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Indian Maoist violence

Updated: Sat, 1 Jan 2011

At A GlanceBack to top

India's Maoist insurgency is waged mostly from the vast, mineral-rich forests of central and eastern India and poses the country's biggest internal security threat, the government says.

Maoist violence affects more than a third of India's districts.

Also known as Naxalites, the Maoists say they are fighting on behalf of the rural poor and landless and want to build a communist state.

However, the poor are also victims of the insurgency because of the Maoists' brutal, forced membership campaigns.

In many states, private armies and vigilante groups, often government-sponsored, have sprung up to counter the Maoists. These have also forcibly recruited villagers, who are caught between the two.

Tens of thousands have been displaced by the fighting between Maoists and counter-insurgents.

In DetailBack to top

The Maoist crisis in the mineral-rich heartlands of India has been described by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as India's biggest-ever internal security threat.

Maoist violence increased dramatically following the merger of two main communist groups in 2004. Their attacks have become bigger, involving hundreds of fighters and militia members, and their presence spread from about 56 districts in 2001 to more than 200 in 2011.

The rebels say they are fighting for the rights of India's rural poor and indigenous tribespeople, and are active in the vast mineral-rich forests of central and eastern India which are home to some of India's most deprived communities.

Tribespeople (adivasis) living in the area have experienced decades of discrimination and government neglect, and forced migration to make way for large infrastructure and mining projects.

The government has increased the number of security forces in the region and focused on development to wean people away from the Maoists.

Although some local tribespeople support the rebels, others are caught between government military offensives and forced recruitment by the Maoists. Both sides have committed abuses, and Maoists and government-supported vigilante groups have recruited children, according to rights groups.

Up to 450,000 people are estimated to have been displaced by the conflict between 2005 and mid-2010. Nearly 150,000 people were displaced in September 2010 - including 100,000 people who fled a government offensive in Chhattisgarh state between mid-2009 and mid-2010 - the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) said.

Thousands are living in camps and many more are scattered across Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal states. Many are using false names to avoid being identified, IDMC said.

Brief historyBack to top

The communist movement in India officially began in the 1920s with the formation of the Communist Party of India (CPI).

In 1964 a serious ideological rift within the party, corresponding with the Sino-Soviet split, led a breakaway group to form the Communist Party of India (Marxist) which is now a mainstream Marxist political party.

Some members of the Marxist party were behind a famous uprising in defence of tribal land, in Naxalbari in West Bengal in 1967.

The leaders of the Naxalbari uprising broke away from CPI (Marxist) in 1969 to form the CPI (Marxist-Leninist) - the Maoists, or Naxalites. This party advocated armed revolution and denounced participation in the electoral process.

Soon the Maoists had created vast guerrilla zones stretching from West Bengal to Bihar to Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh.

But within a few years their fortunes waned because of internal splits, the death in 1972 of their ideological leader Charu Mazumdar, and major crackdowns by the government.

Since then there have been many communist revolutionary groups operating in different parts of India.

One of the most significant was the People's War Group, formed in 1980 by Kondapally Seetharamaiah, a schoolteacher. It promoted an armed revolution, targeting the state and the security forces as well as oppressive landlords. It began in Andhra Pradesh and spread to Chhattisgarh and Orissa states.

It gained strength in 1998 when it merged with another left-wing group, the Communist Party of India (Marxist Leninist Party Unity).

More recently, two events fuelled the Maoists' ascendancy.

In 2004, their ability to coordinate grew when two main communist groups - the People's War Group and the Maoist Communist Centre - merged to form the Communist Party of India (Maoist).

Secondly, the success of the Maoists in neighbouring Nepal raised morale and increased manpower, according to Mallika Joseph of the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies in New Delhi.

In 2005, both countries' Maoists publicly stated their intention to work with each other to spread communism.

Experts are now concerned the Maoists are reaching out to Islamist militants active in India's northeast, and are growing a presence in India's urban areas.

Increasing violence?Back to top

Maoist violence has grown dramatically in the past decade, despite sweeping military offensives and government investment in schools, roads and hospitals.

Hundreds of people are killed every year. The worst-affected states are Chhattisgarh, Orissa, West Bengal and Jharkhand.

In 2009, the government launched a security operation in all four states to try and rein in the Maoists. And in March 2010, India launched its largest-ever security operation involving tens of thousands of federal troops and policemen. Although the rebels were pushed deep into their jungle strongholds, they continued to carry out hit-and-run attacks and numerous high-profile kidnappings.

In April 2010, the government faced strong criticism that security forces were ill-prepared to deal with the insurgent threat after 75 police were killed in an ambush in Chhattisgarh that led to the home minister tendering his resignation.

Indian police believe there are around 20,000 hardcore Maoist militants.

VigilantesBack to top

Although many tribal people support the Maoists, they have also suffered brutally at their hands.

The Maoists demand that each family supply one member as a cadre for their ranks. Maoists support themselves by extorting "taxes" from local people. They exact punishment, including execution, on those who resist them.

In Chhattisgarh, the humanitarian situation is particularly bad.

