The authorities in India's central state of Chhattisgarh have accused Doctors without Borders (MSF) and the Red Cross (ICRC) of supporting Maoists in the guise of humanitarian aid. Both organizations deny the charges.
A meeting of tribals and Maoists in Chhattisgarh, the state that is most affected by insurgency
The police chief of Chhattisgarh's most restive district Dantewada claimed on Friday that foreign doctors from two international aid organizations had been treating Maoists in the name of helping the poor.
His accusation came after two rebels who were arrested at a pharmacy in possession of medicines worth $6000 reportedly said they were being treated by "people from MSF and ICRC."
"We are surprised by the statement made by the superintendent of police (SP) of Dantewada, especially at the moment given that the ICRC does not have any ongoing projects in Dantewada," reacted the ICRC’s communications coordinator, Alexis Heeb.
"The other thing is that at the moment, the ICRC is only working in Bijapur district at a primary health center located in Kutru village. This is done with the full knowledge and support of the authorities," he added.
There are currently 50,000 police and paramilitary troops deployed to combat India's Maoists
Difficult and controversial work in uncertain situations
The ICRC only recently began concentrating on improving the medical referral system in the state of Chhattisgarh, which is the epicenter of Maoist violence and in the grip of intense conflict between guerillas and security forces, by supporting ambulance services and providing first aid training.
"Our work is always difficult and controversial, especially when we are present in remote areas where there is a situation of violence or situations of uncertainty," Alexis Heeb said. "But we are there to provide humanitarian support."
MSF's India head Martin Sloot, who is currently in Chhattisgarh, was also surprised by the allegations. Some of his organization's mobile clinics provide the only medical support for people in remote and inhospitable areas.
"MSF has nothing do with the political context or the conflict in this area, nor in any area in the world," he said. "What we do is deliver medical care to the people most in need. And that means that everybody, every civilian without a gun or uniform, is welcome in our mobile clinics."
Impartiality is a key principle
"One of our principles is impartiality," Sloot added. "This basically means we do not discriminate – not for gender, political views, color, religion or anything. We are doctors – we provide healthcare to people who are sick."
An MSF principle is impartiality - all over the world, the main aim is to provide care to the sick
MSF first came to restive Chhattisgarh in 2006 in the aftermath of violent clashes between the Maoists and the state-sponsored vigilante group Salwa Judum.
Just over a year ago, a massive military offensive to eliminate the Maoists was launched in the rebel strongholds of Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Jharkhand, Bihar and West Bengal. The operation involved nearly 20,000 specially trained personnel from India's paramilitary and state police forces.
In total, there are currently some 50,000 police and paramilitary troops deployed to combat the Maoist insurgency.
Both MSF and the ICRC have won the Nobel Peace Prize for their work in providing humanitarian assistance to people caught in situations of armed conflict.
Author: Murali Krishnan
Editor: Anne Thomas