NEW DELHI (Thomson Reuters Foundation - India's paramilitary forces have launched a new welfare initiative aimed at winning over impoverished villagers who have for decades been caught in a violent conflict between left-wing insurgents and security forces, the Times of India reported on Monday.
Tribal communities living in mineral-rich, yet impoverished eastern and central India have long felt persecuted by both Maoist rebels, who say they are fighting for the rights of the poor and landless and want to overthrow the government, and security forces.
Villagers accuse the rebels, also known as Naxalites, of widespread extortion and forced recruitment, including the recruitment of children. The insurgents have attacked schools, trains and police stations, and use landmines and improvised explosive devices.
But rights groups say there are also "widespread abuses" by government-backed vigilantes and security forces, who in previous anti-Maoist drives, have conducted arbitrary arrests, torture and killings.
According to the report, 20 crore rupees ($3 million) will be allocated each year to paramilitaries deployed in states such as Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Odisha, to spend on community social welfare projects to win the hearts and minds of local people.
These could be initiatives such as organising medical camps, ferrying pregnant women to health centres, distributing mosquito nets, giving vocational or sports training, offering farming assistance for cooperative farming, or even screening films that promote patriotism and blast social evils, the report said.