Here the government has "outsourced" its war on the Maoists by recruiting villagers to lead the fight.

They operate under the umbrella of a movement known as Salwa Judum, which means "Purification Hunt" or "Peace Campaign" depending on who you ask.

Since its inception in 2005, Salwa Judum committed atrocities and villagers were forcibly recruited to the movement. Its members have been accused of looting houses, burning down villages and causing the displacement of thousands of tribal people.

Villagers face retribution from either side if they support, or appear to sympathise with the other.

The authorities evacuated entire villages to makeshift Salwa Judum camps, ostensibly to keep them safe from Maoist attacks. Thousands of tribal people live there, far from their farms and livelihoods. Once in the camps, villagers were subject to Maoist attacks, IDMC said in September 2010.

The Delhi-based Asian Centre for Human Rights said the Salwa Judum campaign has been "disastrous", leading to a surge in deaths on both sides and among civilians. In Chhattisgarh the situation became akin to a civil war, it said.

India's Supreme Court in July 2011 ordered the Chhattisgarh government to disarm Salwa Judum members and stop funding recruitments to the group.

LinksBack to top

The South Asia Terrorism Monitor tracks the number of fatalities from Maoist violence.

The Asian Centre for Human Rights monitors the Maoist conflict.

The New-Delhi based Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies monitors the Naxalite rebellions and periodically publishes papers about them.

Meanwhile, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre has collated many sources on the Maoist insurgency.

Naxal Terror Watch is an anti-Naxal site, with an up-to-date collection of news about the activities of Indian Naxals, and archives going back to November 2004.

Useful local media sources include the Times of India, The Hindu, Frontline magazine, the Deccan Herald, and the Hindustan Times.

TimelineBack to top

1920s - Formation of Communist party of India (CPI)

1947 - India achieves independence

1948 - Telangana Struggle in Andhra Pradesh, later seen as the earliest manifestation of the Maoist Naxalite Movement

1957 - General Election in which CPI emerges as largest opposition party

1964 - CPI (Marxist) forms as a result of an ideological rift in the CPI

1967 - CPI (Marxist) uprising in Naxalbari village in northwest Bengal, in response to the takeover of tribal land, gives the Maoists their popular name of Naxalites

1969 - Leaders of the Naxalbari uprising form the CPI (Marxist-Leninist), advocating the Naxalite ideology and promoting armed revolution

Early 1970s - The Naxalbari movement reaches a peak with the creation of guerrilla zones stretching from West Bengal to Bihar to Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh

1972 - Naxalite leader Charu Maazumdar dies in police custody

Mid to late 1970s - Naxalites fade as a result of major government crackdowns, loss of support from China after Mao's death, and multiple internal rifts

1980 - People's War Group (PWG) is founded, an armed peasant Naxalite movement advocating revolution in the Indian countryside

1987 - PWG kidnaps group of senior bureaucrats, a turning point in its history. It demands a communist state in Andhra Pradesh and neighbouring states

1998 - PWG merges with the CPI (Marxist-Leninist Party Unity) to form the CPI (Marxist-Leninist) People's War, active in the state of Bihar

2002 - Maoist insurgency claims 623 lives

2003 - Insurgency claims 339 lives


Jun - In Andhra Pradesh, Maoists begin peace negotiations with government, which declares six-month ceasefire

Sep - Communist Party of India (Maoist) forms as a merger of the two major Maoist formations, the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) and the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) People's War

2005 - Insurgency claims 892 lives

Jan - Andhra Pradesh peace talks fail

Jun - Salwa Judum movement is launched in response to insurgency in Chhattisgarh

Sep - First meeting of the Standing Committee of Chief Ministers of the Naxalite-affected States of India in New Delhi

Oct - Government decides to place more troops along border with Nepal after Maoist rebels on both sides say they will work together


Apr - Manmohan Singh, India's prime minister, holds a review of the country's counterinsurgency plans after a surge in violence


Mar - Maoist rebels in Chhattisgarh state kill more than 50 policemen in a dawn attack

Jun - Maoists call a two-day strike in their strongholds of east and central India to protest against special economic zones (SEZs). Insurgents blow up a railway station in West Bengal

2009 - Maoists gain virtual control of Lalgarh district in West Bengal. ; Indian security forces eventually overwhelm the rebels

Nov – Government launches major anti-Maoist offensive


Mar – India deploys thousands of security forces to try and quash the Maoists - its largest security operation since independence

Apr – Maoist ambush in Chhattisgarh state kills 76 police, and a rebel attack on a bus kills 35 people

Oct – Five policemen are killed in a Maoist landmine blast in Bihar state


Feb – Six Maoist rebels are killed in Bihar state

May – Maoists kill seven police in Chhattisgarh state

Jun – Maoists kill 15 police officers in two bomb blasts in Chhattisgarh state

Jul – Maoists kill seven Congress party workers in a jungle ambush in Chhattisgarh state. India's Supreme Court orders Chhattisgarh government to disarm Salwa Judum and stop funding recruitment campaigns for the anti-Maoist group

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