The Red Corridor – From Pashupati to Tirupati
In last few years an internal conflict has intensified in India along most of its regions along the east coast spreading from Nepal border to Tamil Nadu. Though started 40 years ago, it ceased to die out and instead had grown ominously. This region largely includes dense forests and tribal areas and consists of 92,000 sq km. Popularly called the Red Corridor; this area is under the heavy influence of left wing extremists – called Naxals.
The area where the Maoists operate has grown dramatically in last two decades. In the early 1990s the number of districts affected by varying degrees of Maoist violence stood at just 15 in four states. This rose to 55 districts in nine states by the end of 2003 and to 156 districts in 13 states in 2004.
Maoists are currently believed to be operating in around 200 districts (of a total of 604 districts in the country) in 17 states. The worst affected states are Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, and Orissa.
Unification of dominant Naxal factions into CPI (Maoist) in 2004 has sure made the activities in the Red Corridor as the most serious threat to India’s national security. The central government has banned the CPI-Maoist in 2009 under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, calling it a terrorist organization.
The growing influence and strength of the Naxal movement prompted the Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, to describe the rebels as the single biggest internal security challenge faced by India.
The Social Situation
Most of the support for Naxal movement comes from dalits (former “untouchables”) and adivasis. Dalits have been discriminated against for centuries due to their lower status in the caste system, and despite laws to counteract injustice, they lack access to quality education and opportunities for upward social mobility. Many of the 84 million adivasis, or tribal people (according to 2001 census) also feel isolated from the mainstream populace. Most live in rural parts of the country, especially in states where the Naxal movement is strong. The rates of illiteracy and infant mortality are far higher than the national percentages calculated for other castes.
The Economic Situation
The districts that comprise the Red Corridor are among the poorest in the country. A key characteristic of this region is non-diversified economies based solely on the primary sector – converting natural resources to primary products. Agriculture, sometimes supplemented with mining or forestry, is the mainstay of the economy, which is often unable to support rapid increases in population.
Despite being rich in minerals such as iron ore and bauxite, the people living there, who are largely Adivasi or tribal are desperately poor. Exploited by forest officials, contractors, mining companies and middlemen and neglected by the state, villagers in the Red Corridor are among the worst off in the country.
And it is to liberate them from their oppressors and the Indian state that the Maoists claim to be waging their armed struggle.
It is true the Maoists have improved life for the Adivasis by forcing local officials to dig wells or pay better wages to the villagers. But over time, they have turned oppressors themselves. Villagers who don’t obey the Maoists have been killed and Maoist violence stands in the way of development projects.