In the bloody war between Maoist guerrillas and Indian security
forces that has killed more than 3,000 people since 2008, it is the grassroots development and human rights workers who face the fear of the gun too.
Titled "Between two sets of guns: Attacks on civil society activists in India’s Maoist conflict,” a new Human Rights Watch report released Monday says: “The Maoists frequently accuse activists of being informers and warn them against implementing government programs. The police demand that they serve as informers, and those that refuse risk being accused of being Maoists supporters and subject to arbitrary arrest and torture.”
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has described the armed Maoist insurgency, raging in at least 60 districts across the poorest pockets of India, as "the single biggest internal security challenge ever faced by our country.” The Maoists say they fight for India’s impoverished tribespeople who are routinely displaced from their ancestral, mineral-rich forest land by industrial and mining projects.
Like the Maoists, the government also says that it wants to improve the
lives of tribal people.
But the activists who actually deliver key development services to the
villagers operate in a climate of fear, the report says. It cites several
activists who were tortured by the police and charged with murder,
conspiracy and sedition in the past four years. It says that activists are
also “at great risk if they criticize Maoist abuses.”
In 2008, Rabindra Kumar Majhi, a land-rights and education activist in the eastern state of Orissa, was arrested and beaten up by the police and
charged with helping Maoists groups, the report says. After he was in jail two years, a court acquitted him in 2011 because of lack of evidence.
The report warns the government against “blanket assumptions that activists who criticize the authorities or have contact with Maoists, are criminally abetting Maoist crimes.”
But police say that they have to monitor activists who speak the language of the Maoist militants.
“It is a grey area. When does their sympathy for the unlawful Maoists cross the line and begin to resemble aiding?” asked Mukesh Gupta, a senior intelligence officer in Raipur in central India. “There are thousands of activists working in these areas. Not everybody is arrested. Why do the police pick only some? Because they cross the thin line.”