The word Naxal, Naxalite or Naksalvadi is a generic term used to refer to various militant Communist groups operating in different parts of India under different organizational envelopes. In the eastern states of the mainland India (Jharkhand, West Bengal and Orissa), they are usually known as, or refer to themselves as Maoists while in southern states like Andhra Pradesh they are known under other titles. They have been declared as a terrorist organization under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act of India (1967).[1][2][3]

The term 'Naxal' derives from the name of the village Naxalbari in the state of West Bengal, India, where the movement had its origin. The Naxals are considered far-left radical communists, supportive of Maoist political sentiment and ideology. Their origin can be traced to the split in 1967 of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), leading to the formation of the Communist Party of India (Marxist–Leninist). Initially the movement had its centre in West Bengal. In later years, it spread into less developed areas of rural central and eastern India, such as Chhattisgarh, Orissa and Andhra Pradesh through the activities of underground groups like the Communist Party of India (Maoist).[4] For the past 10 years, it has grown mostly from displaced tribals and natives who are fighting against exploitation from major Indian corporations and local corrupt officials.

In 2006 India's intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing estimated that 20,000 armed cadre Naxalites were operating in addition to 50,000 regular cadres[5] and their growing influence prompted Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to declare them to be the most serious internal threat to India's national security.[6]

In February 2009, the Indian Central government announced its plans for broad, co-ordinated operations in all affected states (Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, and West Bengal), to plug all possible escape routes of Naxalites.[7]

In 2009, Naxalites were active across approximately 180 districts in ten states of India[8] In August 2010, Karnatka was removed from the list of naxal affected states [9] In July 2011, the number of Naxal affected areas was reduced to (figure includes proposed addition of 20 districts) 83 districts across nine states. [10] [11] [12]



The term Naxalites comes from Naxalbari, a small village in West Bengal, where a section of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPM) led by Charu Majumdar, Kanu Sanyal and Jangal Santhal initiated a violent uprising in 1967. On May 18, 1967, the Siliguri Kishan Sabha, of which Jangal was the president, declared their readiness to adopt armed struggle to redistribute land to the landless.[13] The following week, a sharecropper near Naxalbari village was attacked by the landlord's men over a land dispute. On May 24, when a police team arrived to arrest the peasant leaders, it was ambushed by a group of tribals led by Jangal Santhal, and a police inspector was killed in a hail of arrows. This event encouraged many Santhal tribals and other poor people to join the movement and to start attacking local landlords.[14]

Charu Majumdar, inspired by the doctrines of Mao Zedong, provided ideological leadership for the Naxalbari movement, advocating that Indian peasants and lower class tribals overthrow the government and upper classes by force. A large number of urban elites were also attracted to the ideology, which spread through Majumdar's writings, particularly the 'Historic Eight Documents' which formed the basis of Naxalite ideology.[15] In 1967, Naxalites organized the All India Coordination Committee of Communist Revolutionaries (AICCCR), and later broke away from CPM. Violent uprisings were organized in several parts of the country. In 1969, the AICCCR gave birth to the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) (CPI(ML)).

Practically all Naxalite groups trace their origin to the CPI(ML). A separate offshoot from the beginning was the Maoist Communist Centre, which evolved out of the Dakshin Desh group. The MCC later fused with the People's War Group to form the Communist Party of India (Maoist). A third offshoot was that of the Andhra revolutionary communists, mainly represented by the UCCRI(ML), following the mass line legacy of T. Nagi Reddy, which broke with the AICCCR at an early stage.

During the 1970s, the movement was fragmented into disputing factions. By 1980, it was estimated that around 30 Naxalite groups were active, with a combined membership of 30,000.[16] A 2004 Indian Home Ministry estimate puts numbers at that time as "9,300 hardcore underground cadre… [holding] around 6,500 regular weapons beside a large number of unlicensed country-made arms".[17] According to Judith Vidal-Hall (2006), "More recent figures put the strength of the movement at 15,000, and claim the guerrillas control an estimated one fifth of India's forests, as well as being active in 160 of the country's 604 administrative districts."[18] India's Research and Analysis Wing, believed in 2006 that 20,000 Naxals were involved in the growing insurgency.[5]

Today, some Naxalite groups have become legal organisations participating in parliamentary elections, such as the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation. Others, such as the Communist Party of India (Maoist) and the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Janashakti, are engaged in armed guerrilla struggles.

