July 12, 2015 3:11:25 am
The police force in Naxal affected tehsils in Gadchiroli has a changing face being friendlier to villagers in the Naxal belt. When new Hedri police post screened a Marathi biopic Prakash Baba Amte for hundreds of villagers, the contrast between past and present was clear. The film has a sequence showing policemen, who back then ruled the tribal district, raping a tribal woman who showed mercy on her husband they had arrested.
The new police force has started friendly gestures, including a campaign for crop diversification. Over a hundred farmers sowed gram and jowar seeds provided by the police.
Besides, Hedri post constructed a community hall, distributed blankets, organised sports competition for youths, camps to issue government certificates and documents and started a weekly market at the village, among the many initiatives taken since the post opened in January 2014.
The pro-people programmes is to wean tribals away from Naxal influence. And like Hedri, Etapalli has seen the rise of three more police posts,
Halewara, Kotmi and Burgi (Yemli) since 2013. Spread over large areas, the new posts are equipped with the best of facilities like big administrative blocks, residential quarters, barracks and a BSNL mobile tower each.
Humanitarian gestures towards locals mark a studied departure from traditional strong-armed policing, the ultimate goal is to neutralise the Naxal challenge in what is known as the strongest Naxal bastion of Gadchiroli spread over several kilometres from Kasansur to Jambia Gatta areas bordering Chhattisgarh’s Kanker and Narayanpur districts. Divisional committee member of CPI (Maoists) Joganna, had made it a virtual liberated zone for Naxals for many years.
In Kasansur last year, a police officer openly admitted that they never take the Kasansur-Regdi road.
A little away at Zuri village under the new most critical Kotmi police station, villagers simply ran away when asked about Krantikola, a surrendered Naxal woman expecting her first baby after quitting the movement.
In 2009, near Halewara, Naxals mistakenly blasted a civilian vehicle, killing over 12 of a marriage party. In 2010, they kidnapped three persons from Halewara in a drama that lasted over 10 days before all three were freed. Naxals doubted them to have spearheaded a gram panchayat resolution for a police station.
In 2013, Naxals killed three including Lloyd Steel vice president Jaspal Singh Dhillon over alleged dispute over extortion money. It was in Kasansur-Etapalli belt that Naxals were believed to have set-up their Jantana Sarkar (people’s government) before police managed to get many participants to surrender, some of whom were later eliminated by Naxals.
The belt is supposed to be an gateway to Abujmad, the headquarters of Maoist movement.
Halewara used to be visited by Naxals at will. They would camp for days.
“Our public contact is yielding results,” Nalawade said. They are winning over villagers.
“Reaching out to people is helping us with good intelligence,” said Superintendent of Police Sandip Patil.
The villagers have started opening up. Shankar Dasarwar and Vasudev Gedam, who were among the three kidnapped, say, “While not much has changed, yet, the Naxal influence is clearly on the wane. They are now not seen in the village. Earlier they used to camp here.”
Ashok Kaudu and Ranu Lekami of Hedri are happy with police for crop diversification project. “They gave us free seeds of gram and jowar and we could save about Rs 10,000 from the yield,” they say.
Nalawade says rise of new posts has seen an upswing in inter-state vehicular traffic. Two youths from Halewara riding a gaudily decorated bike say, “With more police coming in, the village market is flourishing like never before since they need a lot of things for their stay here.”
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