An account of the unheard voices one picked up along the journey into the gruesome conflict zone this has theatre emerged as, yet again
It was 1300hrs when their CO (Commanding Officer) started addressing them. Barely into the speech, his choked voice wasn’t the only one I could hear. Several of his men, who lost their ‘buddies’ were now sobbing. It was difficult not to get touched.
Almost as a ritual, the men shouted back ‘Haan’, when the CO asked if they were ready to fight the insurgents again. May be they wanted to avenge the deaths of their colleagues or may be had no option.
RELATED REPORTS FROM LATEHAR
- Mail Today travels to the heart of Latehar , in Jharkhand, to give an account of the jawans who deployed in the Red bastion believe they have been virtually “left at the mercy of the Maoists”. Read at: http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/maoists-crpf-jawans-latehar-india-today/1/242056.html
- Headlines Today correspondent accompanied CRPF men across the territory to the very spot where a fight between the jawans and Maoists took place. Video at: http://indiatoday.intoday.in/video/latehar-gun-battle-maoists-crpf-jawans-soldiers-killed/1/241549.html
- DG CRPF faces the fury of an emotional jawan over the Latehar episode: http://indiatoday.intoday.in/video/latehar-gun-battle-maoists-crpf-jawans-soldiers-killed/1/241549.html
- All other reports on Latehar episode can be found at: http://indiatoday.intoday.in/advanced_search.jsp?searchtext=Latehar&searchphrase=exact&searchtype=video
As I travelled to tell the story of the latest humiliation of the Indian nation in the jungles of Latehar, came the news from Dantewada of the acquittal of all those apprehended for the April 2010 massacre of 76 security personnel. “Such things affect our men deeply,” a worried CRPF Commandant told me later that day.
Those at the senior level concede to the feeling of frustration among men but tend to restrict it to a particular instance. Also there are those who think their troops enjoy high morale, almost always.
But what is one to derive when those operating on the middle level say that the administration failed to prevent corruption from taking away drinking water and ration from them when they were fighting on the battleground? This especially in a theatre where it is common for the enemy to poison wells and ensure villagers do the same if asked by forces. Try decoding the feeling when a junior officer tells you that in absence of any specific intelligence they were begging for intelligence from village to village, even as that helped rebels plan a successful ambush. Then there is one where a team of jawans sprinted across 3km with their injured colleagues, to get them evacuated by a helicopter only to find it gone because of ‘dust’, leading one of them to say, “You feel like pumping bullets into those glorified drivers (read pilots).” Another officer told me, “Jawans are ready to die because they don’t realize that for the government, it is business as usual once compensation money has been provided to the family. The day when this realisation seeps in among jawans, you will have soldiers refusing to obey orders.”
A jawan who had fought on the ground in the present operation told me, “The danger in this operation was clear to all as this was no ordinary group. And yet our seniors did not ensure we had a UAV to provide us local intelligence.” Unmanned Aerial Vehicles of different types are available with the government as well as the CRPF. This jawan was referring to the mini-UAV Netra which can fly for over a kilometer and relay the picture.
There are more such tales that men told me about, in the hope that a journalist can change what their seniors have not been able to.
This pent-up anger is acquiring newer manifestations.
Like the one which the Director General of the CRPF, Pranay Sahay encountered at Daltonganj last Thursday. In the recreation room of the battalion headquarters, he faced an emotional jawan who wanted him to explain the logic of withdrawing when they all knew of insurgents in a particular location. Why, he asked, the DG failed to mobilize more forces to cordon and finish the insurgents when they were holed up there for 72 hours. He was told they will re-organise and fight again.
I never found out what that jawan thought of his answer.
Adding layers of perplexities to the jawan’s mind were the brutalities inflicted on their dead colleagues – not new by any standards and insurgents wearing uniforms identical to the forces (actually to that of Jharkhand Jaguar – a state police special force) thereby using confusion to kill. I also learnt that the Maoists created a ‘favourable climate’ during this encounter by making women and children chant tribal sounds and burst crackers to win the psychological war.
Speaking from Delhi, a gallantry-award winning officer said, “CRPF’s mindset of operating in aid of civil police needs to change. This approach often allows us to not take responsibilities that we must and helps us in passing the buck.” There are other challenges that his seniors in the force pointed out. Be it unified command or availability and utilization of assets or providing legal support to the troops, there is not much that has happened which encourage.
A day before I left Jharkhand, I went back to the encounter site outside the Amowatikar village. After a brief discussion, a villager whispered to me, pointing towards the precise site, “Party (CPI Maoist) ke log aaye hai. Abhi kuch aur patrakar aaye the, unko bitha liya hai party walon ne.” As I kick-started the bike for a speedy return, it dawned upon me that while the forces had retreated, the rebels had returned.
Guess who won.