In the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh, ten police officers and a civilian were killed in an explosion while they were returning from an operation against rebels, according to the state’s chief minister on Wednesday.
Bhupesh Baghel informed reporters that the attack is thought to have been carried out by rebel Maoist insurgents and expressed his sorrow over the dead.
In a statement released on Wednesday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi “strongly condemned” the assault.
“I honor the courageous personnel who lost their lives in the attack. Their sacrifice will never be forgotten. My sympathies to the grieving families,” he tweeted.
India’s government has been embroiled in a decades-long conflict with Maoist rebel groups, also known as Naxals, who launch attacks on government forces in an attempt to overthrow the state and usher in a classless society. Maoists are largely active in central India, in remote regions mainly populated by tribal peoples.
According to a 2019 report by India’s Ministry of Home Affairs, 90 districts across 11 states are affected by some form of Naxal or Maoist militancy. More than 2,100 civilians in India have been killed in the Maoist insurgency since 2010.
The government has responded with a security crackdown in areas in which the groups are active – an approach that while appearing to reduce the threat level has been criticized by some observers as heavy-handed and prone to abuse.
Villagers who live in Maoist territory are largely cut off from the country’s rapidly growing economy, and many live in fear both of rebels taking their children as recruits and violent government raids.
Some villagers in Chhattisgarh previously told CNN that they were forced to pay taxes to the Maoists, or face abuse or even torture. But if they did pay up, they risked being labeled Maoist sympathizers by government forces.
At least 22 Indian security force members were killed and 31 injured in 2021 during a four-hour gun battle with Maoist insurgents, officials said. In 2017, 25 police officers were killed and six others injured when hundreds of suspected Maoist rebels attacked a convoy in central India.
Suspected Maoists also struck during India’s elections in 2019, allegedly gunning down a polling supervisor in the eastern state of Odisha. In another incident in the same district that year, alleged Maoists approached a vehicle heading towards a polling center and forced officials to disembark before setting fire to it.