Myths Of Salwa Judum
By Anoop Saha
14 September, 2007
to a petition filed by Nandini Sundar and Ramchandra Guha, the Supreme
Court has issued a notice to the Chhattisgarh government asking them
to explain the rationale behind Salwa Judum. However the article in
The Hindu quotes the Supreme Court bench as saying, “What is wrong
in arming the local people to counter the naxal menace?” Let us
try to find out what is wrong in forming a civilian militia by dispelling
some of the myths associated with Judum, and propagated shamelessly
by the state government and certain sections of the (state) media.
MYTH: Salwa Judum
(SJ) is a spontaneous movement of adivasis against the tyranny of the
might be a mere coincidence that the first public meeting of Salwa Judum
was on June 4 2005, the very same day the state government signed an
MoU with Tata steel to set up a steel plant in Bastar. What is not is
that the policy of creating and arming local resistance groups is the
bedrock of India’s anti-insurgency strategy. In its analysis of
the naxal problem, the annual reports of ministry of home affairs mentions
“creation of local resistance groups at grass root levels”
and “encouraging local resistance groups” as potential counter
strategy. These lines are repeated in its 2003-04, 2004-05, and 2005-06
reports with the assurance that the ministry is actively encouraging
such methods. (interestingly no such mention is there is in 2006-07
report which is quiet heartening) It is not the first time that village
defence commitees were formed in Bastar. Similar attempts were made
unsuccessfully in 1993-94 and then again in 1999. They were tried in
Bihar, Jharkhand and Orissa as well to counter the naxalites. Salwa
Judum was not limited to forming a civilian militia. It went beyond
that, employing the classical techniques of ’strategic hamletting’,
so (un)successfully adopted earlier in the North-east. The well known
strategy involves emptying the people from remote villages to designated
camps, cutting the supply line of the rebels, and launching fresh strikes
in their strongholds. Once the villages are emptied, all those who are
left behind can be identified as enemy combatants and any force used
against them can then be justified.
The state’s propaganda
highlights adivasi dienchantment with the naxalites. Of course there
is some truth in the contention that some adivasis do want the naxalites
to be driven out of Bastar, out of their lives. It is true that the
naxalites can be as exploitative as the state or the thekedaar. The
people do have a right to feel that their lives would have been better
in the absence of the naxals. Before driving to any conclusion, it is
also important to analyze the events of last 20 years. When the first
batch of naxalites came to Bastar, it was a fertile ground for revolutionary
mobilization. The only visible face of state was the attrocious police
and forest guards. Health and educational standards were low, and are
still very bad. The naxalites got popular support by their small acts,
like beating up the guard or ensuring better wages for forest produce.
After they were firmly established and gained confidence of the adivasis,
the naxals started implementing basic principles of their ideology.
These included among other things, a redistribution of land by force.
Like all societies in India, the tribal society also had a feudal character.
This implementation-of-ideas phase alienated a section of the adivasis.
It is this very “class” of people who lost their land and
power in the process, who form the backbone of Salwa Judum. In camp
after camp, the most common grouse of SJ third rung leaders against
the naxals were, “woh bolte the zameen baant do. Kyon baant de?”
(they asked us to distribute our land. Why should we?). Bu this does
not mean that the popular support for naxalites were on the wane. The
land redistribution earned them far many supporters than enemies. A
significant portion of these people are still with the naxalites, and
form the part of large coordinated attacks as that on NMDC.
The leaders of SJ are all
non-adivasis. Salwa Judum also finds popular support among the industrialists
of Chhattisgarh (CII, CG chapter), the local thekedaars, RSS, and of
course with the Union Ministry of Home Affairs.
MYTH: Salwa Judum
is a peaceful gandhian movement.
leader of opposition in CG assembly, Mahendra Karma, and ex-adviser
to Chhattisgarh government, KPS Gill, along with many others have termed
SJ as a peaceful Gandhian movement. It is not just a question of etymology.
Gandhian definitely does not mean forcing people to leave their homes,
creating a unaccountable armed vigilante group, killing all those who
dosn’t agree with them, and letting a small group of people in
charge of huge funds to manage the camps. The charges of rape/murder
against Salwa Judum gangs and the paramilitary fores which augment/support
the movement, has been well documented in numerous fact finding reports.
Salwa Judum was also accompanied by the draconian law, CSPSA. Some of
the provisions of CSPSA is even harsher than that much hated act AFSPA,
and it directly targets activists and journalists who report on the
maoists activities. CSPSA perfectly gels with the philosophy that anyone
who is not with the tyranny of the state is essentially a naxal sympathizer.
One of the most ardent human
rights activist of Chhattisgarh, and someone who has been closely involved
in public health programs of Chhattisgarh, Dr. Binayak Sen is in jail
since May 2007. The fabricated charges against him under CSPSA were
found serious enough by the Chhattisgarh high court that denied bail
to him. An alumnus of CMC Vellore, Dr. Binayak Sen played a pivotal
role in exposing the true face of Salwa Judum. Cajoled and compromised,
most local media outlets in Chhattisgarh parroted the lines of state
in reporting his arrest. He is not the only one who is being charged
with this draconian act. CSPSA is direct linked with the Salwa Judum
campaign. The act is designed to prevent any unwanted criticism of the
‘movement’, especially by the local people and the local
media. Despite this, some have taken a courageous stand in exposing
the brutal violence unleashed by Judum militia.
