CHHATTISGARH - Fight the guerrilla like a guerrilla
This matter-of-fact motto is painted in front of the Counter-Terrorism and Jungle Warfare College. Located in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh, it is the only school of its kind in India. My work is to transform ordinary policemen into combat soldiers, says Corporal Ponwar, founder and director of the center.
In the vast military compound, assault techniques are taught in real-life conditions: the security forces are trained in the same hostile jungle where the powerful Maoist insurrection operates. The war college is a key tool in the authorities efforts to counter the guerrilla movement, which is spreading to the neglected rural areas of India, most notably in these tribal forests.
Ambush simulations, assaults in fake villages, patrols and bivouacs in the forest or helicopter rappelling: this is intense, high-level training. 20 000 men have already benefited from these 45 day training sessions. The policemen learn to survive in the extreme heat and the wild forest. It is very easy to tame a snake, explains instructor J. A. Ansari, who is showing his students how to neutralize a cobra with a stick. The goal is to teach our men to be confident, he says. And for expeditions, no bulletproof jacket. We are not about fear but about attack, he affirms, wedging an object between the cobras fangs to purge the venom.
The Maoist rebels, or naxalites as they are called here, are advocating an armed struggle to fight for the poor and the landless in these tribal regions coveted for their mining resources. Indian Prime minister Manmohan Singh has expressed renewed concern about what he calls the greatest internal threat to the countrys security. The rebels perpetrated a series of kidnappings in April, including two Italian tourists who were kidnapped in the state of Orissa and freed some time later. In the state of Maharashtra, a bomb killed 11 paramilitaries in March.
Upping the ante
The rebels remain active despite the deployment of 50,000 policemen in an operation baptized Operation Green Hunt. According to numbers compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal, since the violence intensified in 2005, the conflict has allegedly caused 5,646 deaths, including 2,339 civilians, 1,481 policemen and 1,826 rebels. Recently, six members of the security forces and a civilian were killed in a Maoist ambush in the center of Chhattisgarh.
Our men are stronger than the Maoists, claims Ansari, the instructor. The difficulty is that they are informed of all our movements. Thats why we dont use the roads anymore. Like them, we are going deep into the jungle. And while his students are getting crossfire training, the instructor goes on: To open fire, we dont follow the usual procedures anymore. Our men spring into action without waiting for orders.
Other steps have been taken, such as using mine-detection dogs or spy drones. Last March, a new confrontation phase was reached with Operation Haka. For the first time in fifteen years, 3,000 policemen and paramilitaries breached Abujmard, a Maoist stronghold, forcing the rebels to flee into the jungle. The operations outcome is unclear, with increasingly opaque information coming out of Chhattisgarh. The fight against terrorism ostracizes and even criminalizes independent observers. Operation Haka nevertheless shows how confident the Indian forces have become.
An escalation of violence
At the CTJW, 600 young men from the Gondi tribe are currently in training. In an amphitheater, a member of the military lays out a history of deadly ambushes. These aboriginal inhabitants are former members of Salwa Judum, a controversial militia created in 2005 by the local government to counter the insurrection. In theory, Salwa Judum and its recruits converted into Special Police Officers do not exist anymore, after being outlawed by the Indian Supreme Court in July 2011. Arming natives has marked an escalation in violence, and organizations such as Human Rights Watch have denounced an instrument of State terror. But the former members of the militia are now integrated into the regular forces. They are essential for us. They speak the local language and guide us in the jungle, admits Ansari. In the Dantewada district, the members of the militia and their families --over 15,000 people-- live in refugee camps surrounded by barbed wire, out of fear of Maoist retaliation.
In the amphitheater, the lesson is finishing. In unison, the tribesmen chant anti-Maoist slogans. They swear to annihilate the rebels, who originate from their own villages and their own families, in a militarized region that is tearing itself to pieces, hidden from the eyes of the world.
Read the original article in French.
Photo- Bharat Rakshak