Travel deep into the Indian jungle for an insight into the maoist guerrillas fighting against capitalismto keep hold of their land.
By
Vanessa Dougnac

Airdate: 
Sunday, June 19, 2011 - 20:30
Channel: 
SBS One

Maoist guerrillas have been at war with the Indian government for over 40 years; challenging the capitalism which they fear will take over their land and its mineral resources, and instead proposing a communist way of life.

It's been a bloody conflict, with thousands of people killed and the Naxalites, as they're also known, pushed into a nomadic existence deep in the jungle.

Dateline gets a rare glimpse into the lives of a group of people seen as terrorists on one side and human rights activists on the other.

WATCH - Vanessa Dougnac's insight into the divide between India's rich and poor is narrated by Victoria Strobl.

FACTFILE - Read more about the Maoists and the history of their violent fight for land rights in India.

REPLAY - Watch a previous Dateline story from 2008 on the Maoist rebels in India.

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Factfile

The Maoist movement in India began in 1967, when the villagers of Naxalbari in West Bengal rebelled against local landowners.

Since then, the guerrilla dispute over land rights has grown to 20,000 strong, reaching from northern to southern India.
 
The Naxalites, as they're also called, have gained control of large areas of land, known as the red corridor, which contains some of India's most underdeveloped land and poorest people.

They believe the government wants to evict villagers in order to free the land for mining companies. They say they have been neglected by the authorities for decades, and instead want to establish a communist society.

The Maoists live a nomadic existence deep in the jungle away from the modern world and have had violent clashes, especially with police... over 6,000 people have died in the dispute.

In April 2010, a rebel ambush killed 76 policemen in the bloodiest single attack so far on the security forces... 285 policemen were killed in total last year.

Civilians have also become involved after the Indian government launched Operation Green Hunt in 2005, arming civilians to fight the Maoists.

But it seems to have increased the violent divide between the two sides... 713 civilians and 171 guerrillas died last year alone.

Premier Manmohan Singh has called the insurgency India's main internal security threat and has urged state governments to increase pro-poor welfare measures to help counter the rebels.

There's also been talk of deploying the army, but such a move would be highly controversial, and the chances of talks with the Maoists to resolve the dispute are also said to be 'slim'.


Sources: BBC, AFP

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Transcript

Now to a rare glimpse inside the secret world of India's Maoist rebellion. The Indian Government refers to the Maoists or 'Naxalities' as they're known, as the country's biggest internal security threat. Just this week the rebels killed 15 more police, until now, little was known of how the Maoists live and train. But tonight we enter their hidden jungle camps with this special report narrated by Dateline's Vicky Strobl.

NARRATOR: Vicky Strobl

We are travelling deep into the jungle of Dandakaranya in the heart of India. Hiding in this remote forest is a little known, highly organised, Maoist guerilla army at war with the Indian State for over 40 years. Rebel commander, Samaya, guides us to a secret campsite.


SAMAYA, REBEL COMMANDER (Translation): My comrades live here. This is a war zone. We have our own government.

Samaya's platoon is just one of many. There are thousands of men and women concealed in this forest, fighting what they call India's corruption and injustice. War weary Samaya tells me that only a revolution can bring about a more just society.

SAMAYA (Translation): Even as a child I wanted to join the rebellion. I wanted to fight alongside the Maoists. My village had landowners who terrorised the villagers. I thought that by joining the party I would be able to drive them out.

The Naxalite movement started in 1967 when the villagers of Naxalbari, in the State of West Bengal, rebelled against local landowners. Now the 20,000 strong Naxalite insurgency reaches from northern to southern India in an area known as the 'Red Corridor'. It contains some of India's most underdeveloped land and its poorest people.

SAMAYA (Translation): My job is to take care of the ordinary people and the daily routine of the movement. Sharing in people's joyful moments is part of my job. When we hear that the enemy is coming then we have to go and fight the enemy.

For safety the rebels never stay in one place for long. Samanya and his platoon soon continue their trek to a local Maoist headquarters, walking for hours through dense and hostile forest. Their detailed knowledge of the jungle enables them to avoid police patrols. This camp is home to about 60 rebels. The soldiers salute each other with 'Lal Salem' - the red salute. These young men and women, most no older than 24, are considered terrorists by India's Government. Many have already killed for their cause.

KARUNA (Translation): We tracked down 17 policemen as they were running away. We caught them and killed them. I was party to the killings.

Karuna is 22 and would only agree to speak to us if we hid her face.

KARUNA (Translation): I fight for our people and I am not afraid to die. There are many enemies to fight. The main ones are capitalists, imperialists and financiers. The police are on their side.

The rebels regularly attack police stations to steal their weapons. Manoj is in charge of training for the raids.

MANOJ (Translation): We train every day. Not the sick. Everyone must attend unless they are sick. Those who go and patrol the villages are also exempt. Those who are here must do the exercises. This keeps our bodies fit. The exercises keep our bodies well and very strong. We walk great distances to build our stamina. That's why we do it every day.