On 6 April, 2010 Naxalites launched the biggest assault in the history of the Naxalite movement by killing 76 security personnel. The attack was launched by up to 1,000 Naxalites[19][20] in a well-planned attack, killing an estimated 76 CRPF policemen in two separate ambushes and wounding 50 others, in the jungles of Chattisgarh's Dantewada district. On 17th May, Naxals blew up a bus on Dantewda-sukhma road in Chhattisgarh, killing 15 policemen and 20 civilians. In third Major attack by Naxals on 29th June, at least 26 personnels of Indian Centre Reserve Forces (CRPF) were killed in Narayanpur district of Chhattisgarh.

Violence in Bengal

The Naxalites gained a strong presence among the radical sections of the student movement in Calcutta.[21] Students left school to join the Naxalites. Majumdar, to entice more students into his organisation, declared that revolutionary warfare was to take place not only in the rural areas as before, but everywhere and spontaneously. Thus Majumdar declared an "annihilation line", a dictum that Naxalites should assassinate individual "class enemies" such as landlords, businessmen, university teachers, police officers, politicians* of both Right and Left) and others.[22][23]

Throughout Calcutta, schools were shut down. Naxalites took over Jadavpur University and used the machine shop facilities to make pipe guns to attack the police. Their headquarters became Presidency College, Kolkata[24]. The Naxalites found supporters among some of the educated elite, and Delhi's prestigious St. Stephen's College, alma mater of many contemporary Indian leaders and thinkers, became a hotbed of Naxalite activities.

The Chief Minister, Siddhartha Shankar Ray of the Congress Party, instituted strong counter-measures against the Naxalites. The West Bengal police fought back to stop the Naxalites. The house of Somen Mitra, the Congress MLA of Sealdah, was turned into a torture chamber where Naxal students from Presidency College and CU were incarcerated illegally by Police and the Congress cadres. CPI-M cadres were also involved in the "State terror". After suffering losses and facing the public rejection of Majumdar's "annihilation line", the Naxalites alleged human rights violations by the West Bengal police, who responded that the state was effectively fighting a civil war and that democratic pleasantries had no place in a war, especially when the opponent did not fight within the norms of democracy and civility.[14]

Large sections of the Naxal movement began to question Majumdar's leadership. In 1971 the CPI(ML) was split, as the Satyanarayan Singh revolted against Majumdar's leadership. In 1972 Majumdar was arrested by the police and died in Alipore Jail. His death accelerated the fragmentation of the movement.

Reasons for failure, 1967–1975

In a methodical study, Dr. Sailen Debnath has surmised the consequences and reasons of failures of the Naxalite Movement organised by Charu Majumdar and Kanu Sanyal.[citation needed] He writes "The Naxalite movement, though continued intensively from 1967 to the middle of 1970s and resurfaced after some years, could not go a long way achieving anything commendable because of the following reasons:-