CPJC (Campaign for Peace
and Justice in Chhattisgarh) had a convention on 4th september in New
Delhi on the civil war situation in Dantewada. One of those who came
from Dantewada had been shot at his testicles because he refused to
participate in the Salwa Judum rally. Another person from Vechapal village
told us that two women from his village were raped by the Salwa Judum.
They were frced to wear naxalite uniform; their hair cut, and were taken
to Jagdalpur jail. Such cases are repeated in almost all the villages
in Dantewada district.
Earlier this year on March
31, 12 people from Ponjer and Santoshpur villages were murdered by the
SPOs in Santoshpur. The sarpanch of Santoshpur (himself an SPO) who
was in one of the assaulting parties did a tell-all-interview explicitly
stating that the SPOs and district force people killed 6 of his fellow
villagers in front of him and that 2 of the killed were just mahua collectors.
The rest were sangham members. Sangham is the unofficial body created
by the naxalites in the villages. They are not armed, and merely check
the events in the village. The Santoshpur encounter was highlighted
accidentally, because one of the media teams from abroad happened to
be in Dantewada at the same time. They managed to talk to the scared
villagers of Ponjer, who had taken refuge under a tree after evacuating
from their village.
Perhaps nothing exemplifies
the gravity of the situation than the story of this unnamed female inmate
of Jagdalpur jail. The Independent Citizens initiative (ICI) in its
report says this about her, “We met a female inmate of the Jagdalpur
Jail who said she had been picked up while accompanying her brother
in a cycle, to visit their sister. Her brother was shot dead in front
of her and she was first gangraped by the CRPF near the roadside and
then sent to the local thana where she was held and gangraped for another
ten days, after which she was sent to Jagdalpur Jail. The other women
in jail corroborated that when she first arrived, she was so swollen
from the sexual torture that she could hardly walk. This woman (whose
identity we cannot reveal) is currently charged under the arms act and
MYTH: The displacement
of adivasis from villages to camps is inevitable, of their own free
will, and is to ensure their safety.
a cursory glance at the pattern of displacement belies this argument.
Salwa Judum was officially started on June 4, 2005. Not accustomed to
any voice of dissent, the naxalites killed 8 villagers in Kotrapal village
on June 14 2005. This provided the much needed excuse for the state,
and the first camps were established almost immediately. Although, june
14 incident had a limited influence, by July, at least 15000 tribals
were forced to migrate to the camps. What made whole of villages suddenly
move to the camps? How was this mass transfer accomplished in flat 15
days? The largest movements of villagers occurred in significant chunks.
On diwali eve of 2005, people from at least 100 villages were moved
to the camps.
What was happening to those
who stayed back in the villages. Reports kept coming out about the violent
actions by the salwa judum cadres, the SPOs, the police and the reserve
batallions like crpf, naga and mizo jawans unleashing brutal violence
on them. Women were raped, men were killed, children were maimed, and
large amounts of grains and vegetables grown by the adivasis were destroyed.
Despite mounting evidence, not a single FIR was lodged against all those
associated with SJ. In a more serious lapse, all health and educational
facilities were stopped by the state in the villages considered to be
rebel strongholds. The sarpanches of some villages have sent a letter
on 24th May 2007, reiterating this fact. They claim that all essential
services have been suspended in these thousands of villages since the
launch of Salwa Judum. If anybody tries to cross the Indravati River
and tries to go to the haats, he/she is severely beaten by the SPOs
and CRPF men. They walk 80km one way to get a packet of salt. Incidentally,
most of the haats, which were the main instrument of social and economical
exchange of these villagers have been shut down.
The state claims that the
people had to shift to the camps to save themselves from the murderous
assaults by the naxalites. The naxalites did react violently to the
Salwa Judum campaign and the people associated with it were brutally
massacred. But the number of persons killed by them still pales in comparision
to what has been done in the name of Salwa Judum.
Today, more than 50000 people
are living in 22 camps in south Bastar district. The conditions of these
camps are dismal. Around 60000 adivasis have migrated to the neighbouring
states and are facing an acute humanitarian crisis. The entire society
is in crisis, and it might take a long time to undo the mistakes committed.
MYTH: Salwa Judum
is only possible strategy to counter the increasing threat of naxalites.
Indian states have successfully tackled the left wing extremism in the
previous decades. The ideological bases of these movements have also
surfaced in almost all parts of the world. The surefire way to tackle
such insurgencies is to isolate their legitimate demands, strengthen
the panchayati raj institutions, have transparency in all government
schemes, and most importantly, empower and address the non-violent grievance
mechanism in the country. The increase in naxalite presence in recent
times is directly correlated with the increasing inequality in the society
and the mad rush to exploit the limited resources. We have a lovely
document that can be our guide to face such scenarios. It is called
“The Constitution of India”. One of the most tried and tested
method to counter the maoist principles is to simply ensure the rights
guaranteed by the constitution to each individual. A very basic first
step can be to sincerely implement land reforms all across the country.
