Sukma, where Maoist insurgency and ancient myths dominate

Bastar region has been the hotbed of Maoist insurgency for various reasons.

Updated - May 07, 2017 08:46 am IST

Published - May 06, 2017 08:50 pm IST

On the southernmost part of Chhattisgarh sliced by both river Shabari and National Highway 30, Sukma borders Odisha, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. Sukma, part of the Dandakaranya region, was given the status of a district in January 2012.

This tribal-dominated district is where ancient myths, modern state, several tribes and security forces and a violent ideology are all trying, and often fighting, to shape its future.

What happened?

On April 24, at noon, a group of CRPF jawans, who were settling down for lunch, came under attack from about 300 Maoists for almost three hours. All together, 25 CRPF personnel and an unidentified number of Maoists were killed in the latest violence to rock this central Indian remote region.

According to survivors, the attack began around 12.40 pm in Burkapal village of south Sukma in Chattisgarh. About 35 CRPF personnel, in two groups, were beginning their lunch when the attack began.

That Monday morning a company of the 74th battalion of Central Reserve Police Force was deployed in two different groups to provide protection for a road construction work underway in Sukma. The road under construction is to be a major highway into the backward region. Maoists used AK-47 and other weapons during the attack.

The automatic weapons used had been snatched from security forces on March 11 when they mounted the last big attack on CRPF, in which a dozen men were killed in the same district.

Why was it targeted?

Bastar region has been the hotbed of Maoist insurgency for various reasons. These range from inefficient and corrupt state apparatus to grievances of locals. Among the key factors feeding Maoist activity in the region could also be the fact that a large number of the present Maoist leaders come from nearby regions, especially the state of Telangana

Is a fightback possible?

Officially, the Centre maintains that the attack was a show of "frustration" by Maoists because of the successful fightback by security forces in recent months. The Centre claimed 2016 has been the most successful year in anti-Maoist operations. Compared to an average of 30 Maoits killed in a year, 135 insurgents were neutralised in 2016. Even in 2017, the Centre claimed, 32 Maoists have been killed so far. The Centre claims that its "policy has been very helpful and has substantially brought down the violence figures in the State. There has been 7% decline in overall violence incidents since 2013."

However, the fact remains that Maoists have been successful in mounting repeated attacks. The CRPF has repeatedly failed to ensure safety of its troops with innovative SOPs and effective intelligence. The local police are almost absent in most parts of the district, letting Maoists have a free run.

What happens to the villagers?

Sukma is a tribal district, where members of Gond, Muriya, Dorla, Halba and Mahara communities dominate the population. The ordinary villagers are caught between the two armed entities: The security forces of the State and the Maoists. Both sides unleash various tactics, and often end up violating the human rights of ordinary residents. There is anecdotal evidence to suggest that many local tribals have joined the Maoist movement, but majority of them are hapless victims of this endless violence.

According to some locals, before the April 24 attack, residents of Burkapal were forced to vacate their village and the Maoists launched an attack from within the village too.

What next?

There is no indication that the attacks would cease anytime in the immediate future. Many experts have pointed out that the CRPF and the State police are not good enough for a fightback against Maoists. They also point out that the Modi government has a poor track record in handling internal security issues in central India. For peace to return to the heart of India, a determined political initiative is the only way out.

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