In India, searching for the last Maoist guerilla fighters

For kilometers, the barracks of paramilitary units flanked by checkpoints follow each other at regular intervals along the forest road: a disturbing monotony of entrenched camps, camouflaged guard posts, police officers on guard. And then, suddenly, the forest thinned and made room where the faint outlines of thatched-roof houses could be seen. This is Silger, a remote village in Bastar, a region tucked away from main roads, in the heart of the forests of central India.

In a roadside hut, a 22-year-old young man named Raghu sits under a portrait of Mahatma Gandhi. Wearing a black jacket and red shirt, he welcomed his guests with the following firm words: “The local government doesn't care about us, so we will continue the struggle; this one will not be violent, we will continue to fight while dancing and talking. Our struggle is with our bodies and our language. »

It's a rather gloomy winter afternoon. The sun struggled to break through the fog so that silhouettes of large trees appeared that stretched out their branches towards the invisible sky. A fitting setting for a strange and troubled region: Bastar, whose population is largely made up of Adivasis – India's indigenous people – is also the last bastion of a Maoist guerrilla war that has lasted more than half a year. Aboriginal people, who are one of the poorest and most marginalized groups in the country – representing around 8% of India's four hundred million people – are the largest force in the region's insurgency.

The guerrillas, whom the Indian authorities accused of inciting the attack on a police convoy on Wednesday 26 April (eleven people were killed), were intimidated by Maoist executives from other regions of India, often intellectuals from educated upper caste Hindus. As in other places on earth, where revolutionary movements have chosen the specific strategy of Maoist guerrilla warfare to advance their theses among the most marginalized sections of society, Mao's success in India was also due to their success. “theory by [l’ancien dirigeant chinois] on the role of the peasantry in the revolutionary struggle »recalls British anthropologist Alpa Shah, a specialist in Adivasis, in her work The Book of the Rebel Forest (Last Letter, 2022). Motto? “From the masses to go to the masses”, continued MI Shah, citing the Maoist antiphon. In their official texts, the rebels explained that they aimed to overthrow the government “semi-colonial and semi-feudal state” and building parallel powers by guaranteeing the equality of all people.

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Serena Hoyles

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