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Page last updated at 23:48 GMT, Tuesday, 4 May 2010 00:48 UK

Inside the Maoist insurgency in India's Jharkand state

Jharkand villagers tilling the land with oxen
The remote tribal lands of Jharkhand state are still tilled by oxen

By Alpa Shah
BBC Radio 4 Crossing Continents

The guerrilla fighter was tough, experienced, leading a platoon of around 60 insurgents.

"I am from a very poor family," the fighter told me.

"Life was very difficult. I joined the party and now I understand many more things. I think revolution is the only option."

One thing you should know about this hardline Maoist rebel - she is a young woman.

She is one of the growing numbers of poor Indians who have joined a four-decades-old Maoist rebellion, in which thousands have died. Last month the rebels killed 76 members of the security forces in a single attack.

Maoist fighters cooking a meal in the forest in Jharkand state
Maoist fighters cook rice and lentils for a platoon in a Jharkand forest camp

More than 20 of India's 28 states are affected by the insurgency. The remote tribal villages of Jharkhand state, where the fields are still tilled by oxen, are at the centre of it.

The area is home to some of the country's poorest people, mostly members of indigenous tribes. There is little sign of India's economic miracle here.

Local people feel the government has neglected them. So the Maoists, or "the party" as the villagers call them, have got on with running the place.

Parallel government

"The government here has no health programmes… so our party sets up health clinics to help the people," one Maoist fighter told me.

"This area is plagued by illness... Our party gives free medicines in the clinics - and we get help from doctors and nurses. We run them in the rainy season when people are suffering most."

The Maoists have drawn a lot of support from poor villagers like Chachi.

"They are like our sons, our brothers," she says.

A group of fighters gathered under a tall tree in the forest
The day starts with a roll call, then physical training and literacy classes

"Before, we were not allowed to go into our forests - the authorities used to cut the trees but we weren't even allowed to gather firewood. Now we can.

"The party makes sure there is no tension between rich and poor… that's why we want the party here."

But not everyone agrees. The Maoists have blown up schools because the security forces use them as barracks.

"The pupils there now have classes under a tree," says a teacher, whom I call Pandey.

"The area is not able to develop - if a road is to be constructed, the Maoists won't let it be built," Pandey says.

"When electricity was planned, at first they objected. They didn't allow the main road connecting the villages to the cities to be built. And so this area remains extremely backward."

'Gravest threat'

Pandey is from a different state. There are few villagers who are as critical. Whatever actions the Maoists take, it seems they are still considered part of the local community.

But the authorities brand them "the gravest threat to India's national security", in the words of Home Secretary G K Pillai.

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The government has sent 75,000 security forces and tens of thousands of policemen to these remote regions to regain control.

"Maoists treat the Indian state as the enemy. If citizens of India take up arms against the state no democracy can allow anarchy to flourish. And you can see in areas where the Maoists are there it's total anarchy. They decide who is to live, who is not to live," says Mr Pillai.

The Maoists defend their actions as part of a wider struggle to end the increasing gap between the rich and the poor.

Violence

I had a rare face-to-face interview with a member of the movement's leadership , a man I call Rameshji. I questioned him on their violent tactics.

You must eradicate the whole system and in order to eradicate the whole system, you must seize power
Maoist leader

"See the other side of the picture - how the minorities are butchered in state-sponsored pogroms," Rameshji responded.

"Many people in the struggling areas of central India are being killed by the state forces," he alleged. "Many people are dying of hunger. Who is responsible for such deaths? People are left with no other option. No-one is going to listen to you. This violence has been imposed by the state on the people of India."

For the Indian authorities, such accusations do not justify the insurgents' use of violent tactics against a democratically elected government.

But Maoist leaders like Rameshji seem determined to fight on until they overthrow the government itself.

"Our aim is to achieve a new democratic revolution - to seize the state power. You must eradicate the whole system and in order to eradicate the whole system, you must seize power."


Alpa Shah reports from Jharkand for Crossing Continents at 1102 BST on 6 May on BBC Radio 4 .

She is the author of 'In the Shadows of the State: Indigenous Politics, Environmentalism and Insurgency in Jharkhand, India'



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