By Deepak Kumar Nayak*
On June 5, 2019, Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres had beaten a youth to death and injured another at Budha Pahad hill under Bhandariya Police Station in Garhwa District of Jharkhand, on suspicion of being ‘police informer’. The deceased, identified as Jitendra Kisan (25), was a resident of Khapari Mahua village, while the injured, Dilip Tirkey, was a resident of Khura village, both under the Bhandariya Police Station.
On June 1, 2019, CPI-Maoist cadres shot dead a civilian, identified as Dileep, branding him a ‘police informer’, in the Lohardaga District of Jharkhand. According to the Police, the Maoists had abducted Dileep from his house in Bulbul village in the District in the night of May 31. His bullet riddled body was found on the next day. The Maoists had threatened him earlier, branding him a ‘police informers’, following which, the victim had taken shelter in a Police Station. He had returned to his village four or five days prior to his killing.
On the same day, CPI-Maoist cadres hacked to death a civilian, identified as Chhannu Sodhi (30) in the Bastar District of Chhattisgarh, branding him a ‘police informer’. Sodhi had gone to the Bastanar weekly market under the Kodenar Police Station area of the District. A local Police officer disclosed that Sodhi was attacked by a ‘small action team’ of Maoists (typically comprising four or five cadres) with axes, leaving him dead on the spot.
On May 7, 2019, a civilian identified as Kadti Ganga (35), a resident of Maraiguda village under Errabor Police Station limits in the Sukma District of Chhattisgarh, was thrashed to death by CPI-Maoist cadres, who branded him a ‘police informer’. Armed Naxals [Left Wing Extremists, LWEs] on the intervening night of May 6 and 7, stormed into Ganga’s house and took him away. On the morning of the next day, his body was found nearby along with a hand written note bearing Konta area committee CPI-Maoist signature which warned, “Kadti Ganga was killed by Naxal of PLGA (People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army). If anyone in the village is working for the Police, then they must stop doing so or else they will be also killed.”
These incidents are neither a new development nor indicative of any significant shift in Maoist strategy. These are just the latest among many such incidents in which the Maoists have killed the civilians on the pretext that Police informers.
According to partial data compiled by South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), the Maoists have executed at least 22 civilians, (eight in Maharashtra, five in Chhattisgarh, four in Odisha, three in Bihar, and two in Jharkhand), branding them ‘police informers’, out of the 37 civilians killed in Naxal-related incidents across the country, in 2019 (all data till June 9, 2019). In the corresponding period of 2018, at least 35 civilians were executed (18 in Chhattisgarh, eight in Jharkhand, three each in Bihar and Odisha, two in Maharashtra, and one in Telangana) as a ‘police informers’. In the remaining period of 2018, another 26 civilians were executed (12 in Chhattisgarh, four Odisha, three each in Bihar and Maharashtra, two in Jharkhand, and one each in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana). A total of 109 civilians were killed in Naxal-related incidents across the country through 2018, of which 61 were executed.
With the increasing effectiveness of specific intelligence based operations by SFs, and the Maoists losing ground, the orchestration of such killings (accusing/branding/ labelling/ suspecting of civilians of being ‘police informers’) are intended to have a deterrent effect against any attempt to ‘spy’ on Maoists activities and movements, or to help the Police in any other manner.
In order to create an atmosphere of terror among civilians in Naxal-affected areas, the Maoists declare various sentences against civilians allegedly loyal to the State or who do not subscribe to their ideology or do not yield to their diktats in areas of their dominance. For instance, the Naxalites hold ‘jan adalats’ also called ‘praja courts’ (‘people’s court’, an euphemism for a Maoist kangaroo court), where they accuse their adversaries as ‘police informer’ or of other crimes, and inflict punishment, including brutal killings, in the presence of the villagers, creating an atmosphere of terror. Jharkhand has recorded the highest number, 62, of such barbaric executions by the Maoists during between 2004 and 2019; followed by Odisha, 58; Chhattisgarh, 54; Bihar, 32; West Bengal, 18; Maharashtra, 16; Andhra Pradesh, seven; and Uttar Pradesh, one.
According to an April 7, 2019, report, Azaad, the spokesperson for the CPI-Maoist Bihar-Jharkhand Special Area Committee (BJSAC), claimed,
We recently managed to hold a series of jan adalats in villages near the Jharkhand-Bihar border despite heavy deployment of Forces. This was not possible earlier.
However, contradictory to the claim, the number of such ‘jan adalats’ decreased to two in the current year (data till June 9, 2019) as compared to seven in the corresponding period of 2018. There were 13 such ‘jan adalats’ through 2018. According to partial data compiled by SATP, since September 21, 2004, at least 103 ‘jan adalats’ have been held by the Maoists in eight Naxal-affected States: Andhra Pradesh (eight), Bihar (12), Chhattisgarh (28), Jharkhand (17), Madhya Pradesh (one), Maharashtra (one), Odisha (27) and West Bengal (nine).
An overview of LWE-linked fatalities indicates that, as many as 721 alleged ‘police informers’, out of 3,203 civilians were killed across the country by the Maoists since September 21, 2004, when CPI-Maoist was formed (data till June 9, 2019).
Geographical distribution of such executions indicates that, since the formation of CPI-Maoist, Chhattisgarh has registered at least 161 fatalities of civilians labeled as ‘police informers’. It is ranked first among 11 States, where such fatalities were registered over this period. Odisha, with 157 such fatalities ranked second; Jharkhand, with 129, ranked third; Andhra Pradesh, with 87, ranked fourth; Maharashtra, with 83, ranked fifth;West Bengal, with 53, sixth; Bihar, with 40, seventh; Telangana, with six, eighth; Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, with two each, a joint ninth; and Karnataka with one such fatality, eleventh.
Notably, the trend in overall fatalities indicates that the security of the civilian population is gradually improving. At the peak of Maoist violence in the country in 2010, 626 civilians were killed. Since then, civilian fatalities have registered a declining, though cyclical, trend. There was a spike in 2013 with 159 civilian fatalities, after 146 recorded in 2012. Civilian fatalities declined to 128 in 2014 and 93 in 2015, and spiked to 123 in 2016. 2017 and 2018 went on to register 109 civilian fatalities each, while 37 fatalities have been recorded in this category in the current year, thus far (data till June 9, 2019).
The setbacks that SFs have inflicted on the Maoists, have forced the extremists out of their strongholds across most of their areas of erstwhile dominance. While the Maoist struggle to counter-attack, killing civilians suspected of collaborating with the Police demonstrates, at once, a progressive loss of control over local populations as well as the growing frustration in rebel ranks.
*Deepak Kumar Nayak
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management