India: Lingering Maoist Shadow In Jharkhand – Analysis
By Deepak Kumar Nayak*
On October 31, 2016, Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres killed a farmer at Punjo Sona Toli under the Ghaghra Police Station area in Gumla District. Police recovered a pamphlet near the body, which was found half a kilometre away from the farmer’s residence. The pamphlet alleged he was an informer of the Jharkhand Jan Mukti Parishad (JJMP), a CPI-Maoist splinter group.
Earlier, on September 16, 2016, a 30-year-old youth, identified as Karma Oraon, a ward committee member, was reportedly killed by Maoists in the Vishunpur Block of Gumla District. The Maoists first dragged him to a kangaroo court [Jan (people’s) Adalat] at Kath Thokwa and then shot him dead.
On September 11, 2016, Ashish Yadav aka Ashish Da, a top CPI-Maoist leader who carried a bounty of INR 2.5 million, was killed in an encounter with Police and Central Paramilitary Forces at Borodih village under the Palkot Police Station area in the Gumla District. Three rifles, including one SLR (Self-Loading Rifle) and one American Springfield rifle, were recovered from the site of encounter. Yadav was a member of CPI-Maoist’s Bihar-Jharkhand Special Area Committee (BJSAC).
On May 31, 2016, a Police constable of the special branch was allegedly abducted from his house at Malam village in Gumla District and subsequently shot dead by CPI-Maoist cadres.
According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), 14 fatalities, including 10 civilians, three Left Wing Extremists (LWEs) and one Policeman, have so far been registered in Gumla District in LWE/CPI-Maoist-linked violence since the beginning of 2016 (data till November 20). The total number of such killings across Jharkhand stands at 72 (29 civilians, 10 SF personnel and 33 LWEs/Maoists).
The first LWE-linked fatality in Gumla District, since the formation of CPI-Maoist on September 21, 2004, was recorded on April 20, 2005, when extremists of the Sangharsh Jan Mukti Morcha (SJMM) killed three labourers engaged in a road construction project near the Chingri Nawadih village under Bishunpur Police Station. SJMM is a splinter group of CPI-Maoist. Since 2005, Gumla has recorded 180 LWE/CPI-Maoist-linked fatalities, including 115 civilians, 20 SF personnel and 45 LWEs/Maoists.
Gumla District appears to experience a cyclical trend in annual fatalities. While, the highest number of fatalities, 26, in the District was recorded twice (2008 and 2013), there was not a single fatality registered in 2006 and 2007. The District recorded a relatively low five fatalities in 2015, but there has been a sudden surge in violence in the current year, with 14 dead, including 10 civilians, thus far.
With a total area of about 5,327 square kilometres, Gumla is covered by dense forests, hills and rivers. The forest cover in the District is 1,35,000 hectares out of a total of 521,000 hectares of land, i.e., about 27 per cent of the total area. The District is situated in the southwest portion of Jharkhand State, and was carved out of Ranchi District on May 18, 1983. Gumla shares its borders with Jashpur District to the west, Khunti and Ranchi Districts to the East, Latehar and Lohardaga District to the North, and Simdega District to the South. It also touches Chhattisgarh State to the west. The District’s geographical proximity with other Maoist affected areas of the Jharkhand and neighbouring Chhattisgarh makes it one of the Maoists’ preferred shelters in the region. Crucially, Chhattisgarh has 16 LWE-affected Districts out of its total of 27 Districts. Currently, Jharkhand has 21 LWE-affected Districts out of its total of 24 Districts. Gumla also finds place among the 35 worst LWE-affected Districts spread across seven States in the country.
A joint survey conducted by the US-India Policy Institute and the New Delhi based Centre for Research and Debates in Development Policy (CRDDP) found that, among 599 Districts across India (under purview of the survey) Gumla District was ranked 479th, i.e., among the most backward. The report of the survey, released on January 29, 2015, took composite development — measured in terms of economic development and the indices of health, education and material well-being – into consideration.
The topography as well as extreme backwardness of the Gumla has helped LWEs further their agenda in the District. Gumla alone accounts for 34.48 per cent of the total civilian fatalities recorded in the State in 2016, thus far. Moreover, the worst incident in terms of number of civilians killed in a single incident in the State in 2016 was reported from Gumla District. On March 17, 2016, at least four persons working on a road construction site were killed, allegedly by People’s Liberation Front of India (PLFI) cadres, in a village under Basia Police Station limits of Gumla District. PLFI is a splinter group of the CPI-Maoist.
Reports indicate that the Maoists in the Gumla have issued a diktat to the people to send “at least one child from each family for induction”. As the people refuse to obey the diktat, the Maoists are reportedly holding ‘public lotteries’ to draft children into the force. In their ‘defence’ they argue that this “unprejudiced process” was adopted as parents weren’t ready to “gift” their children to them. However, Gumla, Superintendent of Police (SP), Bhimsen Tuti, observed, “The Maoists have certainly mounted pressure on villagers to give away their children, but we have no information about them taking away children through lottery.”
According to a media report on May 24, 2016, CPI-Maoist cadres had set ablaze 35 vehicles involved in construction work in Jharkhand between January 19 and May 24, 2016, especially in Gumla. An unnamed Police officer involved in anti-Maoist operations claimed, “Maoists’ main source of earning is extortion and levy from the development and construction work. In the past, police cracked down on many companies involved in road construction that were giving levy to Maoists. This dented Maoists source of earning in a big way. The denial of levy led them to torch vehicles.”
The Maoists have also called for bandhs (general shutdown strikes) in the District on four occasions in 2016. In a recent bandh call on September 29, 2016, CPI-Maoist spokesperson for the Bihar-Jharkhand Regional Committee, Gopalji, announced a State-wide a 24-hour bandh in protest against the killing of top Maoist leader Ashish da in Gumla District on September 11, 2016.
Of the six Districts with which Gumla shares a border, five are LWE-affected. On August 6, 2016, State Director General of Police (DGP), D.K. Pandey, suggested that co-ordination among the LWE-affected Districts of Gumla, Palamau, Latehar, Garwah, Lohardaga in the State was necessary, as LWE-activities were recorded across these Districts, which needed to be ‘crushed with strong action’, adding, “The State Police will provide adequate security, if demanded by private or public sector engaged in implementing the flagship development schemes of the Government,”
Though there is no reliable data on the strength of forces deployed in Gumla in the open media, there are approximately 40 Battalions of Central Armed Police Force (CAPF), including 22 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) battalions, 10 Jharkhand Armed Police (JAP) battalions and eight Indian Reserve Battalion (IRB) battalions presently deployed across Jharkhand. The Police-population ratio, i.e., policemen per hundred thousand population, stands at 172.40, significantly above the national average of 139.8, but still inadequate to sustain long term pressure on the Maoists in the State at large, and Gumla in particular where the Maoists have increased their activities in recent past.
*Deepak Kumar Nayak
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management