News Feature | July 21, 2014

Armed Bandits Demand 'Water Tax' From Drought-Plagued Indian Villagers

By Sara Jerome
@sarmje

bandit

Water has become the central focus of an armed hostage situation as bandits demand a "water tax" from villagers in a drought-plagued region of northern India.

The bandits "are threatening to kill hundreds of villagers unless they deliver 35 buckets of water each day to the outlaws in their rural hideouts," the Associated Press reported. The area where the conflict is underway is sometimes referred to as "bandit country."

The demand "issued by bandit chieftains on cellphones a month ago is being extended to more villages," the Hindustan Times reported this week. "The gang, active in Banda and Chitrakoot, is believed to have two dozen members armed with latest arms and ammunition." 

Nearly 30 villages have complied with the demands.

They alternate the burden of delivering the so-called "water tax" to the bandits, the AP reported, citing police. "Petrified by the circumstances, the villagers are "hauling water into the forests and mountain areas" in order to meet the demand, the International Business Times reported, citing a local charity worker.” Villages have pooled in their resources and [people] to fetch the water and supply it to the gang," said Himanshu Gupta Atmiya, who works locally on drought relief, per the Hindustan Times.

Dry conditions in the region mean that compliance is a huge burden.

"Since most water bodies have dried up due to the severe heat and rain deficiency, the poor villagers – mainly women – have to trudge several kilometers to get the [bandits] their daily supply of water," DNA India reported. Police officer Suresh Kumar Singh told the AP: “Water itself is very scarce in this region. Villagers can hardly meet their demand,” he said. 

The bandits are trying to remain hidden from police. 

"The gang does not stay anywhere for more than two nights. They keep moving to avoid being detected by the police teams combing the area," a senior police official told DNA. Many villagers have been too terrified to speak up to authorities, according to DNA. 

Image credit: "Bandit," Pannonius © 2014, used under an Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

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