Sunday, April 11, 2010

A new curriculum for the aam policeman

Amitabh Sinha
Posted online: Apr 12, 2010 at 2243 hrs

KankerThe first bullet can be that of the enemy. But the second has to be yours.

As the police forces prepare to fight an enemy that has built up a daunting reputation of being India’s single largest internal security threat, this is one of the key dictums they are being asked to internalise.

Armed gangs of Maoists, their numbers a small fraction of the police force, are able to inflict heavy casualties with alarming regularity. An outmoded and demoralised police force in the states has been one of the primary reasons for the sudden rise in the strength of Naxalite groups in central and east India.

A training school in the middle of the Naxalite heartland is trying to change all that.

The Counter Terrorism and Jungle Warfare School in Kanker, about 150 km south of Raipur, has become the focal point in the fight against Naxalites. The only one of its kind in the region, the school has been training ordinary policemen to become commandos with the immediate objective of equipping them with skills to take on Naxalites.

In its sixth year now, more than 12,000 policemen, most of them from Chhattisgarh, have undergone training. “We are producing fearless commandos. They are more likely to kill than get killed. These boys are no longer the sitting ducks they used to be,” says Brigadier BS Ponwar (retd), who set up the school and has been running it ever since. Policemen from Bihar, Orissa, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Kerala have all come here to train.

Modest beginnings

This training centre is the brainchild of former Chhattisgarh governor Lt Gen KM Seth (retd), who had been transferred from Tripura to the newly-created state in 2001. In his previous role as governor of Tripura, Seth had seen Ponwar run a similar training school in Mizoram. With Chhattisgarh becoming the epicentre of the Naxal movement, he asked Ponwar to set up a similar school here.

The school finally started on April 1, 2005. For the first four years, it ran without an electricity connection. “Once a batch of IPS officers had come for the training. We had to install a few WCs in makeshift toilets but normally everyone lives here as in a jungle. These people will have to spend long durations in forests. They need to master the conditions,” says Ponwar.

Rigorous training

Living the life of the jungle is an essential component of training. Mental toughness is as important as other skills. So a lot of the course content is about psychological warfare, and breaking down the ideological arguments of the enemy.

“We talk about the futility of the war the Naxals are waging. We tell them how such methods have never worked anywhere in the world in improving the lives of the people. We discuss what the alternative methods of development should be,” says Ponwar.

Ponwar instructs trainees to never trouble the local villagers when they go out in the operations. “The fight is with the Naxals, not the people. I tell the boys not even to ask for water from the villagers. In fact, they should be able to give them water or some other stuff that they need.”

For 45 days, the policemen train from morning till evening. The course involves 14 nights of training as well when the trainees are out practicing throughout the night. Mind and body are stretched to the maximum.

“I have had a couple of policemen who had to repeat three times. But that is okay as long as the final product is fine. I would not want any policeman to go into the battle unprepared or unfit,” says Ponwar.

Future course

Nearly one quarter of the Chhattisgarh police force has already undergone training at this school. With roughly 3,000 policemen completing training every year now, in the next five years almost the entire operational strength of the Chhattisgarh police would have gone through the school.

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