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Maoist rebels spread across rural India

India plans to deploy paramilitary forces to deal with growing insurgency.

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The Jharkhand High Court recently expressed concern over the fact that more and more people in areas where Naxalites are active were approaching the kangaroo courts of the Maoists to settle disputes. Government courts take years to dispense justice. A recent study revealed that for every million people, there were only 10 judges in India's courts. The rebels can be approached any time, and justice – most often from the barrel of a gun – is swift.

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An elderly woman in Chaukhra, an obscure village, says she approached Naxalites for settling a lengthy land dispute she had with another villager. "They were most helpful," she says, declining to give her name for fear of local chastisement. "They know very well who is right and who is wrong."

As the twilight sets over Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand, a tiny band of leftist ideologues led a protest against rising food prices. A stream of adivasis, or tribal people, mill around the rally. Many are said to be Naxalites who slip back into the forest after the meeting under the cover of darkness. The Naxalites are sustained in their jungle war with the help of leaders who run underground front organizations in the cities – which operate despite being banned. These leaders provide strategic assistance, mobilize Naxalite sympathizers, and instigate such demonstrations.

"We're not not terrorists," says one such front organization leader. "We're fighting a people's war. We want the proletariat to rule, not imperialistic governments."

This decades-old armed rebellion, he says, is to stop pauperization of India's indigenous, tribal people at the hands of the rich, and their displacement due to industrialization.

Governments in states like Jharkhand and Chattisgarh have signed deals worth millions of dollars with industrial companies for steel mills and power stations – deals that the state sees as necessary to create jobs and provide the raw materials for economic growth. However, such deals, he says, end up displacing villagers, and, moreover, the benefits never trickle down to them.

"These injustices have happened for decades. People's voices have been muzzled. It's the only way to get them heard," he says responding to a question asking if violence is the only way to remedy the problem. "Why else would our cadres live such unglamorous lives in jungles?"

Although the death toll of civilians killed in Naxalite violence is mounting, their aim is to "never harm the proletariat," he says.

Claims of child soldiers denied

He refuted eyewitness reports suggesting that the Bal Mandal – children's division – of the Naxalites were being used for armed conflicts. "Children in this conflict are used only as messengers and informers," he says. Without giving an estimate on the number of children enrolled with the Maoists, he says the Naxalites do provide them "military training" to prepare them for "any situation."

The Indian government's tougher approach to the growing Naxalite problem includes arming thousands of villagers with guns, spears, and bows and arrows. Human Rights Watch calls the move "a mistake," arguing that "scrupulous respect for rights is the best answer to the Naxalites."

As Maoists enter the political process in Nepal – with help from the Indian government – some observers wonder if the same process can be tried with India's Maoists. So far, however, the insurgents have shown no proclivity for joining hands with the Indian government, and Delhi has said that the rebels must give up arms before any dialogue can happen.