Civilians caught in the crossfire

Civilians caught in the crossfire

What role has the civilian in a revolution or in a kind of armed guerrilla warfare waged by the Maoists? Ideologues of the extreme left set great store by the common people, because it is for them and by them a revolution is ushered.
People who support and sympathise with the resistance provide the logistical aid that the guerrillas need — including food, sanctuary for wounded fighters, new recruits and scouts in unfamiliar terrain.

In contemporary conflicts, civilians are not only targeted more frequently as victims, but are also increasingly involved as actors in armed conflicts. The increasing importance of civilian actors in violent conflict and the blurring of distinction between civilians and combatants are key challenges in dealing with the asymmetric conflicts of the 21st century. The UN Security Council has made numerous commitments to protect civilians in armed conflict, especially women and children, but often has failed to follow through and engage effectively.

Human shields
In recent instances of atrocities against civilians, Tamil Tiger rebels and government forces battling in Sri Lanka used thousands of trapped civilians as human shields and shot those who tried to flee. Israel launched a devastating air and ground campaign against the Hezbollah in 2006 that killed more than 1,000 Lebanese. The Taliban used women and children from their own population as human shields against coalition forces. Almost everywhere in zones of armed conflict, civilians are at the receiving end.
In the current context of Maoist insurgency, for a poor civilian, it is often a choice between the devil and the deep sea. It is the local population which ideally serves as a shield for the resistance network by refusing to give information about the movement to the enemy, or by giving false information which actually aids the resistance.
The ‘enemy’ is thus constantly watched by thousands of eyes and his every move known to the guerrillas, which actually helps the guerrillas to remain at large. Maoists insist that they enjoy ‘massive mass support’ and went gaga over how a ‘handful of guerrillas’ repulsed a massive joint operation by the Central forces in Dantewada earlier by “relying on the sea of people in which we (they) swam like fish”.

But this is a textbook situation. In one estimate, the naxalites operate in nearly 200 of India’s 600 districts (in at least 11 of 28 states) and recruit local villagers to support the combatants, leaving the villagers vulnerable to arrest and torture by government forces. Villagers accuse the naxalites of forced recruitment, including the recruitment of children, and widespread extortion. Informers routinely get killed. Loyalty is often extracted at gunpoint. Maoists force the local population to give them food and shelter. Those who comply become enemies of the state and in a combing operation suffer intense harassment in the hands of the paramilitary forces, those who do not, fall foul of the Maoists, who step up attacks against tribals and civilians who, they feel, are assisting the police.

If one considers that Maoists are the biggest threat to India’s internal security and the situation is warlike, let it be borne in mind that civilian fatalities in wartime climbed from 5 per cent at the turn of the century, to 15 per cent during World War I, to 65 per cent by the end of World War II, to more than 90 per cent in the wars of the 1990s
The irony is that both the government and the Maoists claim to be acting on behalf of India’s poorest people who, caught between the crossfire, have to bear the maximum brunt of the atrocities inflicted on them. The Maoists say they are fighting for the rights of millions of impoverished villagers — particularly tribal, Dalits, and landless peasants — while the government says India must be buoyed up by an engine of industrial growth to salvage them. Mining and steel companies are essential to India’s long-term success, to which is linked India’s projected growth of 10 per cent, which, it is said, can pull 828 million people living on less than $2 a day out of poverty.

While both the Maoists and the government swear by the ‘development’ of the poor people, see what misery is wrought upon them by this social churn-out! A far too many people perceive that the Indian state has gone to war to establish the interests of big capital in the central forests of India and that the original inhabitants are fighting back.
A critical consensus has to be reached with well-laid-out plans for development to stave off the impression that the government is not a high-handed occupation force. Meanwhile, civilians, the stakeholders to real development, must be saved at all costs and must not be made to pay with their lives.