Naxal Violence: India’s Achilles Heel

Animesh Roul

In comparison to the indiscriminate violence perpetrated by Islamic terrorists, the Naxal menace (also infamous as Left-wing Extremist or Maoist) has been plaguing India for quite some time as one of the biggest internal security challenges. The most affected Chattisgarh state has witnessed one of the worst ever massacre 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 Naxalites have 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 of the relief camp and set over a hundred huts on fire.

The anti-Naxal campaign backed by the authority in the state, known as Salwa Judum, initiated in 6 June 2005 without much success. Naxalites in Chattisgarh have killed over 300 people 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 Errabore 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.

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. The Naxalites had made similar attacks on these camps and killed hundreds of Judum activists in the past. From June 2005 to January 2006, Naxalites have killed 95 Judum activists involved in the campaign, according to a report quoting the State home minister. On 30 January, at least eleven people were killed during a similar attack on a government run camp in the Dantewada district. Just before the State government suspended the anti Naxal campaign on 11 April this year, Naxalites killed six Salwa Judum activists in the Dantewada district within a week.

To construct permanent relief camps for rehabilitation with all basic amenities and security measures, the campaign was suspended for a brief period. Surprisingly, Naxalites have dodged the security rings around the camps and succeeded in their operation in their latest offensive. 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."

While the killing spree continues, 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. However, the question remains, why the tribals who are part of the government sponsored anti-Naxal campaign were left unarmed against their powerful attackers in that fateful night?

The Naxalites are reportedly planning to spread to Assam, Gujarat and Uttranachal 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. The targeted violence by Naxalites 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.

Looking at the emerging situation, a complete overhaul of the security strategy with empowerment of security personnel is needed to secure tribals from any attack on their lives and livelihoods. Protection of tribals, who undoubtedly a soft target, from this indiscriminate Naxalite onslaught would be a priority for the government.

Author Note
Animesh Roul, Research Fellow, Society for the Study of Peace and Conflict, New Delhi.