The Maoist guerrillas of India, referred to as “Naxalites,” are still destroying the rural landscape—trapping many indigenous peoples in their crossfire with the police and upending the economy. Reports last year indicated that the Birhor were heavily impacted by the Naxalite depredations; this year the Yanadi are under fire.
In Chhattisgarh state on July 17, the Naxalites attacked an armed camp set up to protect tribal families. Perhaps 80 people were injured in the attack and 26 people were killed, including three women and two infants. Three people died when their homes were set on fire, and two were killed by gunshots. But most, according to a news report, died due to attacks with “sharp-edged weapons.” In other words, the indigenous refugees were hacked to death.
But the big news was a counterattack the next week by an elite police commando force known as the Greyhounds. On July 23, the commandos targeted a forested meeting site of top Maoist leaders in the state of Andhra Pradesh. The Greyhounds gunned down eight people, including the state committee secretary of the Communist Party of India – Marxist-Leninist, a man who went by the nom de guerre “Madhav.”
Fearing immediate retaliation by the guerrillas for his death, officials issued an alert to all government people to take immediate safety precautions. As one news report said, “many public representatives, who are on the Maoist hit list, are rushing to the state capital as a precautionary measure.”
Police then launched a massive dragnet in the forests of Andhra Pradesh in their hunt for Naxalites. About 700 commandos prowled the forested Nallamala Hills, located about 100 miles to the southeast of Hyderabad, a favorite hiding and meeting place for the Naxalites for years.
During the continuing police operations, the tribal peoples, as always caught in the middle, are being accused by each side of supporting the other. The tribals fear the Naxalites, who attack them because they think they inform the police about their movements. The tribal peoples also fear the police who suspect them of contributing personnel, shelter, and support for the guerrillas. The Yanadi in this area are among the tribal peoples fleeing their villages to places of refuge, though the massacre the previous week in Chhattisgarh showed that the armed refugee camps are not entirely safe either.
Armed camps for the peasants and officials fleeing into cities for safety—it’s a very real contemporary tragedy, not a B-grade film about medieval times. Tribal societies are not the only ones suffering from all the turmoil and killing. Forestry officials patrolling their forests in Andhra Pradesh have also been in serious danger, both from Naxalites in the bushes and from Greyhounds in the trees. One forestry patrol emerged from a patch of thick foliage to find a group of commandos, literally in a tree, preparing to shoot. “You escaped death by a fraction of a second,” a policeman told them.
The wildlife in the Nallamala Hills—tigers, leopards, panthers, bears, and other animals—are also suffering due to the warfare. They are seriously disturbed by the roving bands of men and hovering helicopters.
Some of the worst fighting occurs in the rural areas of states with the most energy resources—and the heaviest tribal populations. In those areas, the guerrillas are particularly targeting the coal mining industry. Chhattisgarh, Andra Pradesh, Orissa, Jharkhand, and West Bengal states have 85 percent of India’s coal resources in their rural, Naxalite-infested, regions. Since coal represents 55 percent of India’s energy, the threat to the economy of the nation is obvious.
But the Naxalites are more than just a threat to coal mining. For all the international focus on the vaunted high tech businesses of India, the nation still relies on a lot on heavy industry. Tata Steel, part of a major Indian industrial empire, tried to build a steel mill in a rural area of eastern India, but instead of being welcomed, the locals fought a pitched battle with the police to drive away the bulldozers. Inspired perhaps by the Naxalite rebellion, the indigenous inhabitants fought to prevent construction from starting.
While some local people apparently would welcome the jobs, water resources, and development that the steel mill would represent, many are opposed. A spokesperson for the Naxalites emphasized to the Guardian Unlimited that “the government is bent upon taking out all the resources from this area and leaving the people nothing.”
Since they control over 92,000 square kilometers (36,000 square miles) of eastern India, and have an estimated 20,000 armed insurgents, the Naxalites are a force to be reckoned with. Their killings are an almost daily news feature of the Indian press, though the continuing violence suffered by peaceful societies such as the Yanadi is often overlooked.