Naxalism in India
An armed peasant uprising in May 1967 in Naxalbari (West Bengal) marked the beginning of the Maoist revolutionary political movement in India. The movement is named after the region and thus called the Naxalite movement. Unlike the conflicts in Jammu and Kashmir and the northeast, which are self-determination movements, Naxalites call for a total transformation of the existing political system to create a new social order ending what they see as the exploitation of marginalized and vulnerable communities. Naxalites carry out their political agenda through various means including armed attacks against the state. There are many different political groups that believe in the Maoist ideology and identify themselves as Naxalites, but chief among them is the Communist Party of India (Maoist) (CPI (Maoist)).
Broadly, all Naxalite cadres operate underground and are organized into two componentsan armed wing and a political wing. The political wing is headed by a national level central committee. Naxalites organize their activities in villages through underground village committees. The village committees, in turn, conduct their activities through sangams (village-level associations). A sangam is the village-level administrative unit that spreads Maoist ideology, aims to increase the Naxalite support base, assists the armed wing, and organizes jan adalats (peoples courts).1 Sangamschallenge and replace not only traditional tribal structures of village headmen and priests but also the gram panchayats (village-level councils of elected government representatives).2 Naxalites also have street theater groups called chaitanya natya manch (CNM) that spread their ideology in villages.
The armed Naxalite wing consists of the standing army (the Peoples Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA)) and other smaller armed guerrilla squads that are assisted by groups of armed informers called jan militias. The army and guerrilla squads are generally referred to as dalams.
Naxalites wage a peoples war not only by using methods such as organizing the poor to protest against exploitation, forcibly re-distributing land, and opposing development projects that involve forcible displacement of marginalized communities, but also by attacking police stations to loot arms, destroying state infrastructure like railways, assassinating politicians, and extorting from businessmen.3 These activities are crimes punishable under security and penal legislation in India.4
Until 2000, Chhattisgarh was part of Madhya Pradesh state in central India. The area that became Chhattisgarh is heavily forested, and home to some of Indias indigenous tribal groups. Tribal communities make up about 32 percent of Chhattisgarhs total population,5 and about 79 percent of the population in Dantewada and Bijapur districts in southern Chhattisgarh.6 Maria Gonds and Dorla tribes are the two main tribal communities in this region.7
Naxalites commenced their activities in the Bastar region of Madhya Pradesh8 in the 1980s.9 A combination of political, economic, and social factors in this region, including economic exploitation of tribal communities, poor relations with the police, and absence of government facilities and state institutions, contributed to the popular support and growth of Naxalism.10 For example, government authorities treated parts of Bastar region (especially Dantewada and Bijapur districts that are now part of Chhattisgarh) as remote administrative outposts or punishment postings.11 As one senior police official described it, there is no administration in about 70 percent of this region [Dantewada and Bijapur districts], and only police have access to some parts.12 The two districts (comprising of 1,220 inhabited villages) rank among the worst in India in terms of access to education and basic health care.13 Census data from 2001 for these districts shows that there are no primary schools in 214 villages, and 1,161 villages have no access to health care.14
Many observers believe that Naxalite initiatives resulted in improved living and economic conditions for many tribal communities.15 The Naxalite agenda continues to include struggles for tribal rights to land, water, forest produce, better wages, health care, and education.16 However, villagers also report that Naxalite methods have gradually become increasingly authoritarian, undemocratic, and marked by human rights abuses including extra-judicial killings, beatings, and extortion. 17 Over time, this has created resentment among some villagers.
Naxalites have de facto control over large parts of Dantewada and Bijapur districts. With a network of sangams in this region, they have set up what they call janata sarkar (peoples rule) and declared the Dantewada (undivided) area as a liberated zone.18
Since 2005 Dantewada and Bijapur districts have been the center of Naxalite-related violence in Chhattisgarh. In June 2005 some local protest meetings against Naxalites in Bijapur district sparked the creation of what is now known as Salwa Judum(literally peace mission or purification hunt).19 The Indian central and Chhattisgarh state governments saw the protests as an opportune moment to challenge the Naxalite influence in the area. They provided support primarily through their security forces, dramatically scaling up these local protest meetings into raids against villages believed to be pro-Naxalite, and permitted the protestors to function as a vigilante group aimed at eliminating Naxalites.
