By Deepak Kumar Nayak
On September 24, 2023, a woman Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadre, Hire Sapna, who was injured in the encounter on September 20 (below), and subsequently arrested by the Security Forces (SFs), in Dantewada District of Chhattisgarh, succumbed to her injuries. Sapna was a member of the CPI-Maoist’s ‘Keralapal Area Committee’.
On September 20, 2023, two women Maoists, Kumari Lakkhe and Mangli Padami, jointly carrying a reward of INR 700,000, were killed in an encounter with a joint team of Security Forces, including District Reserve Guards (DRG), carrying out an anti-Maoist operation in the forests of Aranpur in Dantewada District. The bodies of the two women, along with an INSAS (Indian Small Arms System) assault rifle, a 12-bore gun, a tiffin bomb, Improvised Explosive Device (IED) wires, ammunition, documents, and items of daily use were recovered from the incident site. Lakkhe was the ‘militia commander-in-chief’ of the ‘Malangir Area Committee’ and carried an INR 500,000 cash reward on her head, while Padami, who carried an INR 200,000 cash reward, was an active as a member of ‘Platoon 24’.
On September 16, 2023, five CPI-Maoist cadres, including two women, surrendered under the Lon Varratu (return to your home or village) campaign in the Dantewada District of Chhattisgarh. Among the surrendered Maoists, Kosru alias Kohla Alami, a resident of Orchha under the Parlanar Police Station in Narayanpur District, carrying a reward of INR 100,000, and was identified as the ‘President’ of the Kusmeli Jantana Sarkar (the Maoists’ “people’s government”). Others included Badru Alami, ‘Vice President’ of Kusmeli Jantana Sarkar, Vijja Madvi, ‘Vice President’ of Jiyakonda Dandakaranya Adivasi Kisan Majdoor Sangathan (DAKMS); Madke Kawasi and Hadme Mandavi, both members of Jiyakodata Krantikari Adivasi Mahila Sanghathan (KAMS). All the surrendered Maoists were active in the ‘Katekalyan and Indravati Area Committees’ and were involved in incidents of digging roads, cutting trees, and putting up Maoist banners, posters and pamphlets, during bandh (general shut-down strike) calls.
On September 2, 2023, four lower-rung CPI-Maoist cadres – Rava Muka (25), Muka Kalmu (23), Hidma Rava (32), and Madvi Bheema (30) – were arrested by SFs during a search operation in a forest near Gonderas village under Aranpur Police Station limits in Dantewada District. The arrested Maoists were reportedly involved in an encounter between the SFs and the Maoists on the intervening nights of February 19 and 20, 2022, in the Aranpur area of Dantewada District, which resulted in the killing of one Maoist, Arjun alias Lakhma Sodi (34), carrying a reward of INR 500,000 on his head. While Sodi was killed, other Maoists escaped into the dense forest area.
According to partial data collated by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), at least 78 Naxalites [Left Wing Extremists] have been neutralized – three killed, 24 arrested and 51 surrendered – in Dantewada District in the current year, thus far (data till October 1, 2023). During the corresponding period of 2022, 25 Naxalites were neutralized – eight killed and 17 surrendered. Another nine Naxalites were neutralized – one killed, six arrested and two surrendered – in the remaining part of the year, taking the total number of neutralised Naxalites to 34 through 2022. Since March 6, 2000, when SATP started compiling data on Left Wing Extremism (LWE)-related incidents in India, at least 1,709 Naxalites have been neutralized – 421 killed, 615 arrested and 673 surrendered – in Dantewada, accounting for 18.91 per cent of the overall Naxalites neutralised (9,035 – 1,397 killed, 3,526 arrested and 4,112 surrendered) in the state.
Meanwhile, Maoist efforts to recover their erstwhile areas of dominance have been foiled by the SFs. Weapons have been recovered on five occasions in the current year, and there were five such incidents in 2022 as well. A total of 140 incidents of the recovery of arms have been recorded since 2000.
As the SF pressure increased, Maoist activities have declined. As against a total of 16 civilians killed in 2018 alone, a recent high, between 2019 and 2022, the number of civilians killed was 16 (2019:4, 2020: 3, 2021: 4, 2022: 5). Similarly, as against a total of 12 SF personnel killed in 2018 alone, between 2019 and 2022, the number of SFs killed was seven (2019:5, 2020: 1, 2021: 1, 2022: 0).
