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Starved for work, they defy Naxals to become policemen

Starved for work, they defy Naxals to become policemen

Author: Vivek Deshpande
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: September 10, 2007
URL: http://www.indianexpress.com/story/215521.html

Three years ago, 22-year-old Kamlesh Arka from Marpalli village in the Naxal-affected Aheri tehsil of Gadchiroli joined the police as constable. His father Ashok worked as a part-time forest guard and earned Rs 1,500 per month, hardly enough to feed the nine-member family. Two months ago, the Naxals accosted Ashok in the forest where he worked and killed him for letting his son join the police. Last week, among those lining up to join the Gadchiroli police in the annual recruitment camp was Kamlesh's younger brother Sudhakar, 19.

Even if that meant that two days ago, the Arkas left Aheri town for good to ensure that the Naxals didn't target them again.

The family says their calculation was simple: the police job offers up to Rs 10,000 per month, which they won't be able to earn annually even as a family, apart from a sense of "power and prestige". Besides the fact that the Naxal threat ensures there are hardly any employment opportunities.

Sudhakar wasn't the only tribal at the recruitment camp. At a time when Naxalites are finding it hard to recruit youth, hundreds are lining up at such camps, defying a Naxal diktat to stay away from cops. Of this year's 201 recruits, 70 are from Naxal areas, according to Gadchiroli Superintendent of Police Ravindra Pradhan. "That debunks Naxal claims about their popularity among tribals as well as about tribal antipathy towards us," he adds.

Mangru Vimma, Lalu Pallo, Ramesh Kondagorla, Mangaram Dillar, Vishwanath Kangali, Dasru Pungati, Shankar Pungati, Sunita Sachhawar and Aruna Halami, all from the sensitive Bhamragarh, Etapalli and Dhanora tahsils are among those who risked their lives by joining the police. "The Naxals offer only doses of ideology and a wanderer's life," they say.

Additional Director General of Police Pankaj Gupta says what has helped is the relaxed norms for tribals. "They consider it an honour to work as a commando. Also, our recruitment process is transparent. Today, many of our commando unit leaders are tribals."

However, as senior officers point out, just recruiting them in police isn't the answer. "The question is can and should we accommodate all of them in the police, or should we also focus on creating more employment opportunities?" asks a senior official. "Gadchiroli today perhaps has the highest percentage of vacancies in departments such as Revenue, Tribal Development and Agriculture, as a result of which job-creation activities get hampered."

Gadchiroli Collector Sudhanshu Ranjan, who has come in for praise for his work in the district, admits that vacancies are a problem. "True that if we had all vacancies filled up, our potential would go up. We have tried our best this year by spending Rs 24 crore on NREGP (National Rural Employment Generation Programme) against the earlier average of Rs 15 crore," he says.

Ranjan adds that they recently got a promise from Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh that the vacancies would be filled up within 5-6 months.

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