Over a period of approximately two-and-a-half years, between June 2005 and the monsoon season of 2007 (June to September), government security forces joined Salwa Judum members on village raids, which were designed to identify suspected Naxalite sympathizers and evacuate residents from villages believed to be providing support to Naxalites. They raided hundreds of villages in Bijapur and Dantewada districts, engaging in threats, beatings, arbitrary arrests and detention, killings, pillage, and burning of villages to force residents into supporting Salwa Judum. They forcibly relocated thousands of villagers to government-run makeshift Salwa Judum camps near police stations or paramilitary police camps along the highways. They also coerced camp residents, including children, to join in Salwa Judums activities, beating and imposing penalties on those who refused.20
Although Salwa Judums raids were most frequent between June 2005 and mid-2007, they continue to carry out violent attacks in reprisal against former camp residents who have returned to their villages. There have also been reports of government security forces executing persons suspected of being Naxalites and labeling the executions encounter killings, falsely implying that the deaths occurred during armed skirmishes.
The central government has deployed 10,000 government security forces to enhance security in Chhattisgarh, including 13 battalions of central paramilitary forces. These include the Indian Reserve Battalions (IRBs) and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF).21
The Chhattisgarh government also raised an auxiliary police force of special police officers (SPOs) and reportedly is planning to convert this auxiliary police force into a regular battalion to counter Naxalites in the region.22 The Police Act, 1861, empowers a local magistrate to temporarily appoint civilians as SPOs to perform the roles of ordinary officers of police.23 SPOs enjoy the same powers as the regular civil police,24 but receive less training and fewer benefits.25 The law allows for the appointment of civilian SPOs as a stop-gap measure where the police force is otherwise felt to be insufficient. It does not permit a local magistrate to deploy SPOs either indefinitely or in roles comparable to those played by paramilitary police such as the CRPF and the IRBs.26
The Indian central government now admits that Salwa Judumexacerbated the Naxalite conflict and violence in the region.30 Several fact-finding teams and NGOs have repeatedly reported that Salwa Judum members and government security forces were using violent intimidation methods resulting in massive forced internal displacement, and have recommended that the Indian central and Chhattisgarh state governments stop supporting Salwa Judum.They have also recommended that the governments initiate action against all persons involved in committing crimes.31 Activists also filed two petitions in the Supreme Court of India in 2007, seeking the courts intervention against the operation of Salwa Judum.32 In April 2008 the court ordered the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to investigate allegations of human rights abuses by both sides.33
NGO fact-finding teams have also appealed to Naxalites to end their violent backlash against Salwa Judum.34 Many human rights groups and activists are making an effort to bring together a group of respected and neutral citizens who can mediate between the government and Naxalites to end this cycle of violence.35
1 Rajat Kujur, Left Extremism in India: Naxalite Movement in Chhattisgarh & Orissa, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies Special Report 25, June 2006, http://www.ipcs.org/IPCS-Special-Report-25.pdf (accessed July 9, 2007), p. 2.
2 Human Rights Forum, Death, Displacement and Deprivation: The War in Dantewara: A Report, 2006, http://cpjc.files.wordpress.com/2007/07/hrfdantewadareport.pdf (accessed October 2, 2007), p. 13; Peoples Union for Civil Liberties et al., Where the State Makes War on its Own People, A Report on Violations of Peoples Rights during the Salwa Judum Campaign in Dantewada, Chhattisgarh, 2006, http://www.pucl.org/Topics/Human-rights/2006/Salwa_Judum.pdf (accessed July 7, 2007), p. 11.
3 Asian Centre for Human Rights, Naxal Conflict Monitor, vol. II, no. I, April 11, 2007; Independent Citizens Initiative, War in the Heart of India, An Enquiry into the Ground Situation in Dantewada District, Chhattisgarh, 2006, http://rightsandresources.org/blog/WarintheHeartofIndia.pdf (accessed July 16, 2007), p. 8; Asian Centre for Human Rights, The Adivasis of Chhattisgarh, Victims of the Naxalite Movement and Salwa Judum Campaign, 2006, http://www.achrweb.org/reports/india/Chattis0106.pdf (accessed June 7, 2006), p. 13.
4 The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Act, 2004, Notification 29 of 2004, December 30, 2004. The Schedule to the Act lists terrorist organizations. Items 24 and 25 state as follows: 24. Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist)-Peoples War, all its formations and front organizations, and 25. Maoist Communist Centre (MCC), all its formations and front organizations. Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist)-Peoples War and MCC merged in 2004 to form the CPI (Maoist) party, the leading Naxalite group in the country.
