The Red Corridor of the Naxalites: How the hunt for resources provokes a civil war in the Indian "tribal zone"
The revolutionary fire of the village of Naxalbari
The Maoist guerrillas called the naxals of the village of Naksalbari, where an armed uprising of communists from the radical wing of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) against central government broke out in 1967. The village of Naxalbari is located in the state of West Bengal, near the Indo-Nepalese border. Ironically, on the other side of the border, in Nepal, where in the year 1967 there was little knowledge of the Maoists, the Maoist party eventually succeeded in overthrowing the royal regime. In India itself, the Maoists are still in civil war. At the same time, the village of Naxalbari is considered a place of pilgrimage for radicals from all over Hindustan. After all, it began with Naxalbari story and the Indian "Red Corridor", and the fighting, called by the Maoists the "People's War", and the Indian Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist), which represented the "alma mater" of the entire Indian Maoist movement.
Although the leader of the Naxalite uprising, the legendary communist Charu Mazumdar (1918-1972) died under mysterious circumstances at the police station shortly after his detention 42 a year ago, in 1972, the Indian government cannot be defeated in our days. The woodland of the Indian states that are part of the Red Corridor plays its role, but we must not forget about the mass support of the partisans by the peasant population.
The focus of the Naxalite uprising at the end of the 1960-ies. became West Bengal. This Indian state is notable for its dense population - only according to official data more than 91 million people live on its territory. Secondly, in West Bengal, social problems are very strong, connected not only with densely populated but also with the consequences of the war for the independence of Bangladesh, which led to the resettlement of millions of refugees to India. Finally, the land problem is very acute in West Bengal. The radical communist rebels attracted the sympathies of the peasant masses by the fact that they promised the latter the solution of the land question, i.e. the forced redistribution of land by large landowners in favor of landless and land-poor peasants.
1977 to 2011 in West Bengal, Communists were in power. Although they represented the politically more moderate Communist Party of India (Marxist), the very fact that leftist forces were in power in such an important Indian state could not help but give hope to their more radical like-minded people to quickly build socialism. Moreover, the Maoist insurgents of India all this time were supported by China, who, with the help of the followers of Mao Zedong on the Indian subcontinent, was counting on significantly weakening their southern rival and gaining leverage in South Asia. For the same purpose, China supported the Maoist parties in Nepal, Burma, Thailand, Malaysia, and the Philippines.
West Bengal became the epicenter of the “people's war”, which over the last three decades of the twentieth century spread to the territory of the “Red Corridor”. When moderate Communists from the KPI (Marxist) came to power in West Bengal, the Maoists actually got the opportunity to conduct legal propaganda activities and even create their own bases and camps in rural areas of the state. In exchange, they promised not to make armed attacks in the territory controlled by their more moderate like-minded people.
Adivasi - the social base of the "people's war"
Gradually, the role of the center of armed resistance passed to the neighboring states of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. The specificity of these states is that here, besides the Hindus proper - Bengalis, Biharis, Marathas, Telugu - there are also numerous aboriginal tribes. Racially, they are an intermediate type between Indians and Australoids, approaching the Dravids of South India, and ethnolinguistically belong to the Austro-Asiatic branch and are included in the so-called. "The family of the peoples of the munda".
This family includes both munda and santalas, as well as smaller ethnic groups - the crust, Kharia, Birhora, Savary, etc. The total number of people of the Munda exceeds nine million people. However, they all their history were outside the traditional Indian caste system. In essence, in the caste society, non-entry into the caste system provided them with the place of the "untouchables", that is, the very bottom of the social hierarchy of Indian society.
In India, the forest peoples of the central and eastern states are usually summarized under the name "adivasi". Initially, adivasis were forest dwellers and it was the forest that was their natural habitat and, accordingly, the sphere of economic interests. As a rule, the economic life of adivasi was locked within a village located in the forest. Adivasi tribes carried on subsistence farming and contacted neighboring communities only as much as they were needed, including for the exchange of medicinal plants, fruits, etc. collected in the forest.
