MARKAPAR, November 9, 2009 (AFP) – In a rural Maoist stronghold in central India, off limits to the police and government officials, people are queuing for photos they hope might save their lives.
Indian security forces are set to launch a major offensive against Maoist rebels whose insurgency has escalated across the country, posing a challenge to the authority of the state led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Stuck in the middle of the conflict zones are thousands of villagers from indigenous tribes — some embittered by years of government neglect, others brutalised by the rebels and many who simply want to be left alone.
The queue in Markapur, 186 miles from the capital of Chhattisgarh state in central India, is for photos to be used on makeshift identification cards that can be brandished if the long-forecast offensive begins.
“We decided to get an identity card. I could flash it to prove that I am neither a Maoist nor an anti-Maoist,” said Bukti Mai, 36, a member of the Gonde tribe who lives in small mud house hidden deep in the forests.
Bukti stood with other tribal men and women outside the studio to get the first photograph of her life, which will be used on an ID card