The CRPF inspector saluted me as he entered my office at Radio Kashmir Srinagar, in tow with two women constables. I knew him well. He was the head of the CRPF team responsible for providing security to our building. I was posted in Srinagar as Senior Correspondent of All India Radio when the militancy was at its peak in early 1990s.
Knowing that he would ask for the use of the STD facility phone, I told him to come the next day. Actually I was rather wary of him as I had a feeling that the inspector was taking too much liberty and was coming rather frequently for making STD calls. These were the days when making a call to another city meant a great deal and being a news organization, we were amongst the privileged ones who had the luxury of STD connection on our work stations.
I was certainly busy at that particular moment but that was not the actual reason of turning him away. Protecting an STD connection from ‘overuse’ was also a challenge as the unusually high Telephone Bills would raise the heckles of our administration. Afterall, I had to certify every telephone bill to the effect that all calls made were for official purposes. So to reduce the pressure on my STD phoneline, I had started pretending to be more busy than actually I was.
The CRPF inspector came again the following day with two women constables in tow. He greeted me in his usual military style and sought my permission to come in. His voice was resolute and I could see that he would not like to be turned away this time. Unwillingly, I nodded and asked them to come in.
“This girl wants to make a call, sir. It is urgent, sir”.
I pushed the telephone towards them rather brusquely and kept myself absorbed in whatever I was doing. This posturing, I thought was necessary to convey my displeasure over his repeated requests for STD calls.
The woman constable dialled the phone, said hello, uttered a few words and abruptly started crying.
I looked askance at the inspector. “Her father had been killed in tribal clashes in Manipur. He was a priest in the local church”, he helpfully supplied the information.
“I am really very sorry to hear that”, I said and with this, all my annoyance evaporated. I offered her water and said a few words of consolation. I felt guilty for the way I turned her away the day before.
I offered tea to all and listened to her story.
“My father was killed a fortnight ago but I learnt about it only yesterday when my husband, who is also a constable posted at CRPF Hqrs in Delhi, informed me about the shocking incident”, she told me between sobs. Her husband got the information from the family back in Manipur as he was much more accessible being in Delhi. To make her comfortable and distract her from the grief, I started a casual conversation with her. In the course of this, she told me about her two year old son who was being taken care of by her husband as this girl was serving the nation in Kashmir. I could see a sparkle in her eyes when she mentioned her son.
What tragic times we are passing through, I thought to myself, that young girls leaving behind their young babies are doing duty in strife-torn valley! I thought about this unit of women constables (Mahila Battalion) – all very young and enthusiastic. The composition of this unit was such that many of the girls in it were from Manipur.
A CRPF bus would bring women constables every morning and drop two of them at every central government office. They would be screening, physically as well as through a metal detector all women employees and visitors along with their belongings. The bus would come back in the evening to take them back to their barracks.
“This is not an easy job. People don’t like being screened. But screening small kids coming for Children’s Programme on Sundays at the radio station is rather pinching though children take it playfully,” a woman constable told me later.
“Earlier we were doing it perfunctorily but ever since an explosive device was recovered from the school bag of a student of Central School in Badami Bagh cantonment, we search everybody thoroughly”, she added. .
Those were the days I witnessed about a quarter century ago. Perhaps conditions have not changed much even to this day.
*Ajeet Singh is a Hisar based freelancer. He started his journalism career as Sub Editor in All India Radio Simla in 1971 and later served many years in Radio Kashmir Jammu and Srinagar. He worked as All India Radio’s Sr. Correspondent in Srinagar during 1990s and retired as Director of News, Doordarshan Hisar.
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