Considering that most of the adivasi representatives were engaged in primitive farming, or even fishing and gathering, their standard of living was well beyond the poverty line. Economically, adivasis are marked by considerable backwardness. Until now, the tribes living in the central and eastern states of India are not familiar with plow farming, or even focused entirely on collecting medicinal plants. The low level of economic development is also responsible for the total poverty of adivasi, which is especially pronounced in modern conditions.
In addition, adivasis are exploited by more developed neighbors, both Indo-Aryans and Dravidians. Using their financial and power resources, landowners from among the representatives of the highest castes drove adivasis from their lands, forcing them to engage in batratsky labor or turn into urban pariahs. Like many other nations, divorced from the usual conditions of existence, adivasis outside the forest environment instantly turn into outcasts of society, often degrading both morally and socially and, eventually, dying.
At the end of the twentieth century, the situation was exacerbated by increased attention to the lands of residence of adivasi from the side of large timber and mining companies. The fact is that East India is rich in both forest and mineral resources. However, in order to gain access to them, it is necessary to free the territory from the indigenous population living on it - the same adivasis. Although the adivasis are the indigenous peoples of India and lived on the peninsula long before the Indo-Aryan ethnic groups appeared, their legal right to live on their land and own its resources was not at all disturbed either by the Indian authorities or by foreign industrialists who had their eye on the forests of Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal and other East Indian states. Meanwhile, the deployment of mining in the zone of direct residence and management of adivasi inevitably entails their eviction from the villages, the cessation of traditional industries and, as we noted above, the complete marginalization and slow extinction.
When the Maoists extended their activities outside of West Bengal, they turned their attention to adivasi as a potential social base. At the same time, the Maoist sympathies caused not only the extremely low position of adivasis in the social hierarchy of modern Indian society and their almost total poverty, but also the preservation of significant components of the communal system, which could be considered as a favorable basis for the adoption of communist ideas. Recall that in the neighboring states of Indochina, particularly in Burma, the Maoists relied primarily on the support of socially and economically backward and oppressed mountain peoples.
Salva Judum in the service of the Indian government
On the other hand, the Indian authorities, and first of all the landowners and industrialists, are well aware that it is easy to turn the disadvantaged adivasis into their puppets, even interested in small money, are recruited by thousands of forestry people in the ranks of the paramilitaries and timber companies. As a result, adivasis are involved in the process of mutual destruction. Militants of private military units destroy the villages of their own tribes, killing their tribesmen. In turn, the peasants join the ranks of the Maoist rebels en masse and attack police stations, landowners, headquarters of pro-government political organizations.
The Indian government actually reproduces the colonial policies of its British predecessors. Only if the British colonized India, exploiting its wealth, then the modern Indian authorities colonize their own territory, turning it into an "internal colony." Even the policy regarding adivasi is very similar to the colonial one. In particular, villages and tribal communities are divided into "friendly" and "hostile." The former are loyal to the authorities, the latter, therefore, are opposition-minded and participate in the armed struggle of the Maoists. In its desire to suppress the Maoist "popular war" the Indian government, like the colonialists at the time, seeks to act on the principle of "divide and rule", relying on the support of the "friendly" adivasis.
Using the experience of the colonial predecessors, the Indian authorities are actively using against the Naxalites units of the security forces, recruited in completely different regions of the country, from representatives of ethnicly alien ethnic groups. Thus, police regiments are actively used, staffed by representatives of the Naga ethnic groups and Mizo - people from the states of Nagaland and Mizoram, who are widely known for their military traditions and skills. In the state of Chhattisgarh from 2001, the Naga battalion is located. On the other hand, the state authorities, with the support of police leadership, are promoting the formation of private detachments of landowners and paramilitary pro-government organizations that recruit their adivasi fighters. The Maoists themselves are blaming the Indian authorities for the use of American instructors - anti-rebel combat specialists - to train police personnel.
Since 2005, the “Salva Judum” movement has been operating in the “tribal zone”, inspired by the Indian government with direct organizational and financial leadership of the local feudal elite. The task of this movement is the anti-rebel struggle against the strength of the adivasi peasantry itself. Thanks to government propaganda, financial injections and activities of traditional tribal authorities, many adivasis are taking the side of government forces in the fight against the Maoists. They form their own patrols that search for and destroy the rebels. Auxiliary police officers from among the adivasis youth are recruited to participate in these patrols.
