By Ajit Kumar Singh*
On October 8, 2019, a ‘deputy commander’ of the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist), identified as Kawasi Deva, was killed by the Security Forces (SFs) in the Katekalyan Forest area near Pitepal village of Dantewada District in Chhattisgarh. The slain Maoist was carrying a cash reward of INR 800,000 on his head. The Deputy Inspector General (DIG, Anti-Maoist operations), P. Sundarraj disclosed that “hundreds of District Reserve Guard (DRG) personnel were out on the mission, based on specific input about rebels camping in the said forest.” When they spotted the Maoists and challenged them a gun-battle broke out in which the Maoist ‘deputy commander’ was killed and a DRG trooper was injured.
On September 19, 2019, the dead body of a civilian, identified as Budhram Tati, with his throat slit, was found near Perpa village in the Kirandul Police Station limits in Dantewada District. A Maoist pamphlet found near the body read: “Whoever works as a ‘police informer’ for money will meet the same fate.” The date of Tati’s abduction is not known.
On September 14, 2019, the body of a civilian identified as Mirya Manjal, was found near a private firm’s plant under Kirandul Police Station limits in Dantewada District. A Maoist pamphlet found near the dead body accused Manjal of being a ‘police informer’.
According to partial data collated by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), at least 21 fatalities (four civilians, five SF personnel and 12 Maoists) were recorded in Dantewada District in 13 incidents of killing since the beginning of 2019 (data till October 12, 2013). During the corresponding period of 2018, at least 23 fatalities (10 civilians, eight SF personnel and five Maoists) were recorded in 16 incidents of killing. In the remaining period of 2018, another 10 fatalities (six civilians and four Sf personnel) were registered in three incidents of killing.
Since March 6, 2000, when SATP started compiling data on Naxalism [Left Wing Extremism]-linked violence, Dantewada recorded 1,135 fatalities (338 civilians, 409 SF, personnel and 382 Left Wing Extremists) in such violence.
Ironically, Dantewada is one among 31 Districts, out of a total of 132 affected Districts spread across 14 states, where the overall SF:Maoist kill ratio is in favor of the Maoists. Not surprisingly, it is the worst affected District in terms of overall fatalities, followed by Bijapur (747 fatalities) in Chhattisgarh, and Gadchiroli (601) in Maharashtra.
More worryingly, in terms of overall civilian fatalities, the District stands at number two, with 338 such fatalities. Paschim Medinipur (West Medinipur) in West Bengal recording the maximum of 438 fatalities. Significantly, out of 438 fatalities recorded in the Paschim Medinipur District, 148 fatalities were recorded in a single incident. On May 28, 2010, suspected cadres of the CPI-Maoist triggered a blast on a railway track causing the derailment of 13 coaches of the Howrah-Kurla (Kolkata to Mumbai) Lokmanya Tilak Gyaneshwari Super Deluxe Express, between the Khemasoli and Sardiya stations near Jhargram in Paschim Medinipur District, killing 148 people.
The security situation in Dantewada has, however, improved considerably, as in the case of the Maoist threat in the rest of the country. Fatalities declined from a peak of 273 in 2006 to 33 in 2018. Incidents of killing came down from 61 in 2006 to 19 in 2018. Major incidents (each involving three or more fatalities) fell from 32 in 2006 to four in 2018. Overall violent incidents came down from 86 in 2006 to 49 in 2018. The District, which was once the epicenter of violence in Chhattisgarh (which itself has been the nucleus of Maoist violence) has become much more peaceful. Significantly, at peak, the District alone accounted for 77.33 per cent of total fatalities recorded in the entire State. The figure had reduced to 13.3 percent in 2018.
Nevertheless, several worries persist. Overall fatalities which had come down to a low of five in 2013 have increased continuously since then, on year on year basis, barring 2017. Indeed, Dantewada is one among 90 Districts in 11 States that is continues to be considered affected by Naxalism, according to a Government release of February 5, 2019, and is on the list of ‘30 worst affected districts’ released by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs on August 1, 2018.
Dantewada falls within the troubled Bastar Division of Chhattisgarh, which remains the principal challenge for the State. The District shares borders with by Bijapur, Sukma, Bastar and Narayanpur – all four Districts of Chhattisgarh that are on the list of ’30 worst affected Districts’ in the country. Indeed, highlighting the challenges due to its geographical location, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel stated, on October 10, 2019,
Chhattisgarh shares border with Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh. The movement of Naxal leaders and weapons is happening across borders.
Dantewada is listed as one of the Aspirational Districts included in the ‘Aspirational Districts Programme’. The programme focuses on five main themes – Health & Nutrition, Education, Agriculture & Water Resources, Financial Inclusion & Skill Development, and Basic Infrastructure, which have direct bearing on the quality of life and economic productivity of citizens.
The geographical location as well as the socio-economic condition of the District makes it a natural interest area for the Maoists. The literacy rate in Dantewada was 42.12 per cent according to the 2011 Census, as against 70.28 per cent in Chhattisgarh and 74.04 per cent for India as a whole. Per capita income in the District at that time was INR 2,170, against sate average of 4,559 and all India average of INR 5,331. On the entire range of social services, the District was severely disadvantaged.
While a great deal has been done to contain violence, even as the Maoists suffer reverses across the wider region that they long dominated, the absence of unified action and a sustained administrative-developmental thrust has allowed the Maoist menace to linger on. Indeed, on October 10, 2019, Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel conceded that a lack of proper coordination between various Maoist-affected States remained the principal cause of continued Maoist violence. Addressing this deficit could yield the much-needed breakthrough that could bring the threat of Maoist violence to an end.
*Ajit Kumar Singh
Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management