How can we defeat a self-destructive ideology through compassion? Santosh Kumar Singh a 2011 batch IPS officer of the Chhattisgarh cadre shows the best way forward through his actions. The Superintendent of Police, Korea district in Chattisgarh was recently selected for the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) 2021 40 Under 40 award.
The Former Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh had described Maoism to be India’s biggest international security threat. India has made rapid progress in reducing the Naxalite threat. The number of districts affected by left-wing extremism has declined sharply to 70 at present. This achievement is due to the stern action combined with effective community policing initiatives by officers like Santosh Singh IPS. He had previously served in various capacities at the most challenging Naxal affected districts of Chattisgarh including Sukma, Narayanpur and Kondagaon.
Despite incredible progress by the Indian security force, the state of affairs in many districts is still worrying. Usually, all the development works in these districts are done under security cover.
“As IPS officers, we go on operations in dense jungles for many days. Our primary aim is to secure the place so that the development agencies can function. We are entrusted to boost the morale of the forces and coordinate with various development agencies,” Santosh Singh said.
While on a mission, the police need to ensure that insurgents are arrested. At times they persuade them to surrender; on several occasions, they have to be neutralized. “These actions are ongoing and the situation is still tense,” Santosh Singh, IPS, added.
The challenges at hand
India has lost many valuable lives while fighting this internal security threat for years. Santosh Singh IPS explained that the security forces are well trained and tactically better, however, the problem lies in the hostile terrain.
The Naxalite regions where most of the operations are conducted have dense jungles with no channels of communication. There are no routes at many places. On the other hand, the Naxals have a proper understanding of the region since they have been active there for the last 50 years. So they take advantage of the terrain to obstruct developmental activities by attacking security forces and try to influence the locals through their ideology.
However, the game-plan is now changing. Santosh Singh, IPS shared that many areas that had traditionally been the stronghold of the Naxals have been freed from their control. Community policing has played a key role in ensuring that objective.
Winning over their hearts
Naxalites can maintain a stronghold by propagating the idea that the Indian administration is keen on exploiting their water, forest resources, and their land (Jal-Jangal-Jameen). This has created a huge mistrust among the locals towards the government agencies.
It might be possible that the pace of development projects in these difficult terrains had been historically minimal which has provided the ideal breeding ground for the Naxalite idea to grow strong and be in control of the region for almost 50 years. However, the situation is changing fast.
“Our most important task is to win the hearts of the people. Unless we get their active support it will not be easy for us to eliminate the Naxalite idea,” the SP explained. “We organize many events like sports activities for them. We help them get benefits from government schemes. We try in every possible way to bring them close to the administration and the police,” Santosh Singh informed.
A slow death
The underlying idea of bringing about revolution through bloodshed is no longer accepted globally. Even in India, the Naxalite idea has been wiped out from many places where they had strongholds earlier. In Chattisgarh as well, they lost most of their presence.
Santosh Singh explained, “This is because people are now gradually understanding how hollow is their ideology. They are high on promises but deliver nothing. They have no alternative model of development even in their strongholds. They are just killing people for being police informers and those who are supporting the Indian administration. They do not want the benefits of the government to reach the locals,” Santosh Singh said strongly.
“I hope that soon the time will come when the Naxal threat will no longer be an internal security matter,” he added.
Child friendly policing
While being posted at Mahasamund district which was completely free from the hold of the Naxals Santosh Singh, IPS initiated a program called ‘Child-Friendly Policing’ in partnership with UNICEF.
According to Santosh Singh, protecting the rights of children forms an integral part of citizens. He noticed that on many occasions police ignore their needs and do not help them adequately.
An attitudinal change among policemen towards children was the need of the hour. Moreover building the trust and goodwill of children towards police is of prime importance. With such an objective the initiative of ‘child-friendly policing’ took shape.
A 20 Point Agenda was introduced. Firstly, a separate room (called Bal Mitra Kaksh) was allotted to every local police station. This child-friendly room ensures that children get a conducive atmosphere to share their difficulties.
Similarly, child-friendly volunteers (called Bal Mitra) were also appointed who are spread out in the district in all the villages. They are usually teachers or social workers who act as a medium between the police and children.
FIRs are also filed immediately if any child is impacted. Moreover, many awareness programs on ‘good touch bad touch’, traffic rule violation, awareness on cybercrime are being facilitated. “This is especially important today since children are now using social media very frequently,” Santosh Singh, IPS emphasized.
In addition to that children are provided training on self-defence. More than 1 lakh children have been trained in the district.
The state government of Chhattisgarh has presently taken up this idea and initiated it in other districts of Chhattisgarh as well.
The protectors in the new normal
The pandemic had been a challenging task for everyone in the police force and even the policemen were under threat. Santosh Singh, IPS was posted at Raigarh at that time where many community policing initiatives were taken up under his leadership.
In the first wave during the nationwide lock-down, the Raigarh police distributed 100000 food packets, and in the second wave 40,000.
During Raksha Bandhan in 2020, the Raigarh police had distributed 12.37 lakh masks in a single day under the popular campaign, Ek Raksha-Sutra Mask Ka. This phenomenal feat was recorded in the Golden Book of World Records, Asia Book of Records, and India Book of Records. “This initiative was not limited to giving masks alone but inculcating the habit of wearing masks in the new normal. This could be possible due to the support of the people,” he shared. The campaign was highly appreciated from all quarters.
“It gave us the chance to improve our image through our work. We helped the administration in all possible ways. We were in charge of implementing every single covid related guideline issued by the state government and the central government from time to time,” Santosh Singh said.
The steel frame
Santosh Singh IPS who has served in many Naxal strongholds shared, “As a police officer we have to be ready for whatever challenges come up.”
He highlighted that the challenges in the Naxal areas are quite different from those in the plain areas. In the plains, maintaining law and order and other issues crop in. The police work based on the problems that come up. “Even personal security comes under threat at times,” he shared.
Talking about his journey as a police officer, Santosh Singh said, “I find my job as an IPS officer to be very satisfying. Helping people to solve day-to-day problems instantly is a very fulfilling experience. People want quick and just service from the government. We as public servants always stand with the people in their time of need. This is the very charm of public service.”