In Chhattisgarh’s Balod district, almost 7000 civilian women have taken up the task of fighting alcoholism, domestic violence and social malpractices such as dowry. They also spread awareness about new schemes launched by the Government, helping more people benefit from them.
The foundation of this ‘Mahila Commandos’ brigade was laid in 2006 by Shamshad Begum, an Indian activist and later, Padma Shri recipient (2012). Begum, who has done extensive work for the education of backward communities in Chhattisgarh, was the catalyst in bringing together almost a 100 women who suffered violence at the hands of alcoholic men in their homes. Some of them are also human trafficking victims who, after being rescued, took it upon themselves to fight for basic human rights for members of their society. These women are motivated by a simple thought – of protecting their children from the atrocities they had to suffer. While Begum has refused to comment on how many villages were made liquor free, she promised that the campaign would show outstanding results in the next few years.
The group has now expanded to more than 30 villages and was categorised by the Chhattisgarh police as ‘Super Police Commandos’ (SPOs). These SPOs work with Chhattisgarh police in curbing the rampant crime, alcoholism and illegal liquor trade in the state, which qualifies for an unsafe work environment. They work in teams and regularly patrol the streets of their respective villages to check for these activities. If they find someone in an inebriated state or with an alcohol addiction, they offer counselling in order to help them quit.
And this promotion, while a noble effort by the police, seems like a way for them to push their job and responsibilities on the shoulders of a group of do-gooders. Chhattisgarh Police is notorious for neglect, which was probably the reason for the inception of such an organisation – one that takes it upon itself to fight against alcoholism, violence and social evils such as dowry. An NHRC report also stated that members of the police force were found to have raped at least 16 women, coupled with Maoist insurgents and complaints about the Armed Forces in context of the AFSPA, the welfare of a common citizen of the state seems to be taking a backseat. Tribals are murdered, often by police officers in the name of fake encounters. Recently, a member of the police force was arrested for the murder of a 16-year-old in a fake encounter. Such cases are no longer one-off cases, but frequent instances of police officers committing crimes against the very civilians they are supposed to protect.
It is clear that for many years now, Chhattisgarh has been in the midst of a complete collapse of the law and order situation, while political parties merely play the blame game. The current majority party (BJP) in the state blaming the former Congress-led government for this failure, and vice-versa. It is not just this blame game which causes the civilians to lose out, but also the profit-inclined interests of the Governments. In a recent order, tribal rights over forests, an important source of income for them, were cancelled in order to facilitate coal mining for industry bigwigs.
The ‘Mahila Commando’ campaign is part of a larger campaign by the Chhattisgarh police to restore law and order in the state, as well as empowering women through participation. It relies specifically on various women belonging to different villages to come together and fight these issues that plague them. At the same time, these women are mostly homemakers who work at home all day, and later join their respective teams for patrolling and other jobs. And this welfare work provides every single woman with a large community and a support system, as well as the satisfaction of making a difference.
But, at the same time, if the state police is making use of these services, albeit in a for-welfare campaign, it is only fair that these women be offered proper training as well as remuneration for their work. This becomes more important when we talk about a state with a large part of the population living in extreme poverty. While these women do receive training, uniforms and arms, they do not at this point receive remuneration for their work. This, despite plans for expansion of the program to 10,000 commandos through state intervention and a planned investment of ₹40 lakh for training and development purposes. The police is also looking for incentives to involve women from 130 villages in the campaign.
A great incentive for these women who come from violent, impoverished families would be to pay them for their hard work so that they are able to contribute towards their homes, gain financial independence and move towards a better standard of living. Frequently, a huge challenge for women who face domestic abuse is gaining financial independence, the means to which they so often lack. Having access to a regular wage would truly help empower them.
Civilian involvement is a great idea to increase participation of the population, help wipe out the rampant violence and crime, and engage the population productively. But, at the same time, it’s imperative to consider the circumstances of this movement. That is, a group of one of the most marginalised people of the country, who have so often been robbed of their main sources of livelihood and have suffered and witnessed extreme violence. It is their spirit that still helps them join forces and try to make a difference to their society, one small step at a time. It is important to take these actions of theirs as organised work, as opposed to a group with much less power and influence, whose efforts can be exploited in order to cover up an organisation’s inefficiency in service. It is important that these people be given the same rights as other police workers and adequate returns for their work.