India-Pakistan: January 24, 2005

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Why are Maoist rebels such a problem in so many Indian states? Its all about power, at the local level. India has over a billion people, and most of them live in rural villages. There, ancient practices for administering justice, and controlling the local economy, are allowed to continue. This system is controlled by those of the higher castes. What this means is that the, technically illegal, caste system, controls who gets what, not just economically but in terms of justice as well. There are four main castes, and each of these is further subdivided into dozens more. You are born into a caste. Technically, the law does not recognize caste, but in practice, caste still matters. The problem is with those who have no caste, the dalits. These people comprise 16 percent of the population, not counting another four percent who are casteless because they are not Hindu (the religion of most Indians). Many of Indias non-Hindus converted because they were dalits, and were not getting much from Hinduism. But dalits don't have to be Hindu, they just have to be poor and powerless.

In much of India, local councils (called panchayats), run by members of the higher castes, administer local justice, and enforce local customs. In too many cases, this means dalits are not only discriminated against in legal proceedings, but are economically exploited as well. The local councils dont issue death sentences, but they suggest remedies that result in the same thing. The government has been trying for over half a century to fix this. But bringing the rule of law to the village level costs more than the government can afford. The most outrageous examples of village justice are sometimes punished by the official legal system, usually because the murders, rapes, or thefts make it into the national media. On a slow news day, the media will often go looking for another atrocity against dalits by village councils. Such atrocities are not hard to find. The Maoist movement is an unofficial attempt by communist factions to do what the government cannot. In districts where dalits are the majority, or a large minority, the Maoist rebels find a population willing to support revolutionary change. Like many revolutionary organizations that have lasted several decades, the Maoists have come to be regarded as little different than gangs of bandits (which are still found in rural India). The Maoists use bandit tactics, including extortion and robbery, to sustain themselves. But the Maoists have also taken over the administration of government in some rural areas, or share it with besieged government officials. 

Many lower caste Indians in rural villages support the armed Maoists, who offer social, economic and legal justice as an alternative to a system dominated by higher caste families. Thus no matter how many police and troops are sent to hunt down the armed Maoist groups, there are still plenty of supporters willing to join the rebels. The government knows that the Maoists thrive on the inequities of the caste system, but eliminating that system is expected to take several more generations, and lots of money. 

Pakistan and Bangladesh have the same problem with village councils, even though both of these countries are almost entirely Moslem. The village council, dominated by powerful local families, is an ancient tradition. The Maoist rebellion in Nepal is similar to the one in India, because most Nepalese are Hindus, and the country is dominated by high caste families. 

 

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