The auxiliary police officers not only pay a good salary by the standards of adivasi, but also give out weapons, food, and most importantly, many of the young adivasis, joining Salva Judum, are able to enter the personnel police service, that is, to arrange their future as she would never have been in a village or a rebel camp. Of course, a significant part of the auxiliary policemen are the first to die in clashes with Maoist rebels, especially considering that their weapons and uniforms are much worse than those of the security personnel, and the training also leaves much to be desired (many auxiliary police officers are generally adolescents who write in these groups, guided rather by romantic motives).
The brutality of Salva Judum against not only the Maoist rebels, but also ordinary adivasi peasants is impressive. Like the policemen who were in the service of the Nazis during the war, in India, the auxiliary police officers hope to bargain with their masters more salary or be enlisted in the personnel of the police. Therefore, tracking down the rebels, they deal with the peasants sympathizing with them. For example, villages where the Maoists enjoy the influence and support of the local population are burned to the ground. In this case, residents are forcibly relocated to government camps. The cases of massacre of civilians on the part of auxiliary detachments and sexual crimes became known repeatedly.
International organizations draw attention to the inadmissibility of violence by police forces against civilians. However, the government of India prefers not to disseminate information about the actual situation in the “tribal zone” and, above all, in the so-called “Government camps” where adivasis are forcibly resettled from villages that were previously under the control of the Maoist rebel groups. Although in 2008, the government of Chhattisgarh suspended the activities of the Salva Judum units, in fact they continued to exist under different signs without changing their essence and tactics regarding the Maoists and the peasant population supporting them.
It should be noted that the adivasi, despite the plight of their overwhelming majority, also has its own top, relatively successful even by the standards of more developed Indo-Aryans. First of all, these are tribal feudal lords and landowners, traditional clergymen who are in close cooperation with government officials of state administrations, police commanders, large timber industry and mining corporations. It is they who directly control the part of the adivasi formations that oppose the Maoist insurgents.
25 May 2013, the Maoist rebels attacked the Indian National Congress motorcade. The attack killed a man 24, among whom was sixty-two-year-old Mahendra Karma. This richest man in the state of Chhattisgarh himself belonged to adivasi, but due to his social position in society he never associated his own interests with the needs of oppressed tribesmen from among the peasants. It was Karma who stood at the origins of “Salva Judum” and, according to the Maoists, he was directly responsible for placing over 50 thousands of adivasis of Dantevada district into government concentration camps.
"People's War": there is no end to the revolution?
Despite the efforts of the central and state governments to suppress partisan foci in Eastern and Central India, until recently, neither the security forces and the police, nor the militias of private companies and Salva Judum have managed to overcome the armed resistance of the red partisans. This is largely due to the support of the Maoists in the most diverse strata of the population, due to the very specifics of the socio-economic and political situation in present-day India and, especially, in its central and eastern states.
It is noteworthy that the Maoists also find supporters among representatives of the highest strata of the population. As in Nepal, in the leadership of the Indian Maoists a significant part consists of people from the highest caste of Brahmins. In particular, Kisendzhi was also a brahman of descent, he is Kotesvar Rao (1956-2011) - the legendary leader of the Maoist partisans in Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal, who was killed in a clash with government forces 25 in November 2011 of the year. In his youth, received a bachelor's degree in mathematics, Kisendzhi rejected his scientific career and from the 18 age he devoted himself to the revolutionary struggle in the ranks of the Maoist Communist Party. However, the vast majority of modern Maoists in the states of Eastern and Central India still make up adivasi. According to media reports, among the Indian political prisoners - the Maoists, who number up to 10 thousand people, adivasi make up at least 80-90%.
The Communist Party of India (Maoist), in which the most active armed organizations, the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) “People's War” and the Maoist Communist Coordination Center, united in 2004, managed to rally up 5000 armed militants in their ranks. The total number of supporters and sympathizers, on whose help the Maoists can rely on their daily activities, has at least 40-50 thousands of people. The armed wing of the party is the Rebel Army for the Liberation of the People. The organization is divided into units - "Dalama", in each of which there are approximately from 9 to 12 fighters (that is, it is a kind of analogue of the reconnaissance and sabotage group). In the states of Eastern India, there are dozens of "Dalamus", usually staffed by young representatives of the Adivasi peoples and "revolutionary romantics" from among the urban intelligentsia.