1. The Naxalites wanted to surround the towns and cities by the villages, i.e. they wanted to encircle the urban centres with organized peasant forces of the villages. If the peasant militia could have occupied the cities, according to Majumdar, the so-called bourgeois government would fall making the passage to the coming of a socialist government; but the Naxalites could not and did not come up to a stage capable of organizing the peasants and thereby encircling the towns.
2. Majumdar gave sole importance to secret organization and armed training of its members for the purpose of eliminating class enemies. As the Naxalites did not have mass level organization, they lacked mass support. With only a few armed elements, and those not properly educated in the party line, little could actually be accomplished.
3. "Khatam" or the action of eliminating the so-called class enemies in villages was a wrongheaded attempt at political mobilization based on the individual murders of a select few people whose political class and character was never adjudged by their socio-economic conditions or the properties they possessed, but very often only by their political affiliation or by the name and colour of the party or parties they directly or indirectly belonged to. For example, in Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar they killed some petty jotdars who otherwise could have been comrades in action against the capitalists or could be friends in a revolution for radical change.
4. Recruitment in the Naxalite party took place in the absence of proper judgment and scrutiny of the political characters and behaviours of the recruits. It was not uncommon for recruits into the Naxalite party to vent their personal animosities by identifying their personal enemies as class enemies, to be killed with the help of the Naxalite organization.
5. In many cases, criminals enrolled in the Naxalite party in order to gain access to firearms and training in their use and manufacture. This gave rise to large cells of professional criminal organizations which deserted the party as soon as they got the arms and training they wanted. Many of these armed criminals soon began to carry out armed robberies. In order to avoid retaliation by the Naxalites whom they had used and abandoned, they would sometimes turn police informant and provided information about the locations and membership of legitimate Naxalite groups.
6. The ruling Congress party inserted spies inside the unguarded Naxalite organization to gather information about its secret bases and arrest its supporters. Government intelligence personnel and police disguised as Naxalite sympathizers infiltrated the party’s inner organization and arrested many of its leaders, including Charu Majumdar. Thus police had information about the movements of Majumdar after he had gone underground in 1970, and he was arrested in Calcutta in July, 1972. He died in jail days after his arrest, probably in the night of 27th or 28th of July. It is not known how he died, although the government reported that he died of a heart attack.
7. Ordinary people in villages were terrified by the brutal and gruesome ways the Naxalites used to kill fellow villagers alleged to be class enemies. For example, at Bholardabri in Alipurduar, a refugee from East Pakistan, Rajen Pandit, who was struggling to support a family of 12, was killed by Naxalites. How such a person could have been vilified as a "class enemy" is beyond understanding. In another case, a man was beheaded, and the body and head were hung separately in the trees. Local villagers were horrified by such brutality. With such incidents being attributed to Naxalite groups, it became difficult for the Naxalites to find any support among the villagers they purported to be protecting.

Cultural references

The British musical group Asian Dub Foundation have a song called "Naxalite", which is featured on the soundtrack to the 1999 film Brokedown Palace. A 2005 movie called Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi, directed by Sudhir Mishra, was set against the backdrop of the Naxalite movement. In August 2008, Kabeer Kaushik's Chamku, starring Bobby Deol and Priyanka Chopra, explored the story of a boy who is brainwashed to take arms against the state.

In the novel English August by Upamanyu Chatterjee, there is reference to Naxal cadres whom the main protagonist, an IAS officer meets while visiting a tribal village in mid-1980's.

In the novel The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, there is a reference to a character joining the Naxalites.

In the novel The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga, the Naxals (sic) are mentioned often by the poor and the rich alike.

In the novel A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry, the character Omprakash makes and allusion to fighting "like the Naxalites" (195).

The 1998 film Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Maa (Mother of 1084), based on the novel, Hazar Churashir Maa[25] by Mahasweta Devi) starring Jaya Bachchan gives a very sympathetic portrayal of a Naxalbari militant killed by the state. The 2009 Malayalam movie Thalappavu portrays the story of Naxal Varghese, who was shot allegedly dead by the police during the 70s.

In the Kannada movie Veerappa Nayaka, Vishnuvardhan portrays a Gandhian whose son becomes a Naxalite. The 2007 Kannada movie Maathaad Maathaadu Mallige, again portrays Vishnuvardhan as a Gandhian, who confronts a Naxalite Sudeep and shows him that the ways adopted by Naxals will only lead to violence and will not achieve their objective.

Eka Nakshalwadya Cha Janma, (Marathi: The birth of a Naxal), a novel written by Vilas Balkrishna Manohar, a volunteer with the Lok Biradari Prakalp, is a fictional account of a Madia Gond Juru's unwilling journey of life his metamorphosis from an exploited nameless tribal to a Naxal.[26]

In the 2011 Tamil political thriller film Ko, naxalites are shown to rob a bank and overthrow the government and disrupt elections. At the end, it is shown that the naxalites were only used for political gains by the corrupt politicians.