With their desperation increasing, the Maoists carried out a major attack targeting the SFs in April 2023. On April 26, 2023, at least 10 SF personnel of the DRG and a civilian driver were killed, when Maoists detonated a powerful 50-kilogramme IED and then fired on the injured personnel on the Aranpur Road, under Aranpur Police Station limits in Dantewada District. The DRG personnel were returning from an anti-Maoist operation. The dead included three head constables, Joga Sodi, Munna Ram Kadti, and Santosh Tamo; four constables, Dulgo Mandavi, Lakhmu Markam, Joga Kawasi, and Hariram Mandavi; three secret soldiers (Gopniya Sainik), Raju Ram Kartam, Jayram Podiyam and Jagdish Kawasi; and the civilian driver, Dhaniram Yadav.
Further, a July 15, 2023, report revealed that Maoists had recruited and trained at least 1,200 new cadres in the Dantewada, Sukma and South Bastar regions of Chhattisgarh. Disclosing the development, an unnamed senior official from the security and intelligence wing noted,
Around 1,000 cadres have been recruited by the Maoists in Dantewada and Sukma regions. Another 200-250 new cadres were recruited by the Maoists in South Bastar. Earlier, there were barely 50-100 cadres in South Bastar and 200-400 in Dantewada and Sukma, which now have swelled to a substantial number after fresh recruitment.
The report also divulged that the Maoists’ ‘technical and research’ wing is said to be developing Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Devices (VBIED), to attack Police posts, mounting them on tractors or four-wheelers used in rural areas. The Maoists are also developing drones to carry and drop up to five kilogrammes of explosives on Police Stations.
On August 27, 2023, in another worrying development, SFs seized 80 arrow bombs, one gelatine rod, two detonators, firecrackers, Maoist literature, and other incriminating materials recovered from a Maoist cadre, Hemla Nanda (41), a member of the Gumodi DAKMS, following his arrest during a search operation in the forests between Nahadi and Chhotehidma villages under Aranpur Police Station limits in Dantewada District.
Meanwhile, on August 23, 2023, quashing the undying efforts of the Maoists to regroup, the SFs neutralised two Maoist camps, one of which spread over an area of two acres and was being used for training, along the border of Sukma and Dantewada Districts. Dantewada Additional Superintendent of Police, R.K. Barman disclosing information about a Maoist training camp found on a hill between Gatta Pal and Paria villages, observed
The camp was spread over an area of two acres and could accommodate 80-100 Naxals. During the search, live rounds of the AK-47 rifle, Maoist uniforms, bags, medicines, electric wires, solar panels, Maoist literature, and a huge quantity of ration materials and items of daily use were found.
Dantewada falls within the perilous ‘Bastar Division’ of Chhattisgarh, which remains the major challenge for the state. Moreover, it shares borders with Bijapur, Sukma, Bastar, and Narayanpur districts, all of which are classified among the ’25 Most Affected Districts’ from eight states across India. The district has been the epicentre of LWE-linked violence in Chhattisgarh. Additionally, Dantewada, along with six other districts of Chhattisgarh (Bastar, Bijapur, Sukma, Kanker, Narayanpur, and Rajnandgaon), is also included among the 70 Naxal-affected districts in 10 states across the country, covered under the Centre’s Security Related Expenditure (SRE) scheme, which funds focused operations against the Naxalites.
Since March 6, 2000, Dantewada has recorded 1,200 fatalities (352 civilians, 421 SF personnel, 421 Naxalites, and six ‘Not Specified’ killings) in Maoist-linked violence, accounting for 33.31 per cent of such overall fatalities (3,602 – 975 civilians, 1,206 SF personnel, 1,397 Naxalites, and 24 ‘Not Specified’ killings) recorded in the state.
In view of the continued efforts to regain their supremacy in their erstwhile regions of dominance, though with little current success, sustained SF operations will be necessary to bring Maoist violence, in Dantewada in particular, and in the state at large, to an end.
- Deepak Kumar Nayak
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management