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Last Updated: 08/23/2006Naxal Violence: India’s Achilles Heel
In comparison to the indiscriminate violence perpetrated by Islamic terrorists, the Naxal menace has been plaguing India for quite some time, posing as the other biggest internal security challenge.
The targeted violence by Naxals (also infamous as left wing extremist or Maoists) estimated to have killed at least 460 people in the first half of 2006. The estimate provided by New Delhi based Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR), indicated that the total fatalities includes 90 security personnel, 189 suspected Naxalites and 181 civilians in the Naxal affected states during January – June 2006.
The most affected Chattisgarh state has witnessed one of the worst ever massacres on 17 July when armed Naxalites attacked the Errabore Relief Camp in Dantewada district, killing some 30 unarmed civilians and injuring scores. The attackers have abducted more than 45 people in that fateful night. Later, the Naxalites have reportedly released some hostages and killed another six including security personnel. All the six hostages killed later were surrendered Naxalites, according to the police.
The Naxals unleashed a flurry of attacks, first on the nearby central reserve police force (CRPF) camp and then raided the relief camp, resorting to indiscriminate arson and abductions. They opened fire on the inmates (tribals) of the relief camp and set over a hundred huts on fire.
Thousands of people are staying in government-run relief camps in Dantewada district alone. The fear of Naxalites pushed them to take shelter in these camps. These camps are supposed to get armed protections from the security forces. Surprisingly, Naxalites have dodged the security rings and succeeded in their operation.
The failed action on the part of security forces has also been questioned in the media. Even one police official quoted in the media as saying that: "We know that such attacks will happen in the future as well […] as long as Salwa Judum activists are present, these camps will be targeted."
The latest offensive made the state Chief Minister Raman Singh and his team of experts and security advisors to draft a new strategy against the Naxalites. The chief minister has rapped the senior security officials over the lax security arrangements at various relief camps, where over half a Lakh people have taken shelter.
However, the question remains, why the tribals who are part of the government sponsored anti-Naxal campaign (Salwa Judum) were left unarmed against their powerful attackers in that fateful night?
SALWA JUDUM: ARMING TRIBAL AGAINST TRIBAL!
The anti-Naxal campaign backed by the authority in the state, known as Salwa Judum, initiated almost a year ago without much success. Over 300 people have been killed by Naxalites in Chattisgarh in the aftermath of the Salwa Judum campaign.
In the wake of the 17 July killing, the Independent Citizens' Initiative, which studied Salwa Judum (literary means ‘peace movement’ in the local Gondi language) couple of months back, strongly condemned the Errabor massacre. The ICI also blamed the Salwa Judum movement for escalating retaliatory violence in the State.
The Union Minister for Tribal Affairs P R Kyndiah has a similar viewpoint on the ongoing state sponsored anti Naxal campaign. He called for a review of the Salwa Judum campaign as it was “turning into a fratricidal war.” Kyndiah said that the strategy of the government, has been leading to a “fratricidal war, as tribal villagers were being used to kill the insurgents, who too are tribals.”
According to the minister, the ongoing campaign would lead to serious long-term social problems within tribal communities.
Meanwhile, the ruling Congress party who has a major stake in the United Progressive Alliance government at the Center is expected to clarify its stand on the anti-Naxal campaign after a three-member committee headed by senior leader Harikesh Bahadur submits its report to the party President, Sonia Gandhi. However, the state wing of the Congress party has been urging the party leaderships at the Center to extend moral support to the Salwa Judum movement in the Naxal-infested State.
Indian Prime Minister, Manmahon Singh appealed all the affected state administrations in the meantime, to empower police forces to fight the Naxal menace with improved efficiency, indicating that the past responses to Naxal attacks have been inadequate.
The Naxals are reportedly planning to spread to Assam and Gujarat to focus on the urban centers instead of earlier practice of rural operations. Some recently seized Naxal literatures indicated that Naxalites have already established zonal committees in some of these areas in a bid to intensify the movement across the country.
According to Home Affairs Annual Report 2005-6, 76 districts in the 9 States of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal are badly affected by Naxal violence though in varying degrees. Nevertheless, unofficially 13 states, including targeted, are affected. Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat are coming under the Naxalite affected map. Kerala can be considered a targeted state, as no incidents reported in the last one year.
Editor’s note: The Naxal Maoists are split between several factions – the Maoists Coordination Centre (MCC) and People’s War Group (PWG) being the most prominent; nevertheless, there are other Naxal guerilla organizations. A broad agenda functions as a unifier of the groups: fighting for revolutionary rule, land reform, and tenants’ rights. Salwa Judum is the state-supported civil militia instituted to protect communities in the east of India in the Orissa and Jharkhand areas, fending away the Naxalites. At this point villagers are caught in the middle of Naxal-Salwa Judum/police force violence with a dwindling number of relief camps to go to for help.
Animesh Roul is a Research Fellow at the Society for the Study of Peace and Conflict (www.sspconline.org) in New Delhi.