There are 32 of them, sitting on chairs at the Bijapur police headquarters, one of the worst Naxal-affected districts in India. They are in their uniforms, clutching their rifles, beaming and replying in unison to every question. “Do you feel proud that you are the first women commandos fighting Naxal violence?” “Ji, sir.” “Do you want to be sent on operations in the jungles?” “Ji sir.” “Will you fight?” “Ji, sir.”
On July 10, for the first time in the history of the Chhattisgarh conflict, the police formed a commando unit comprising only women, meant for operations in the Bijapur forests. For the police, there were many arguments for such a move. For the women themselves, it is the first time, they say, that “they feel like policewomen”.
As she clutches her rifle, one constable who joined the police in 2006 and is one of the most senior, says, “I never felt like I was in the police. I was always attached to an office, and did paperwork. Or was attached to an office of a senior. That never made me happy. I saw my male counterparts fight for our country, but could say or do nothing. Now, I walk with pride.”
DM Awasthi, special DG (anti-Naxal operations), explains the decision, saying, “One factor was that there are women cadres among the Maoists, and we see no reason why our troops should not have women personnel. Second, there have been many allegations against our forces when they are in the forests, of violence against tribal women. Now, when a women commando team accompanies the men, the chances of those allegations are reduced.”
A senior police officer says that actually preventing further incidents from happening on the ground can be more difficult, despite such measures: “These battles inside the jungles are complicated. There are cases where various agencies have found allegations of violence against women to be prima facie correct.”
He says, “One important aspect is that if women accompany the men, there is definitely a lower chance of incidents taking place. Another point is that often, Maoists put forward the women when we approach villages and the men escape. The presence of women in our ranks will increase sensitivity.”
Before they could enter the forests, the women of the commando unit had to be trained. After induction, each one had to undergo a basic training programme at the police training school in Mana, Raipur. “We trained the women for over 20 days, with specialists teaching them different aspects of jungle warfare in the police lines of Bijapur. They were taught map reading, pinpoint raids, area domination, combing operations, field signals and night operations. There were also special sessions on IEDs and weapons training,” an officer said.
Every day for those 20 days, the women rose at 6 am and were on the training field within minutes, for two hours of physical training. Between 8 am and 12 noon, there were classes on various aspects of jungle warfare. A break till 3 pm was followed by more drills until 6 pm. Independence Day saw their first active mission. Their first assignment, which entailed spending two days in Bijapur’s jungles, was to travel to Bade Tingali village on Operation Tiranga. “The Maoists fly a black flag every year in the village, and our aim was to go to the village deep inside their zone to hoist the tricolour. We were successful,” one commando said. Days later, the women’s unit gave protection to workers for close to three days as they rebuilt a bridge damaged by Maoists in Tindori village.
Senior police officials say that the plan is to slowly initiate the women commando team into full-fledged operations, and also to create these units in other districts affected by left-wing violence. For now, though, as they await their next operation, the personnel of the women’s unit know they have a difficult road ahead. They request that their identities be hidden.
“Our families live here, we don’t want harm to come to them,” says one woman commando. “We need time before we go on a full-fledged operation, and definitely more training. But when we do, we will make sure that we do our jobs. And we don’t want to be distracted by the thought that our families are in danger.”