The new battalion, numbered 241, was named Bastariya because it included recruits from Bijapur, Dantewada, Narayanpur, and Sukma districts.
From overcoming poverty to serving the nation, the young recruits, including women, of the Central Reserve Police Force's 'Bastariya' battalion had their reasons for joining the specialised unit, which was commissioned into service on Monday.
The battalion, numbered 241, is named 'Bastariya' as its members are from the Bastar region in southern Chhattisgarh, bordering Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and Telangana.
The recruits include married couples and a brother-sister duo.
Bijapur, one of the worst insurgency-hit districts in Chhattisgarh, has sent the maximum of 163 tribal youths, including 60 women, to the special battalion, which was commissioned into service by Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh at a function in Chhattisgarh's Ambikapur .
The 534 troopers, including 189 women, were selected from Bijapur, Dantewada, Narayanpur and Sukma districts, which are battling Maoist insurgency.
The specialised unit, raised to take on the Naxals in the forests, is expected to be deployed in south Bastar by next month, according to CRPF officials.
Sporting their crisp uniforms, a young married couple, who are among the recruits, said they were thrilled about the new assignment.
"I was working as a labourer at the Ayurvedic hospital in Tumnar village, where I hardly earned Rs 2,000 to Rs 3,000 a year. I got married in 2013 and have been in dire need of money since then to sustain my family," the husband, a 28-year-old commando, said at the CRPF training centre in Ambikapur, after he and his wife were commissioned into service during the passing-out parade.
The couple from a remote village in Bijapur district said they had never imagined they would be donning a uniform and fighting for the cause of their motherland.
"I want to bring those misguided Naxals back into the mainstream. They are misguided and wandering inside the forest without any purpose," the 23-year-old wife said.
She expressed the hope that the ultras might be encouraged to quit their movement after seeing tribals joining the new battalion.
"I and several others like me have joined the CRPF. We hope that by seeing us, the Naxals would think of quitting Naxalism and join the mainstream to earn a livelihood and lead a normal life," she said.
The couple has a three-year-old daughter, who is currently living with their relatives in Bijapur town.
Asked about her daughter, the woman turned emotional and said, "I have left behind my child not only to earn a livelihood, but also to serve my motherland."
The troopers of the battalion underwent a specialised 44-week training at ATC Bilaspur and ATC Ambikapur.
Sharing their experience, the couple said they were trained in shooting, weapons handling, swimming, rowing, rock climbing, IED detection, and jungle warfare.
"Though we are used to the inhospitable terrain and dense forests of Bastar as we have been living there, the jungle warfare training was something different," the husband added.
Among the other members of the battalion are at least four married couples and a brother-sister duo.
A 24-year-old woman trooper was initially reluctant to talk to the media, saying her family in Bijapur had already been facing trouble from the Naxals.
Speaking on the assurance that her identity would not be revealed, she said, "My family had shifted to Bijapur town from our village, located deep inside the forest. However, my father had been visiting the village for agricultural work as we have a small farmland there.
"When my brother and I joined the CRPF, the Naxals banned my father's entry into the village, saying if he wanted to continue farming, he should ask us to quit the force."
However, their father quit farming but never asked his children to rethink their decision to join the paramilitary force, she added.
Her father, who came to Ambikapur to witness the passing-out parade, said he was happy that his son and daughter had joined the CRPF.
Of the 534 members of the battalion, 140 are from Sukma, 150 from Dantewada, 81 from Narayanpur and the remaining 163 from Bijapur.
A CRPF official said the family members of many of the recruits had received threats from the Maoists.
"Some of their family members were even killed by the Naxals, following which the CRPF officials coordinated with the local police to ensure the safety of their relatives. The family members of at least three recruits were killed," Sudhir Kumar, Commandant, 85th CRPF Battalion, Bijapur, said.
Talking about the training phase, he said they had to focus more on providing nutrition to the recruits as almost 90 per cent of them were malnourished.
"Initially, they were very weak. So, the key thrust of the training was to make them physically tough. For this, special attention was given to their diet. Local food items like amari bhaji (green vegetables) were also included in their diet," he added.
"Bastariya" battalion Commandant Hari Kant Singh, who was also the training commandant of the unit, said they had focussed on increasing the physical fitness of the trainees in the initial phase to make them capable of sustaining the rigorous training that followed in the successive semesters.
There was no discrimination between the men and the women, he added.
"In the end, the women became as fit as the men. During the training, the women recruits became capable of travelling 25 km on foot, carrying a 12-kg bag and a rifle," Singh said.