A National Award winning telugu film released in 1997, Sindhooram portrays, how a young police officer becomes a naxalite under unavoidable circumstances.Directed by Krishnavamsi, the movie was critically acclaimed for the direction and acting by the lead actors.

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ Ramakrishnan, Venkitesh (2005-09-21). "The Naxalite Challenge". Frontline Magazine (The Hindu). Retrieved 2007-03-15. 
  5. ^ a b Philip Bowring Published: TUESDAY, APRIL 18, 2006 (2006-04-18). "Maoists who menace India". International Herald Tribune. Retrieved 2009-03-17. 
  6. ^ "South Asia | Senior Maoist 'arrested' in India". BBC News. 2007-12-19. Retrieved 2009-03-17. 
  7. ^ Co-ordinated operations to flush out Naxalites soon The Economic Times, February 6, 2009.
  8. ^ Handoo, Ashook. "Naxal Problem needs a holistic approach". Press Information Bureau. Retrieved 2009-08-08. 
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^ {Sunil Kumar Sen} ({1982}). {Peasant movements in India: mid-nineteenth and twentieth centuries}. {K.P. Bagchi}. 
  14. ^ a b Diwanji, A. K. (2003-10-02). "Primer: Who are the Naxalites?". Retrieved 2007-03-15. 
  15. ^ Hindustan Times: History of Naxalism
  16. ^ Singh, Prakash. The Naxalite Movement in India. New Delhi: Rupa & Co., 1999. p. 101.
  17. ^ Quoted in Judith Vidal-Hall, "Naxalites", p. 73–75 in Index on Censorship, Volume 35, Number 4 (2006). Quoted on p. 74.
  18. ^ Judith Vidal-Hall, "Naxalites", p. 73–75 in Index on Censorship, Volume 35, Number 4 (2006). p. 74.
  19. ^ "Indian police killed by Maoists". Al Jazeera. April 6, 2010. 
  20. ^ "74 security men killed by Naxals in Chhattisgarh". 2010-04-06. Retrieved 2010-04-12. 
  21. ^ Judith Vidal-Hall, "Naxalites", p. 73–75 in Index on Censorship, Volume 35, Number 4 (2006). p. 73.
  22. ^
  23. ^$FILE/A0260027.pdf
  24. ^
  25. ^ "Mother of 1084" - the number assigned to her son.
  26. ^ Who's who of Indian Writers, 1999 By K. C. Dutt, Sahitya Akademi. Retrieved 2009-03-17. 

Further reading

  • Naxalite Politics in India, by J. C. Johari, Institute of Constitutional and Parliamentary Studies, New Delhi, . Published by Research Publications, 1972.
  • The Naxalite Movement, by Biplab Dasgupta. Published by , 1974.
  • The Naxalite Movement: A Maoist Experiment, by Sankar Ghosh. Published by Firma K.L. Mukhopadhyay, 1975. ISBN 0883865688.
  • The Naxalite Movement in India: Origin and Failure of the Maoist Revolutionary Strategy in West Bengal, 1967-1971, by Sohail Jawaid. Published by Associated Pub. House, 1979.
  • In the Wake of Naxalbari: A History of the Naxalite Movement in India, by Sumanta Banerjee. Published by Subarnarekha, 1980.
  • India's Simmering Revolution: The Naxalite Uprising, by Sumanta Banerjee. Published by Zed Books, 1984. ISBN 0862320372.
  • Edward Duyker Tribal Guerrillas: The Santals of West Bengal and the Naxalite Movement, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 1987, p. 201, SBN 19 561938 2.
  • The Naxalite Movement in India, by Prakash Singh. Published by Rupa, 1995. ISBN 8171672949.
  • Sailen Debnath, West Bengal in Doldrums, ISBN 9788186860342
  • Sailen Debnath, The Dooars in Historical Transition, ISBN 9788186860441
  • Sailen Debnath ed. Social and Political Tensions in North Bengal Since 1947,ISBN 81-86860-23-1

External links

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  • Naxalite — /näkˈsə līt/ noun A member of any of various militant Maoist groups in India ORIGIN: Naxalbari in W Bengal, site of a peasants uprising in 1967 …   Useful english dictionary

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