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Last Updated: Friday, 5 May 2006, 10:19 GMT 11:19 UK
India's local anti-Maoist campaign
By Faisal Mohammad Ali
BBC News, Chhattisgarh

Government-run camp in Chhattisgarh's Dantewara district
Nearly 50,000 people are living in government-run camps
In the southern part of the Indian state of Chhattisgarh tribesmen from several villages, sometimes from as many as 30 or more, trek for miles carrying traditional bows, arrows, drums and cymbals.

They are on a mission to get rid of the region's Maoist menace.

Over the last year, more than 100 such marches and pledge ceremonies have taken place in Dantewara, the southern-most district of the state and a Maoist stronghold.

The campaign, which is supported by the state and federal authorities, is called Salva Judum (or Peace March when translated in the local Gondi dialect) and is aimed at ridding the area of the rebels.

The rebels... keep track of all activities in the area, including the movement of the security forces
MW Ansari
Inspector general of police
Village heads are asked to identify those who may have links with the rebels.

"This will help in breaking the network of the rebels who have been able to set up a chain at village level to keep track of all activities in the area including the movement of security forces," says inspector general of police MW Ansari.

Debate over tactics

The administration says that more than 2,000 Maoist supporters have been identified this way.

But others say the move is a very minor achievement as the supporters form the lowest rung of the Maoist organisational set-up.

Ruchir Garg, an expert on the Maoists in the region, says rebels entered this area about 25 years ago have set up a chain of command.

It encompasses local, regional and state military squads as well as mass organisations such as cultural, women, peasant and workers' wings.

The Salva Judum campaign started last June after reports that the rebels were prohibiting villagers from collecting forest produce and beating up anyone who defied their orders, in some cases even torching their houses.

Tribesmen and women collect tendu leaves, which are used to make a kind of local cigarette, as well as honey and herbs in the region's jungles and are the mainstay of the indigenous communities living in the area.

Those at the forefront of the campaign say elders from several villages felt the need to attack the Maoists who are hurting their economic development.

Some argue, however, that the campaign has been organised by the police by spreading misinformation.

Targeted

The police and administration describe it as a "people's voluntary uprising against the oppression of the rebels".

But many independent observers feel it is a police strategy to combat the Maoists using the tribes people as a shield.

Leaders from the campaign visited our village and ordered that one member from each family should participate in the meeting
Tribal family head
Since June last year when the campaign started, as many as 150 people have been killed by the Maoists.

Nearly 50,000 people from more than 600 villages have fled and are living in government-run camps.

Many have fled to towns and villages in nearby states or migrated to the cities out of fear of the rebels who have escalated their violence and have twice even raided fortified camps.

The Maoists have accused the security forces of forcing villagers to participate in the Salva Judum campaign and say they will crush it.

Tribal girl in Chhattisgarh's Dantewara district
The rebels accuse the police of using the tribals as a shield
The allegations appear to have some basis.

"Leaders from the campaign visited our village and ordered that one member from each family should participate in the meeting otherwise we would be considered working for the rebels," said the head of a family who have fled the area and are trying to resettle in a city.

International human rights group, Amnesty International, has also raised concerns over the safety of ordinary people, including indigenous communities, in the wake of violence between rebels and members of the campaign.

Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh has said that the government will now ask those running the campaign to keep the gatherings smaller so that security can be provided.

Twenty-eight people were killed in February when trucks carrying villagers from one such anti-Maoist meeting hit a rebel landmine.


SEE ALSO:
Indian Maoists 'attack village'
15 Feb 06 |  South Asia
Indian state bans Maoist groups
05 Sep 05 |  South Asia
Indian landmine blast kills 24
04 Sep 05 |  South Asia
India's Maoist revolutionaries
08 Apr 04 |  South Asia
Key Indian Maoist groups unite
08 Oct 04 |  South Asia


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