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International Women’s Day 2024: Women Commandos: Catalysts for change, guardians of peace in India’s red corridor

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The Danteshwari Fighters, Bastar’s first all-woman anti-Maoist commando unit, has transformed into a potent weapon against insurgents. Starting with 16 members, this unit, known as the ‘Ladake,’ now boasts 97 volunteers, all ready to take a bullet for their comrades or communities. Recently, two members received out-of-turn promotions for their bravery in combat, underscoring the unit’s effectiveness and commitment.

Maharashtra’s Women Commandos: Guarding the Maoist Frontier

In Maharashtra’s Gadchiroli district, 11 women officers stand ready at a critical outpost near the Maoist frontier, demonstrating a strong resolve to counter insurgency. Trained in jungle warfare and weaponry, these officers are part of a 200-strong security force safeguarding a crucial intersection along the ‘Red Corridor.’ Their presence, close to the Maoist headquarters, signifies a strategic move to combat the insurgency effectively.

Head constable Sunaina Patel of Danteshwari Fighters – who would go on combat ops even when she was pregnant – is one of those promoted for gallantry. She and her colleague Reshma Kashyap gunned down two Maoists in Jallampal in Katekalyan in a fierce encounter.

“It was like stepping into the den of death, but we went in and completed the mission,” Sunaina told TOI. She has often felt the whizz of death passing by as a bullet snaps the air. Does it scare the young mother? “Once I was trapped in a Maoist ambush. It was a close one, but I narrowly escaped. When we are on a mission, we don’t think of anything else,” she said, adding that when she saw bullets thudding into trees and the ground next to her, all she could think of was to push on, “take the fight to them”.

Women Commandos in the Red CorridorAfter undergoing intensive training in jungle warfare and weaponry, these women are now informally called commandos and are positioned at a critical intersection along the so-called Red Corridor, facing the Maoist headquarters nestled in the hills bordering Chhattisgarh. Familiar with the treacherous terrain and the local language, these young officers are part of a 200-strong security force. They are safeguarding a ballistic-proof MAC-walled outpost, set up within a record 24 hours last November after a 106-km trek through Chhattisgarh from Gadchiroli town. The outpost is located at the furthest edge of the left-wing extremism (LWE)-affected district, just four kilometers from the ‘unmanned’ Maharashtra-Chhattisgarh border.Empowering Local Communities

The deployment of women commandos in Bastar and Gadchiroli is not just about combatting Maoist violence but also about empowering local communities. In Bastar, the recruitment of Mahila commandos aims to enhance security in highly sensitive areas, with a special focus on women’s safety. Similarly, in Maharashtra, these women officers bring hope and development to villages long affected by insurgency.

Celebrating Women’s Day: A Break from Guns and the Jungle

Sunaina Patel, a head constable of the Danteshwari Fighters, shared with TOI their plans to celebrate Women’s Day with cultural programs. Chief Minister Vishnu Deo Sai is expected to attend the event, which Sunaina described as a break from the intensity of their duties. Despite striking fear in the hearts of Maoists, the women commandos also find joy in dancing. Sunaina mentioned that they are practicing dance routines, highlighting their resilience and spirit beyond their combat roles.

Infrastructure Development and Social Impact

The outpost is currently protected by a 10-foot compound wall with view cutters, morchas, and barbed wire. Additional facilities such as barracks, a police station, a mess, and other essential amenities are under construction in and around the outpost. Access to the outpost takes at least six hours by road or 20 minutes by chopper from Gadchiroli town.

Prior to the establishment of the outpost, Wangeturi lacked civil administration, earning it the moniker ‘Liberated Zone.’ The presence of the outpost is expected to bring significant transformation to the lives of over 5,000 people in the 13 surrounding villages. Already, 18 kilometers of asphalt road have been laid, and plans are underway for the installation of 12 cell towers. Further development is expected, supported by the security provided by the outpost and its commandos, including the pioneering team of women.

Deployment in Chhattisgarh Assembly Elections

Ahead of the Chhattisgarh Assembly elections last year, the state government deployed these women commandos at 35 polling stations in the Maoist-hit Bastar division on November 7. The Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) plans to deploy the women commandos of the Bastar Fighters in Bastar district, with a focus on recruiting locals, particularly women, for highly sensitive areas. The recruited “Mahila commandos” have undergone training and are being deployed in districts such as Sukma, Bastar, Dantewada, and Bijapur. Additionally, one booth will be under the supervision of transgender cops.

Women voters outnumber men in six of the seven districts of the Bastar division, with 1.04 million women voters compared to 0.99 lakh men. In 2021, 451 women from the interior areas of the Bastar division were recruited into the Bastar Fighters’ special force to encourage the native population to work for the peace and progress of the region.

The women commandos underwent 18 months of training in basic and jungle warfare before being deployed in their respective district units. The authorities have not yet disclosed the specific locations where the women commandos will be deployed.

Looking Ahead

As these women commandos continue to make strides in the fight against Maoist insurgency, their bravery and dedication serve as an inspiration. With their presence, security, and determination, these women are not just protecting their communities but also paving the way for a more peaceful and prosperous future in regions long plagued by violence.

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