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The Origins: The Naxal Movement in India

Updated: Jan 18, 2022

In the 1960s, child labour and farmer’s problems were at their peak. With no land reforms anywhere in sight in the near future, contractors abused their power and farmers. Among the sprinkling of protests in the country, the most revolutionary one was led by Kanu Sanyal and Charu Majumdar. The protest was started in a village in Darjeeling, Naxalbari to fight the corruption and inequality in India. This group of communist protestors were called ‘Naxals’, deriving their name from the location where this movement found its roots.

On 18 May 1967, the Siliguri Kishan Sabha under the presidency of Jangal Santhal declared their support for the movement initiated by Kanu Sanyal. At the time, the leaders of this revolt were members of the Communist Party of India (Maoist), which joined a coalition government in West Bengal just a few months back. Soon after the coalition, there were disputes within the party as Charu Majumdar disagreed with the various party decisions. The party soon culminated with the Naxalbari Uprising on May 25th of the same year, and Majumdar led a group of disputants to start a revolt.

On that fateful day, in Naxalbari, a sharecropper was attacked by the landlord's men In retaliation, tribals started forcefully capturing back their lands. When a police team arrived, they were entrapped by a group of tribals led by Jangal Santha. After seventy-two days of revolt, the CPI (M) coalition government suppressed this incident.

In July 1971, Indira Gandhi took advantage of President's rule and ordered the Indian Army against the Naxalites and launched an operation, termed "Operation Steeplechase" killing hundreds of Naxalites and imprisoning more than 20,000 suspects. By 1973, the main groups of the Naxalites had been eliminated. The leaders of those groups were either dead or behind bars.

After the decline of Naxal in 1973 another surge of Naxals was recorded in 1985 but the governments of Andhra Pradesh and Odisha managed to quell down the rebels with a variety of measures. Including the help of the Greyhounds, the states established special laws that enabled police to capture and detain Naxalite cadres, fighters, and presumed supporters.

Despite government intervention, in 2008 we had 233 Naxal-affected districts but now we have 90 districts that are Naxal-affected. However, the Naxalbari movement has affected our country badly. The decade from 2009-2019 then 2,191 citizens, 342 militants have been killed in the Naxal attack and the country has faced a total of 2,045 Naxal attacks in the last 10 years.

There was a surge in attacks by the Naxals in 2005, when a prominent Congress leader Mahendra Karma started Salwa Judum, a state-sponsored vigilante movement against the Naxalites. Salwa Judum was a group of boys between the ages of 18 to 20 who were ordered to shoot Naxals whenever they saw them. This power was heavily misused by the young boys, which in turn led to cases of rape and other such inhuman activities.

Considering the increasing inhuman activities, Supreme Court banned Salwa Judum in Feb 2011 by declaring such arming of civilians illegal.

From left: Kanu Sanyal, Jangal Santhal, Charu Mazumdar

The actions of Salwa Judum fueled the anger of Naxalites and after that, the country witnessed a lot of Naxal attacks. One of the most dangerous was the attack of 2013 when Naxals attacked the convoy of Congress leaders. The attack led to the death of around 28 people including twelve Congress leaders and workers, eight police and CRPF jawans, and four other villagers.

There was also crossfire between Mahendra Karma's guards and the Naxalites, but after Karma’s defenders ran out of bullets, Karma surrendered along with various other Congress leaders. Naxalites then asked Congress leaders there to identify Karma. Karma came forward and identified himself. Naxalites then took him away and beat him. They then stabbed him several times and sprayed him with bullets, and then beat him again about the head with the butts of their guns. They also raised the slogan ``Mahendra Karma Murdabad”. The autopsy revealed that 78 stab wounds were found on his body, which was made with a blunt object.

At present, Naxals fight for unequal government policies. But how did they know about the military movement and planning against them? Possibly, it is because of their bond with the localities and also the irresponsible media coverage which makes it easy for Naxalites to predict the actions of the authorities.

The government gave Naxals enough reasons to protest . The constitution of India never recognized the Insurgency aligned with the Naxal movement as the main threat to our country. The politicians have made a lot of promises to give a better life to those who will leave the Naxal groups but 70% of the people who left Naxal were left with nothing with them. In many cases, it was found that the people who left the Naxal groups have been given the position of constable in the local police force.

At present, the Naxal protest is a part of the communist ideology but it has lost its track. The only agenda with which the Naxal protest is of inequality that our country has.The fight with Naxal is a long one. It is not as black and white as it looks, rather there is a grey side to the whole conflict where stating who is right and who is wrong is not that easy.


1. Pletcher, K. (2015, October 14). Naxalite. Encyclopedia Britannica.

2. Khan sir (2021, April 11). Naxalite problem and Solution. Youtube.

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