India's Maoist insurgency has become the most violent of its domestic conflicts, said the Asian Center for Human Rights, an independent monitoring group.
The broad network of Maoist cells known as the Naxalite movement is present in at least 11 of India's 28 states, especially in rural, impoverished and heavily forested eastern India. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said the movement is India's most serious internal security threat and his government said this week it would step up its response to the guerrillas and other domestic threats.
"Current security-driven responses are not working; indeed they are counter-productive" in addressing the Naxalite uprising, the New Delhi-based center said in a statement accompanying the report's release today. It said some Indian security forces have operated with "impunity."
The Indian government has said the Maoists are among the country's main security threats.
"Terrorism, Naxalite violence and insurgency in the northeast are the key challenges before the country," Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram told reporters in New Delhi this week. He said Singh's Congress party-led government, re- elected this month with an increased parliament majority, will "respond with speed and decisiveness" to security threats.
The human rights report also criticized the government of Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state, for what it said is an increase in suppression and atrocities against Dalits, those at the bottom of the Hindu caste hierarchy.
While the state's chief minister is a Dalit, people from the group "continue to be denied entry into temples" and schools, and denied the use of water wells, because of traditional religious beliefs, the report said.
From 2005 through 2008, the Naxalite conflict has led to 1,965 civilian deaths, more than either of India's two regional secessionist movements, in Kashmir and in the northeastern states, the center said in its annual human rights report. During the same period, the number of security personnel killed in Naxalite clashes doubled, while declining in other conflict zones, the report said.
"Among the armed opposition groups, the Naxals were responsible for the gross violations of international humanitarian law," the center said in the report. The movement has used "violence of extraordinary brutality, including the gouging out of eyes, bludgeoning to death and slitting of throats of those suspected of colluding with the state."
The Naxalite movement is named for the West Bengal village of Naxalbari, where impoverished villagers staged an uprising against landowners in 1967. The movement seeks to overthrow the government to improve the lives of the poor.
Singh's government was criticized by opposition parties after the November terrorist attack in Mumbai that killed 166 people. The government has since then created a federal anti- terrorism agency, strengthened coastal borders, improved training for anti-terrorism officers and bolstered the country's intelligence agencies.
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