In India, the Maoists actively use the concept of “liberated areas”, which envisages the creation of separate territories that are not controlled by the government and are fully controlled by the rebel groups. People’s power is proclaimed in the “liberated territory” and, in parallel with the implementation of armed operations against government forces, Maoist rebels are working to create parallel management structures and public organization.
In the wooded mountainous terrain at the junction of the boundaries of the states of Anjhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Orissa and Maharashtra, Maoist armed groups managed to create the so-called Special Zone of Dan Dakaranya. In fact, these are areas where the power of the central Indian and state governments does not work. The Adivasi villages here are under the complete control of the Maoists, who not only organize their military bases, training centers and hospitals, but also carry out the entirety of day-to-day management.
First of all, the Maoists carried out a number of economic reforms in the territory they controlled - the land was redistributed in favor of ordinary community members, usury was banned, the crop distribution system was modernized. Own governing bodies were created — people's revolutionary committees (janathan sarkar), including the Peasant Workers Union and the Revolutionary Women's Union. The branches of the unions — the sangams — perform the basic functions of rural self-government. That is, they are responsible for carrying out agricultural work, social protection of villagers, their medical care and education.
The Maoists organize schools where formerly illiterate adivasi children are taught, medical services are provided to the population, rural libraries are being opened (nonsense for deaf areas of Central India!). Equally, progressive measures of prohibition are being implemented. Thus, child marriage, debt slavery and other vestiges of an archaic society are prohibited. Considerable efforts are being made to increase the productivity of peasant farms, in particular, peasants are being trained in more efficient farming methods. That is, in terms of observing the interests of the indigenous population, the communist rebels do not look extremists. Rather, they express the interests of indigenous tribes, contributing to the improvement of their standard of living and discouraging aggressive actions from timber merchants and landowners.
At the same time, the Maoist rebels, acting in the “liberated territories”, also carried out coercive measures, in particular, they carried out the call of young people, both male and female, to partisan units. Naturally, repressive measures are being taken against the peasant elite, former elders and clergymen who disagree with the policies of the Maoist party in the villages. There are also death sentences of Maoists against local residents protesting against the events they hold in the “liberated territories”.
In many respects, the current situation is determined by the conservation of social foundations in modern Indian society. The preservation of the caste system makes it impossible for genuine equality of the country's population, which in turn pushes representatives of the lower castes into the ranks of revolutionary organizations. Although the movement for the rights of untouchables and indigenous peoples has been growing in India over the past few decades, the practical policies of the Indian government, especially at the regional level, differ sharply from the declared humanistic goals. Local oligarchs are also contributing to the escalation of violence. They are interested only in financial gain, and specifically in making a profit from the sale of forest and mineral raw materials to foreign companies.
Of course, the guerrilla war carried out by the Maoists in the states of the "red corridor" does not contribute to improving the socio-economic situation in India. Often the actions of the Maoists turn into an escalation of violence, entailing the death of hundreds of civilians. It is difficult to deny the certain cruelty shown by the rebels even to the civilian population of the “liberated territories” in the event of the latter breaking the ideological dogmas and resolutions of the “people's power”. But, it is impossible and not to pay tribute to the rebels that they are, even if they are mistaken about something, but still fighters for the real interests of the adivasis. Unlike the government, which, following the traditions of the still old colonial British India, seeks only to squeeze as much profit as possible from the subordinate territories, not at all interested in the future of the people living there.
Reconciliation of the parties in the “people's war” in over 40 years in Eastern and Central India can hardly be achieved without fundamental changes in the social and economic spheres of the country's life. Naturally, the Indian government and, moreover, the financial oligarchy and the feudal landowners will never go for a real improvement in the living conditions for the adivasis. The profits from the sale of natural resources and forests, the exploitation of forest areas that once belonged to adivasi will outweigh, especially since we can speak of the presence of a foreign factor - interested foreign companies whose owners are certainly not interested in the fate of obscure "people of the tribes" in hard-to-reach corners far away india.
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