, has had its pitfalls. The force has not been able to develop a robust intelligence network in the jungles and is largely dependent on Central intelligence agencies and local police for information.
Large-scale area domination exercises of the past have also resulted in massive casualty to the force as troop movements have been easily spotted and ambushed. “So now we don’t do large-scale area domination exercises. But we also can’t say we will only do intelligence-based operations. What are we going to to do when there is no intelligence? If we keep sitting in our camps, Maoists will attack the camp,” a senior officer said.
It is for these reasons, the CRPF said, that the force has decided on a tactical shift. “We have decided that we will focus on people domination rather than area domination. In any case, if the people are not with you, you can’t do area domination either,” Bhatnagar said.
He said he was briefing his troops to make more contacts with villagers and engage in more “civic action programmes” such as medical camps.