The state of Chhatisgarh in India has long been home to the conflict between Naxalite and state forces.
The Naxalite-Maoist insurgency is a decades-long conflict between the Maoists and the state government, with armed violence resulting from both sides. The conflict is spread over a huge territory especially in less developed areas of Chhatisgarh and Andra Pradesh.
The insurgency started after the 2004 formation of the CPI-Maoists – a rebel group comprising of the PWG (People’s War Group) and the MCC (Maoist Communist Centre).) Their origin can be traced when the Communist Party of India (Marxist) split in 1967, leading to the creation of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist).
The Naxalites allege that the Andra Pradesh state government is discriminatory and practice favoritism towards some groups in the state.
In 2005, negotiations between the state government and the CPI-Maoists broke down and the rebels accused the authorities of not acknowledging their demands for a written truce, in which they called for the release of convicts and reallocation of land.
Villagers living in increasingly militarized areas often fall prey to each side’s wrath especially when one side mistakenly assumes them to be a member of the other. Chhatisgarh’s districts such as Bastar, Bijapur and Sukma constantly face violence where neither side has been forgiving to those they suspect of having the slightest affiliation to the other.
In June, Madkam Hidme, an Adivasi woman from the Sukma district, was found dead with multiple injuries, allegedly in a Naxal uniform and a gun next to her. The police held that that she was a member of Naxal Platoon 8 where she was killed in a police encounter.
An alternative account was pieced together by Scroll.in after gathering information from the victim’s family.
Her family members said that Hidme was dragged out of her home by men dressed in police uniforms and beaten up by them. Hidme’s mother was apparently hit until she was knocked out. Hidme’s body was returned under plastic, hours later, and reportedly displayed signs of a brutal rape.
Soni Sori, an Indian activist and political leader, went on a hunger strike after being denied access to visit Hidme’s district or her family members. She has been a vocal voice against instances of gender-related violence. The Delhi Police’s Crime Branch for Chhatisgarh arrested her in 2011 on charges of acting as a conduit for Maoists.
A protest took place outside the Chhatisgarh Tourism Board office in the city of Kolkata, where activists demanded justice. Hidme’s mum also filed a petition with the Chhatisgarh High Court pushing for an inquiry into the case. The court finally ordered the exhumation of the victim’s body, which was apparently buried with salt and sand to conceal evidence of the torture inflicted.
Violent encounters between the police and Naxalites have also occurred in the last few months. The Naxalites frequently target tribal, police and government workers in what they call a battle for improved land rights and more employment for neglected agricultural laborers.
In May, three Naxals were gunned down in an encounter with security forces in Chhatisgarh’s insurgency-hit Bastar region in May. They were identified as LOS (local organisation squad) ‘commander’ of Darbha ‘division by the police.
In a separate incident in June, the Naxals fired rockets and opened gunfire at the paramilitary Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) camp.
“The Maoists attacked Ranapal ITBP camp situated on the border of Kondagon and Narayanpur district on Wednesday night. Nearly 20 Maoists carried out the attack,” Kondagan district SP Santosh Singh was quoted in an online article on The Hindu.
According to the state forces, the attack signaled a shift in their strategy since the Naxals have rarely targeted the security force camps in Bastar.
Multiple new camps have been set up in the last few years to counter on Maoist’s movements. Rumours were also spread that the Chhatisgarh state government supported and trained vigilante group Salwa Judum to counter Naxalite violence in the region. The group directly targeted Maoist groups and violence which almost escalated to a civil war.
However the Supreme Court (SC) determined that the move was unconstitutional in 2011 and demanded for the disbanding of Salwa Judum. The court also ordered for immediate compensation to victims from both sides.
Although the number of Naxal-affected places in India has decreased, the group still has a strong presence in nine states.
Chhattisgarh’s Director General of Police, Anti-Naxal operations, D.M.Awasthi said during an interview with The Hindu that the conflict with the Maoist rebels could not be tackled only with a military confrontation.
“If we are able to give credible policing to the people of Maoist-affected areas, it will result in an atmosphere of security, which will result in development with a great speed and the people will come to the government’s fold,” said Awasthi during the interview.
“The Maoist insurgency will vanish only if we are able to win the hearts of common people living in these areas,” he added.
The volatile situation in Chhatisgarh can be managed, but it will require the state forces to be well trained and carefully deployed to ensure that less innocent people fall prey to the violence.