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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Delhi targets rebels with a cause

The Indian government has hit back at civil society groups who claim its "war against Maoists" is targeted at tribals living in the conflict zone rather than the rebels, accusing them of being rebel sympathizers.

The Home Ministry last month warned "civil society groups, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), intellectuals and the general public" that "supporting the CPI [Communist Party of India - Maoist] ideology" would attract action under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) of 1967.

Section 39 of the act states that "any person who commits the offense of supporting a terrorist organization with inter alia intention to further the activities of such groups would be liable to be punished with imprisonment for a term not exceeding 10 years or with fine or with both".

The Maoists were declared a terrorist organization under the UAPA in June last year. Operations against them have been ongoing for several years but in November last year the government launched a coordinated military offensive called "Operation Green Hunt".

The operation, which is focused on five states in central and eastern India - Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and West Bengal - aims ostensibly to eliminate the rebel group, which the government claims want to overthrow the Indian state.

Violence between security forces and the Maoists have since reached unprecedented levels. In April, a Maoist attack on security forces in Dantewada claimed the lives of 76 troops, while a roadside bomb destroyed a loaded bus there in May, killing at least 40. The deadly derailment of a passenger train in West Bengal
on May 28 killed some 140 people, but the rebels have denied involvement.

Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram has come under criticism from civil society activists for Green Hunt's objectives and strategy. For example, Supreme Court advocate and activist Prashant Bhushan says it seems the operation is aimed not at weakening the Maoists, but at driving out tribals from their homes so mining firms can exploit natural resources on their lands.

"Green Hunt is creating a civil war situation in mineral-rich areas, where tribals live. It plans to drive them out of here so that mining corporations can enter and begin extracting minerals that the military offensive is aimed," he told Asia Times Online.

Such criticism has raised the hackles of Chidambaram, mining corporations and proponents of the military offensive. Bhushan says anyone who criticizes the government's approach towards tribals or calls for an end to Green Hunt has now been deemed a "Maoist sympathizer".

Bhushan is one such activist, Others who share the tag include Booker Prize winner and human-rights activist, Arundhati Roy and Kavita Srivastava, general secretary of the People's Union for Civil Liberties.

Read more:
Asia Times Online :: South Asia news, business and economy from India and Pakistan

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