In the afternoon the rebels get to relax. They make use of the time to learn how to read and write and study the communist doctrine.

MANOJ (Translation): Lenin, Engels, Mao, Stalin. These four are the leaders of our movement.

The army and the police rarely enter this Maoist stronghold. If a government informer dared to come here, he'd be killed immediately. It's dinner time and everyone takes turns cooking. Within the Maoist ranks, equality is strictly practiced. In a country where the caste system remains strong, this fraternity is a draw-card for young people. It gives them the strength to leave their families, but once they've joined the Naxalites, they know there's no going back. In the morning, after getting rid of an unexpected visitor, the rebels gather people from the nearby jungle villages to hear their complaints against the government.

MAN 1 (Translation): There are no opportunities for the poorest.

MAN 2 (Translation): The government does nothing for us.

MAN 3 (Translation): We have to send our kids to school but the teachers rarely turn up.

MAN 1 (Translation): Our lives are very difficult. We have little food and there's no hospital.

The lack of basic health care has meant the Naxalites now provide much needed medical support in an area where malaria is endemic. The Maoists cultural brigade has organized a show for the villagers, to spread the Naxalite propaganda, teaching farmers about their rights to claim their land.

SINGING (Translation): Red flag, red flag, it's the sun, the people's hope.

REBEL (Translation): There has been a big change since 2002. Now when we go into villages with our cultural team people gather around us. They come to us and listen to us with interest.

SINGING (Translation): The forest belongs to us, we are part of the forest. We are connected to the flowers of the Mahua tree. Some outsiders want to take our jungle away from us. Let's take up arms and fight to save our forests.

This is part of what the Maoists are fighting against - multinational mining companies who operate in the State of Chhattisgarh, home to Dandakaranya forest. Sudha Bharadwaj is a lawyer and human rights activist.

SUDHA BHARADWAJ, LAWYER: Rich land and poor people, I think that sums up Chhattisgarh. What we are seeing is an enormous looting of resources. Mineral resources as well as an unprecedented land grab.

In 2005 the Indian Government launched 'Operation Green Hunt' arming civilians to fight the Maoist movement.

SUDHA BHARADWAJ: Operation Green Hunt in tribal regions led to a militarization of the State of Chhattisgarh, even in areas that aren't Maoist at all.

Fearing the Maoists' revenge, thousands of these civilians now live in camps surrounded by barbed wire.

SUDHA BHARADWAJ: If everyone in the forest and not in the camp is an outlaw, even an insurgent, you feel it is perfectly legitimate to declare war on that person. This will have catastrophic humanitarian consequences.

Police, who unlike the Maoists don't wear uniforms, patrol the perimeter of the camps. They can't always differentiate villagers from the Maoists and are accused of murders, rapes and executions against civilians. We meet Subham at the border with Andhra Pradesh. He fled his home after seven villagers were killed by police.

SUBHAM (Translation): If I had stayed there I might have been killed too. So I decided to leave my village and fled and came here to live.

Thousands of others have also fled the region. The exodus has galvanized the Maoist's belief that the government's action is a way of hiding its real objective: to evict villagers in order to free the land for mining companies.

In Commander Samaya's camp, rebels are listening to the news in Hindi. Radio is their only link to the urbanized India they're fighting. The news is bad. Chances for a truce are low. New Delhi won't negotiate with those it calls 'terrorists'.

Suddenly, the camp needs to be cleared. A Maoist messenger has just brought the order to evacuate. The squad hurries and packs up. Before heading off the rebels sing their goodbye song.


SINGING (Translation): We salute, we salute, we salute.
We salute those comrades who are leaving us.
We shall meet again on the battlefield.
We shall meet again.

Samaya goes ahead to secure a safe exit for the rest of the group.

SAMAYA (Translation): I have sent two people to signal from the river. They won't say anything, just send a signal. Take a look about, talk softly and walk slowly. Place your feet softly on the ground and walk. Look and walk like this. You look, you walk. You look up, then down and you walk. You look, you walk. Always be on the lookout. Hide behind a tree. Hide behind another tree and look. Like this.

The rebels' agility in the jungle is a clear advantage. The Indian Government hopes to regain control but so far, it's the rebels who have been gaining momentum and their determination is undeterred.

SAMAYA (Translation): There's nothing to be afraid of. That's my belief. It's not a job. I get paid nothing for what I do. There is no fear. I have nothing to lose. In my mind and my heart I am prepared to give my life. That's why we are ready to die. We are ready to fight.


Field Journalist
VANESSA DOUGNAC

Narrator
VICTORIA STROBL

Camera
DAVID MUNTANER

Editors
NICK O'BRIEN
VICTORIA LOGAN


Translations/Subtitling
AESH RAO

(Produced by Hikari Films)

19th June 2011