Oddly Enough

Free mobile phones to fight Maoists in Indian state

RANCHI (Reuters) - Authorities in an insurgency-hit eastern Indian state are distributing free mobile phones to villagers to provide information about Maoist rebels, officials said.

The heads of about 220 villages in Jharkhand have been provided with a mobile phone each and users are provided with a list of police numbers to call as part of the latest strategy to fight Maoist insurgency.

“The idea of distributing mobile sets is to strengthen our network system in remote villages,” Sudhir Kumar, police chief of the state’s East Singhbhum district, a Maoist hotbed, told Reuters. “We are getting a good response.”

Maoists, who have been running an almost four-decade-long insurgency, control vast tracts of rural land in about a dozen states in east, central and parts of southern India.

They say they are fighting for the rights of farmers and the poor. The insurgency has claimed thousands of lives and has been described by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as the country’s gravest internal security threat.

Villagers say the mobile phones are a useful tool in the fight against the Maoists.

“One night we saw a few Maoist rebels roaming around our village. We used our mobile to pass on information,” said Antu Hembrom, a village headman.

“Police reacted fast and the rebels were arrested.”

Editing by Krittivas Mukherjee and Sugita Katyal