5 Government of India, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes PopulationState-Wise, Census 2001, http://www.censusindia.gov.in/Census_Data_2001/Census_data_finder/A_Series/SC_ST.htm (accessed October 25, 2007); Government of India, Population Finder: State-Wise, Census 2001, http://www.censusindia.gov.in/population_finder/State_Master.aspx?State_Code=22 (accessed October 25, 2007). Of Chhattisgarhs total population of 20,833,803, the scheduled tribe population is 6,616,596.
6 Government of India, Dantewada Data Sheet, Census 2001, http://www.censusindia.gov.in/Dist_File/datasheet-2216.pdf (accessed October 25, 2007). The census data gives information pertaining to Dantewada (undivided) district. Of Dantewada (undivided) districts total population of 719,487, the scheduled tribe population is 564,931.
7 Peoples Union for Civil Liberties, Where the State Makes War on its Own People, p. 5.
8 Now divided into Dantewada, Bijapur, Naranyanpur, Bastar, and Kanker districts in Chhattisgarh.
9 Sudhakar, A Saga of Twenty-Five Years of Glorious Struggle, An Epic of Peoples Radical Transformation, Peoples March ,vol. 7, no. 1, January 2006, p. 3; Maoist shadow over Chhattisgarh, The Times of India, May 16, 2005, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/1111206.cms (accessed October 18, 2007); Peoples Union for Civil Liberties, Where the State Makes War on its Own People, p. 10.
10 Sudhakar, An Epic of Peoples Radical Transformation, pp. 3-4; Peoples Union for Civil Liberties, Where the State Makes War on its Own People, p. 11.
11 Human Rights Watch interviews with G. P. Singh, superintendent of police of Bastar district, Jagdalpur, January 26, 2008; Rahul Sharma, superintendent of police of Dantewada district, Dantewada, February 1, 2008 (second interview).
12 Human Rights Watch interview with senior police official S2 (who requested anonymity), other details withheld.
13 Government of India, Dantewada Data Sheet.
15 Human Rights Forum, War in Dantewara, p. 24; Asian Centre for Human Rights, The Adivasis of Chhattisgarh, Victims of the Naxalite Movement and Salwa Judum Campaign, p. 14; Peoples Union for Civil Liberties, Where the State Makes War on its Own People, pp. 10-11.
16 Nandini Sundar, Subalterns and Sovereigns, An Anthropological History of Bastar (1854-2006) (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2007), p. 11; Human Rights Forum, War in Dantewara, p. 24.
17 Human Rights Watch interview with a teacher in an ashram school (who chose to remain anonymous), Dantewada, January 28, 2008; group interview with Oyam Suresh and Kadti Soman (pseudonyms), camp residents, other details withheld; See Human Rights Watch, Being Neutral is Our Biggest Crime: Government, Vigilante, and Naxalite Abuses in Indias Chhattisgarh State, 1-56432-345-5, July 2008, section VII.
18 Saji Cherian, Chhattisgarh: Reality Bites, South Asia Intelligence Review, Weekly Assessments and Briefings, vol. 3, no. 46, May 30, 2006, http://www.satp.org/satporgtp/sair/Archives/3_46.htm (accessed March 15, 2008); Human Rights Forum, War in Dantewara, p. 12; P. C. Hota, Naxalites push Chhattisgarh into crisis, Rediff News, May 24, 2005, http://www.rediff.com/news/2005/may/24spec2.htm (accessed March 15, 2008).
A liberated zone is an area where the Naxalite administration has at least in theory replaced the Indian state. The boundaries of the liberated zone are unclear. Cherian cites a May 2005 interview with a senior CPI (Maoist) party leader, Ayatu, where Ayatu reportedly said: Who said we are running parallel administration? We have liberated some of our areas through our sustained people's war in the Abujhmad (Abujhmar) area of Dandakaranya zone (of Bastar region) where we have established people's governance. According to Hota, a prominent Naxalite leader stated: We have liberated some of our areas through our sustained people's war in the Abujhmad area of Dandakaranya zone (of Bastar region) where we have established people's governance.
19 Independent Citizens Initiative, War in the Heart of India, p. 14; Asian Centre for Human Rights, The Adivasis of Chhattisgarh, Victims of the Naxalite Movement and Salwa Judum Campaign, p. 15; Peoples Union for Civil Liberties, Where the State Makes War on its Own People, p. 13. Salwa Judum is a term in Gondi, a tribal dialect spoken in Dantewada and Bijapur districts. The meaning of Salwa Judum is unclear. Government officials claim it means peace mission whereas several NGO reports state that it translates to purification hunt. The report by Peoples Union for Civil Liberties explains the term in further detail: Salwa is the Gondi word for the water that is sprinkled on a patient to drive an illness out, while Judum is the word for collective hunts.
