Forty or more CRPF men had laid down their lives last week, in the line of their duty, 20 kilometers from Srinagar in Pulwama on the Jammu –Srinagar highway. One of the 78 buses in a convoy carrying over 2500 Central Reserve Police [CRPF] personnel was hit by a car packed with 60 kg of RDX explosives believed to have been driven by a 20 year old suicide bomber, a resident of the same locality. The banned terror group Jaish-e- Mohammad headed by Pakistani terrorist Masood Azhar claimed responsibility for this most dastardly attack.
From the time my wife watching news last Friday afternoon informed about this heinous act, one sat dumbfounded in front of the television. It was like a personal loss for one who had seen the CRPF in action with a unit guarding and protecting our Aizawl AIR station in Mizoram during the peak of insurgency. When one got the transfer order from Bombay[now Mumbai] to Mizoram in 1978-’79 the first thing one did was to locate the tongue shaped Union Territory[UT] sandwiched between Myanmar and Bangaladesh in the map of India. Not much information was available and one had not come across anyone who was from that UT or anyone who had visited the place. Colleagues discouraged one from going to one of the most dangerous places in the country then.
Our station in Bombay was guarded by the personnel of the CRPF in those days. One afternoon, two days after one got the transfer order someone knocked at the door of one’s cabin. It was a CRPF Jawan who was familiar. He saluted me and said that he had come to know that I was being transferred to Aizawl. “Saab, aap udhar mat jayiye; bahut khadarnakh jagah hain” [Sir , you don’t go there; it is a dangerous place]. He was once posted there; he went on to brief me about the unknown place; there is no water, you don’t get any vegetables or milk and you could be shot anytime by the insurgents; his tone was almost frightening. If he could live there I could also, I argued. “Our life is different from yours; once we join the Force, we are always ready to face bullets in such disturbed areas”, the Jawan said. And that was one’s first encounter with the CRPF-its Jawans always ready to sacrifice their lives. Much against his advice one did go and landed up in Aizawl with a family comprising wife, our daughter and son, both below five years.
How many people in the country know about the CRPF, one of the largest paramilitary organizations in the country if not the world? How many of us know what services the Force renders to the nation, their hazardous life in isolated, disturbed areas, the roles they play, their acts of valor and their sacrifices because of which our nation is protected? When is the last time you were reminded of this Force before the Pulwama massacre? Well, the truth is that people at large are almost blissfully ignorant about these men. So here is an attempt as a tribute to the CRPF from one’s association with them for three years. One is referring to mundane experiences from their dangerous but humdrum existence and one’s personal observations. The political reactions and details about the dastardly act perpetrated on our country by the Pakistan based terrorist organization, Jaish-e-Mohammad is in the public domain and hence not repeated here.
In Aizawl, we lived in a government accommodation which was just below our temporary radio station housed in an old civil surgeon’s bungalow. The only studio we had was a makeshift one with thick curtains for acoustics! The walls of our home were made of asbestos and there were guards and arms including light machine guns [LMG] positioned around the compound; if any one fired from the LMG, we would have been hit. The CRPF company headed by a young Deputy. S P was a few meters from us and the jawans were always mobile and busy. They had to pass through in front of our house and would stop and spend some time with our young kids. They would tell us how our kids reminded them of theirs back home in Bihar, Haryana Uttar Pradesh or elsewhere, their voice often choked. They would always say how they missed their families. Slowly, the jawans developed a friendly relation with me; they often shared, not complaints but their pent up feelings- loneliness, isolation, their pains, frustrations and concerns about their families. They were conscious that though, they were the first line of defense in parts of borders, facing enemies, they were not being treated on par with the regular armed forces when it came to salary, perquisites and various benefits and compensations on our borders. This was firsthand knowledge about the ground realities which occasional fact finders and sojourners cannot discern.
The young Dy. SP, a bachelor soon became friendly with us and the family of my engineer colleague who stayed in the house above ours. We would walk in the morning to one of the CRPF officers’ messes, two hills away from ours for some indoor games, till we were stopped by the district administration from walking through the same route everyday due to security reasons. The cook of our friend, the Dy. SP, made some of the most delicious ‘pakoras’ which we enjoyed. Food is one of their few pleasures and the various items they prepared were really tasty.
Water was a major problem for them. A few of them would go in trucks, long distances away where there were small waterfalls or water bodies in the wilderness, to collect water. This was a very difficult and dangerous chore as they also had to be always alert; there were possibilities of ambushes by the insurgents. One gathers that even now, almost four decades later, our forces deployed in violence hit difficult terrains have to go through such perilous daily routines.
The company’s mess would make ‘kheer’ or ‘halwa once in a while. A couple of jawans would seek our permission to take our little son and give him those sweets. They would carry him and bring him back little later. One is mentioning this to say that it was their home sickness that prompted them to have the little fellow’s company.
The local children would always make fun of the jawans on their routine patrolling duty as if they were unwelcome and were considered part of an occupying force. Their elders, who earlier faced some atrocities by our security forces in the early days of insurgency there had often confided how they disliked the armed CRPF men or any of our security forces. When small armed contingents go for their routine rounds, the local boys scream, abuse in the local dialect and make fun of the jawans. The jawans had strict instructions from their officers to ignore such behavior by the children and the jawans exhibited tremendous restraint and patience. But for their patience there would have been unnecessary clashes between the jawans and the local community. One remembers and appreciates their patience.
One evening after dinner, one locked the only exit door of our home from outside leaving the family inside and went over to the news room to have a chat with the news editor. Suddenly there was a commotion with jawans running helter skelter; one could also hear sounds of gunfire from far and near. One tried to come out to see what was going on. “Saab, goli lag jayega, andhar jayiye”, one jawan shouted saying that there was a sniper attack!
Back home my wife saw through the windows, what she thought was fireworks and wondered how Diwali had come so early. It was later known that there was no sniper fire and it was by mistake that someone had opened fire which was reciprocated by many guards. But the public perception was that it was an attack on the station! Whatever that may be, the next day morning the local army division did a flag march to our station! The CRPF officers and jawans reassured us that there was nothing to fear and that they were there to protect us. We were confident that no harm would come to us with such dedicated men guarding us.
On a demand from the security forces it was decided by the government that we should broadcast some entertainment programmmes. Radio was the only source of news and entertainment for jawans in the 1970s. So a daily two hour programme of Hindi film songs was started for the forces in the afternoon which also included a couple of request programmes every week. Our CRPF jawans were very happy as their requests were included in the programme. The daily programmes were presented [announced] in Mizo but only Hindi film songs were broadcast. As long as one was there special efforts were made to have good selection of songs relevant to festivals, seasons, themes etc. The Jawans would meet us and appreciate the programmes. Many of them commented that the programmes were of great entertainment value and a relief from the drudgery of their hard routine.
In conclusion, one would express heartfelt condolences to the families of the CRPF and other soldiers who have laid down their lives defending our borders!