A set of two striking pictures of women groups on a recent feature on career choices catches ones eye. One picture lines up some 30 beauties vying for Miss India contest and the other shows 32 commandos recruited to protect women from Maoists who have lorded pockets of Bastar region for nearly 52 years now.
It is more than three years since the battalion of women's commandos was raised and trained rigorously in Bijapur district, about 422km south of state capital Raipur, in Bastar.
Brutal violations of tribal women in Bijapur district had earned security forces a strong condemnation from the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). The Commission had reported prima facie evidence of state police and Central Reserve Police Force personnel having raped and sexually assaulted 16 tribal women during a five-day operation in October 2015.
The commandos chosen for the battalion were local women who were familiar with the ethos and dialects. The idea was apparently to deal with the forces' image crisis while rendering services to the community.
The next step was to get elite officers who could lead them on the job. While women were being selected to command the women's unit one candidate created a niche for herself by offering to work in a men's unit.
Here began the story of Assistant Commandant Usha Kiran who earlier joined the 232 Mahila Battalion of CRPF in 2014 and then requested to be inducted into the COBRA (Commando Battalion for Resolute Action) unit alongside men on special.
When offered a choice for posting, her options were Jammu and Kashmir, extreme left-wing state, or northeastern fronts. She was finally posted in Bastar region in Chhattisgarh which is under constant asymmetric warfare.
A judicious mix of beauty, brawn and brain distinguish Usha Kiran from others who chose to walk the ramp. Formerly a national triple jump athlete from Delhi, Usha is the first lady officer to join the Jungle Warriors CoBRA unit. No wonder then if the style magazine Vogue chose as the young achiever of the year in 2018.
Vogue was effusive in praise for the young officer who dedicated the award to all security forces personnel saying: "This award, I'd like to say, this is not just for Usha Kiran. It is for every soldier, every force personnel who are literally putting their blood and sweat to maintain peace and harmony in the country."
Fear was alien to her as she came from a family of armed personnel. Both her father and grandfather had served the forces. But she encountered it fairly early in career when her helicopter swooped into the remote CRPF camp to evacuate a grievously injured constable.
A loud blast had broken the jungle silence signalling one of those common attacks. Wounded and blinded by shrapnel from the blast, a constable asked: "Do you think I will ever see my daughter again?" words that would haunt Kiran for days.
"That day, I remember being scared. It was my first day at the camp in Bastar," Vogue quoted her saying.
Usha Kiran is also proud to be a role model for other young women looking to pursue a career in the forces. "If you have the power, then it becomes your obligation to encourage other women to be part of the forces... If you want to encourage and empower women, you just have to get out of their way. They will do the rest," she says.
Usha said having education and a strong mind-set would give tribal women more power than possessing an AK-47 assault rifle. Tribals dread the times security forces visit villages in search of Maoists. It is reassuring when Usha Kiran is in the raiding party.
Her senior Sanjay Yadav said: "She helps the security forces during search and raid in Maoist-affected villages and secondly, her presence helps to counter Maoist propaganda of rape and molestation by security forces."
Usha Kiran is one of only two women CRPF officers on duty in Bastar. Archana Gaura, the other woman officer, is in Kondagaon. Hailing from a Gurgaon-based family with ties to the CRPF -- her grandfather and father were ex-personnel of the force -- Kiran said the villagers feel comforted by her presence.