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25 October 2011

India's Silent War

A 40-year long civil war has been raging in the jungles of central and eastern India. It is one of the world's largest armed conflicts but it remains largely ignored outside of India.

Caught in the crossfire of it are the Adivasis, who are believed to be India's earliest inhabitants. A loose collection of tribes, it is estimated that there are about 84 million of these indigenous people, which is about eight per cent of the country's population.

For generations, they have lived off farming and the spoils of the jungle in eastern India, but their way of life is under threat. Their land contains mineral deposits estimated to be worth trillions of dollars. Forests have been cleared and the Indian government has evacuated hundreds of villages to make room for steel plants and mineral refineries.

The risk of losing everything they have ever known has made many Adivasis fertile recruits for India's Maoist rebels or Naxalites, who also call these forests home.

The Maoists' fight with the Indian government began 50 years ago, just after India became independent. A loose collection of anti-government communist groups - that initially fought for land reform - they are said to be India's biggest internal security threat. Over time, their focus has expanded to include more fundamental questions about how India is actually governed.

In their zeal for undermining the Indian government, Maoist fighters have torched construction equipment, bombed government schools and de-railed passenger trains, killing hundreds. In the name of state security, several activists who have supported the Maoists have been jailed and tortured. Innocent people have also been implicated on false charges. These are often intimidation tactics used by the government to discourage people from having any contact with the Maoists.

The uprising by Maoist fighters and its brutal suppression by the Indian government, has claimed more than 10,000 lives since 1980, and displaced 12 million people. Many of the victims are not even associated with either side. They are simply caught in the crossfire. And the violence is escalating as both sides mount offensive after counter-offensive.

Al Jazeera's Imran Garda travelled to the Indian states of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa and West Bengal to get a secret glimpse into the world of the Naxalites and to meet with rebel fighters as well as those victimised by this conflict.

India's Silent War
Imran Garda examines the 40-year war that has claimed thousands of lives but been largely ignored outside of India. http://english.aljazeera.net/programmes/aljazeeracorrespondent/2011/10/20111019124251679523.html