Maoists in Assam are making rapid inroads among the Santhals, who were brought to the state 200 years ago and coerced into working in tea plantations.
Intelligence agencies say the rebels have propped up a relatively new adivasi (tribal) militant outfit called Santhali Tiger Force (STF). The outfit has begun to spread its influence across five western and northern Assam districts.
The indoctrination and the initiation process are taking place at two camps along the Assam-West Bengal border.
“The STF was formed by the adivasi youth across the tea belt in Kokrajhar and adjoining districts. The outfit has a few seasoned rebels from other outfits, and we have information it is being supported by Maoists,” said Kokrajhar district police chief P.K. Dutta.
The Maoist-STF link came to light after the police arrested four Bengal-based tribals at a hotel in Kokrajhar town, 235 km west of Guwahati, in April. They said they were Maoists on a training mission.
The adivasis comprise 18 per cent of Assam’s 30 million people. About 80 per cent are below the poverty line or just above it.