See also, District Collector, Jan Jagaran Abhiyan (Salwa Judum)District South Bastar Dantewada: Brief Memorandum, 2007 (unpublished). District South Bastar Dantewada is the Dantewada (undivided) region. Salwa Judum is known as Jan Jagaran Abhiyan (Peoples Awareness Campaign) in official circles.
See Independent Citizens Initiative, War in the Heart of India, pp. 14-16 for a discussion of the different versions of what sparked local protests against Naxalites.
20 For details, see Human Rights Watch, Being Neutral is Our Biggest Crime: Government, Vigilante, and Naxalite Abuses in Indias Chhattisgarh State, 1-56432-345-5, July 2008.
21 Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, Annual Report 2003-2004, http://mha.nic.in/pdfs/ar0304-Eng.pdf and (accessed May 13, 2008), p. 3; MHA, Annual Report 2007-2008, p. 21.
22 Human Rights Watch interview with Rahul Sharma, first interview, December 10, 2007.
23 Police Act, Act V of 1861, http://www.mppolice.gov.in/static/Act1861%20English.doc (accessed October 18, 2007), sec. 17. After the Chhattisgarh government raised the auxiliary police of SPOs between June 2005 and March 2006, the Chhattisgarh legislature enacted a new lawChhattisgarh Police Act, 2007. Human Rights Watch tried but was unable to get a copy of the new law. Unless the new law changes the provisions of the Police Act, 1861, the powers, training, and functions of SPOs remain the same. See below, section V C, Government recruitment and use of children as special police officers, for more details regarding recruitment of SPOs.
24 Police Act, 1861, sec. 18.
25 Human Rights Watch interviews with 18 SPOs, Dantewada and Bijapur districts, December 9-15, 2007.
26 Police Act, 1861, secs. 17 and 18. Sec. 17 of the Police Act empowers the local Magistrate to appoint SPOs for such time and within such limits as he shall deem necessary when it shall appear that any unlawful assembly, or riot or disturbance of the peace has taken place, or may be reasonably apprehended, and that the police-force ordinarily employed for preserving the peace is not sufficient Sec. 18 of the Police Act states that SPOs shall have the same powers, privileges and protection as the ordinary officers of police.
27 See below, section V C, Government recruitment and use of children as special police officers, for more details regarding the SPO program.
28 Human Rights Watch interviews with Rahul Sharma, first interview, December 10, 2007; Vishwa Ranjan, December 17, 2007. SP Sharma stated that there were 3,500 SPOs, but DGP Vishwa Ranjan stated that there were 3,800 SPOs.
30 Status Paper on the Naxalite Problem, paper tabled by the Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil, March 13, 2006, http://satp.org/satporgtp/countries/india/document/papers/06Mar13_Naxalite%20Problem%20.htm (accessed August 29, 2007); Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, Annual Report 2006-2007, http://mha.nic.in/pdfs/ar0607-Eng.pdf (accessed May 13, 2008), p. 24. The report states: Chhattisgarh has seen higher levels of violence and casualties. Stepped up violence in Chhattisgarh is attributed mainly to greater offensive by Naxalites to derail Salva Judum, which is a voluntary and peaceful initiative by local people against Naxalites in Dantewada district of Chhattisgarh.
31 Nine different teams have been to this region and have made recommendations to the government.
32 Nandini Sundar and others v. State of Chhattisgarh, Writ Petition (Civil) No. 250 of 2007 and Kartam Joga and others v. State of Chhattisgarh and Union of India, Writ Petition (Criminal) No. 119 of 2007. The Supreme Court of India clubbed both the petitions under Nandini Sundar and others v. State of Chhattisgarh.
33 Nandini Sundar and others v. State of Chhattisgarh, Criminal Miscellaneous Petition No. 6462 of 2008, Order, April 15, 2008, http://courtnic.nic.in/supremecourt/temp/wc%2025007p.txt (accessed April 17, 2008).
34 Human Rights Forum, War in Dantewara, p. 44; Independent Citizens Initiative, War in the Heart of India, p. 48; Asian Centre for Human Rights, The Adivasis of Chhattisgarh, Victims of the Naxalite Movement and Salwa Judum Campaign, p. 7.
35 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with lawyer K. Balagopal, February 5, 2008 (second interview).