Unveiling the complexities of Naxalism: Socio-economic disparities, violence, and resistance in contemporary India

The narratives elucidate how historical marginalisation, compounded by contemporary socio-economic inequities, lays fertile ground for the propagation of Naxalite ideology, which promises liberation from caste-based oppression and economic deprivation.

Ribhya Dhirasaria Apr 18, 2024
Naxalite killing in Chhattisgarh (Photo: Twitter)

The Naxalite movement, originating from the Naxalbari village in West Bengal, is a significant socio-political uprising in India. Emerged in the late 1960s, it advocates for the rights of oppressed and marginalised rural communities, mainly peasants and tribal groups. Characterised by ultra-left Maoist ideology, it seeks to overthrow the existing power structures through armed struggle and establish a communist state.

In his work titled "Underdevelopment and the Naxal Movement," Rajat Kumar Kujur meticulously examines the intricate interplay between economic disparity and the proliferation of Naxalism in India. Kujur asserts that governmental neglect and inadequately conceived development projects have significantly contributed to the rise of the Naxalite insurgency, its latest manifestation seen in the killing this week of nearly 30 Naxalites in a "clash" with security forces in the tribal-dominated forested region of Bastar in Chhattisgarh.

Central to Kujur's argument is the plight of tribal communities residing in regions abundant in natural resources but plagued by underdevelopment, such as Odisha, Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh. Despite substantial mineral wealth, these communities often derive minimal benefits from extractive industries due to systemic underdevelopment. This disparity fosters deep-seated grievances among the populace, rendering them susceptible to the allure of Naxalite ideology.

Kujur offers a pointed critique of the government's development strategies, which frequently prioritize infrastructure projects over community engagement and addressing underlying socio-economic issues. The case of the Rourkela Steel Plant project exemplifies this disconnect, wherein tribal communities were displaced through land acquisition without adequate measures to mitigate the adverse impacts on their livelihoods. The disconnect between development initiatives and the genuine needs of the local populace exacerbates alienation among tribal communities, thereby providing fertile ground for Naxalite recruitment.

Funding of movement

Furthermore, Kujur delves into the complex funding mechanisms of the Naxalites, elucidating their practice of extorting "levies" from local populations and businesses. He highlights the formidable challenges the government faces in preventing Naxalite infiltration into development projects and stemming the diversion of allocated funds.

In a complementary analysis titled "Oppression and Resistance: An Analysis of Conflict and Violence Through the Shift in Naxal Movement of Bihar, India," authored by Archana and Yagati Chinna Rao, a nuanced examination of the evolving trajectory of the Naxalite movement in Bihar is provided. The authors meticulously dissect the disillusionment pervading among erstwhile supporters, notably within the marginalised Musahar community, who were initially drawn to the movement's promise of combating caste-based oppression but later distanced themselves due to its recourse to violence.

The narrative is deeply entrenched in the historical context of Bihar, elucidating the entrenched caste-based exploitation endured by the Mushahars. This historical oppression provided fertile ground for the propagation of Naxalite ideology, which ostensibly championed armed resistance against systemic exploitation.

Through a rigorous analysis of interviews conducted within Musahar communities, the authors elucidate the initial appeal of the Naxalite movement, particularly its advocacy for land rights and defiance of the status quo. However, a discernible shift in sentiment emerges over time, with the movement's escalating propensity for violence and callous disregard for civilian casualties precipitating disillusionment among the Musahars. This disillusionment, compounded by a palpable lack of substantive progress on core issues such as land reform, led to the estrangement of many Musahars from the Naxalites.

Exploitation of women

In "Naxal Movement in India: A Feminist Critique," Kujur delves into the oft-overlooked aspect of the Naxalite conflict's impact on women, offering a trenchant critique of the movement's failure to address the specific vulnerabilities and exploitation endured by women within its ranks and afflicted communities.

The discourse centres on the pervasive prevalence of sexual and gender-based violence in conflict zones, with Kujur drawing a sobering parallel to instances of mass sexual assault as a weapon of war in other contexts like the Rwandan genocide. While acknowledging disparities in scale, Kujur contends that India's scenario presents an equally disconcerting reality, with women ensnared amidst the crossfire of Naxalites, security forces and entrenched patriarchal structures, thereby heightening their vulnerability to violence.

Kujur critiques the Naxalite movement itself for failing to address this issue adequately. He highlights the lack of clear guidelines within the movement to prevent violence against women.  The article doesn't delve into specific examples within the Naxalite ranks, but the implication is clear – the movement that promises liberation may be perpetuating its own form of oppression.

Kujur's critique extends beyond physical brutality to encompass the socio-economic ramifications of the conflict, elucidating how the disruption of traditional gender roles precipitates a surge in domestic violence and exploitation of women's labour. By highlighting instances wherein women are coerced into assuming traditionally male roles, such as procuring forest produce or catering to the needs of Naxalites, owing to displacement or the loss of male kin, Kujur underscores how the conflict perpetuates extant gender disparities within ostensibly liberatory movements.

Facing uncomfortable truths

In reflecting on the collective insights gleaned from the articles examining various facets of the Naxalite movement in India, a multifaceted narrative emerges, shedding light on the complex interplay between socio-economic disparities, violence, and resistance. Collectively, these analyses underscore the profound ramifications of governmental neglect, exploitative development practices, and the ideological evolution of the Naxalite movement on marginalised communities.

At the heart of these discussions lies a poignant indictment of entrenched power structures and systemic injustices that perpetuate cycles of exploitation and violence. The narratives elucidate how historical marginalisation, compounded by contemporary socio-economic inequities, lays fertile ground for the propagation of Naxalite ideology, which promises liberation from caste-based oppression and economic deprivation.

Yet, as the discourse unfolds, a sobering realisation dawns: the very movement purportedly championing social justice often becomes ensnared in its web of violence and coercion. The disillusionment among erstwhile supporters, particularly marginalised communities like the Musahars, underscores the inherent tension between ideological rhetoric and lived realities.

Moreover, the analysis extends beyond the immediate manifestations of violence to illuminate the gendered dimensions of conflict, wherein women bear the brunt of intersecting forms of oppression and exploitation.

In navigating these complexities, the articles collectively challenge us to confront uncomfortable truths about the nature of resistance movements and the complexities inherent in the pursuit of social change. They beckon us to interrogate not only the oppressive structures of power but also the efficacy and integrity of the mechanisms deployed in the pursuit of liberation.

Ultimately, these reflections compel us to envision alternative pathways towards a social transformation that prioritizes inclusivity, equity, and genuine empowerment, transcending the binaries of violence and non-violence, rhetoric and praxis, to forge a more just and equitable society.

(The writer is an undergraduate student at Christ (Deemed to be University), Bengaluru. Views are personal. She can be reached at ribhyadhirasaria@gmail.com)

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