Women guerrillas in denim jeans and T-shirts led an attack on police in a busy market in India’s coal hub of Dhanbad, and then other Naxalites bombed a mine-protected vehicle rushing in with reinforcements, killing 11 policemen in all.
It was the second major attack by Naxalites in three days in the eastern state of Jharkhand, one of the hubs of the 42-year-old Naxalite movement that now has its shadow across a quarter of India.
The rebels were all under 25 years of age. Nearly 40 per cent of Naxalite ranks consist of women.
On Wednesday, 10 other policemen were killed while on patrol and several wounded in a Naxalite attack near the town of Chaibasa in West Singhbhum district.
The Naxal movement, India’s largest internal security threat, now spans across areas in some 150-odd districts, a quarter of all districts in India. It survives on “taxes” forced out of government contractors, coal and iron ore miners and industrialists, police say.
The insurgency has claimed 2,000 lives over the past four years, more than the other two waning militant movements in Kashmir and the northeast.
On Friday, some 60 rebels headed by women stunned a police team heading out after depositing money at a State Bank of India branch in the busy market of Phusro town, 130 km northeast of Ranchi, close to the Bokaro Steel Plant.
They surrounded the police, stabbed two men and shot them, and then fled into nearby jungles with police guns. An unexploded bomb was recovered from the site later.
Reinforcements rushed in.
But the rebels had anticipated this and planted a landmine under a culvert seven km outside the town, near Sadubeda village. It was set off when an anti-mine vehicle of the state’s Special Armed Police passed by and was hurled high in the air.
Nine policemen died, mostly of head injuries from the impact.
Around 160 security personnel have died so far this year in attacks by Naxalites. Last year's toll in Naxal-related violence was 231.
“The incidents have posed a serious challenge before the police,” said Bokaro Inspector-General of Police K S Meena. “We would undertake operations to give a befitting reply to the extremists.”