It is possible to isolate some basic demands of the maoist party and
they are not dissimilar to what many other political parties and social
movements are asking for. Land reforms are one. The other is to amend
the ‘Land Acquisition Act, 1894'. The third is public ownership
of all natural resources. Fourth is to look into the agricultural distress.
These are very easy steps but require tremendous will power in part
of the state. What is also required is to ensure delivery of basic services
like education and health in these regions and improvement in quality
As a military strategy also,
there are variety of ways to engage the naxalites in battle. Salwa Judum,
the entire campaign, represents the abrogation of the responsibility
of the state and its security apparatus. The SPO’s are kept in
the front during each armed action. It is the who die in largest numbers
in any naxalite counter-attack.
MYTH: Salwa Judum
is accompanied by development initiatives by the state government of
Chhattisgarh and the government of India.
mentioned before, the SJ campaign was started on the very same day on
which the state government of Chhattisgarh signed an MOU with the tatas
for them to set up a steel plant in Lohandiguda in Bastar. Essar is
also setting up a steel plant in Dhurli/Bhansi region of Dantewada.
Both these parties have also demanded lease and mining rights for the
vast iron ore reserves in Bailadila. The interest of both these groups
lies in the success of the Salwa Judum campaign. According to annual
report of Dantewada district collector, Essar has contributed large
sums to establish the Salwa Judum relief camps as model villages. This
will ensure that the villages are permanently emptied out, which can
be exploited for their mineral wealth at a later date.
The people in both these
cases are dead against any forced acquisition of their farmland. All
the 10 villages of Lohandiguda and 2 villages of Dhurli and Bhansi fall
under fifth schedule, and any land acquisition without the express permission
of the gram sabha is illegal. Given that a majority of the farmers (mostly
adivasis) were not ready to part with their land, the state devised
a unique way to subvert the guidelines. On the day of Gram Sabha, heavy
security forces were deployed and the villagers were asked to remain
at their homes. A few educated elder leaders were put in jail. Accompanied
by police, the people were called in one by one in the panchayat building
and asked to sign on the document there. None of them were allowed to
read out the contents of the document. Furthermore, section 144 was
clamped in some villages during the whole period. Although all outsiders
were banned, the grram sabhas were attended by the resident directors
of essar steel and tata steel respectively. What is noteworthy is that
all the villages, where such drama was played out, have never had any
naxalite presence. (The documents are available in www.cgnet.in)
If education and health are
identified as basic developmental indicators, Dantewada is is in a much
worse shape now than a few years back. There is massive malnutrition
among children in the camps. The medical facilities are virtually non-existent,
and the state has stopped all health care activities in the villages
which have not endorsed Salwa Judum. According to a recent team of doctors
who visited the camps, “People living in camps suffer from significant
untreated morbidity, and seem to receive only periodic or occasional
health services. People living in villages on the ‘other side’
are not being provided services at all by the public health system.”
I must point out that a couple of years back I met a top district official
of Dantewada. According to him, the only redeemable feature about the
naxals is that they have never harmed any government campaign on “shiksha
and swasthya” (education and health). So the excuse that the health
services had to be stopped for the fear of naxalites is bogus at best.
Education is in a far worse
shape. A large number of paramilitary forces are stationed in government
school buildings. Among them are, like Rani Bodli, residential schools
where even the girl’s hostel buildings are shared by the security
forces. A majority of schools remain closed, and the state govt. granted
a general promotion to all students of many villages, because even the
examinations could not be conducted. If development means roads and
well connectivity, while eight lane wide roads are constructed to join
the sites of tata and essar steel plants with state capital, the status
of roads connecting many villages have become worse and are in a state
of disrepair. The funds under Gram Sadak Yojana remain largely unutilized,
or mismanaged in a very large scale.
MYTH: All the displaced
adivasis are living in camps. Although the camps have bad living conditions,
the people are still living better than in their villages.
state government claims that 644 villages out of a total of 1350 have
supported salwa judum wholeheartedly. Approximately 50000 villagers
have taken refuge in the 22 relief camps as of August 2007. The state
also claims that these 644 villages are targeted by the naxalites, and
that is the reason for such large exodus to the camps. A quick tour
of the relief camps leads us to believe that the actual number of people
in these camps is far less than what is claimed. The back of the envelope
calculations show that the total population of these 644 villages ought
to be nearly 3.5 lacs. The big question is, where are the rest of 300000
villagers? Either they are in their village, engaged in farming, bothering
least bit about the naxalites. Or they have sided with the naxals, at
a whopping ratio of 6:1. Or they preferred to migrate to neighbouring
states, away from the ghettoish camps. Indeed, a large number of adivasis
have have crossed the borders and shifted to AP and Orissa. Since they
are not formally recognised as ‘Internally Displaced People’
(IDP) by either the state or the international humanitarian existence,
many of these are facing life of acute subsistence. There have been
repeated calls from people living in these districts to provide some
sort of support to these refugees.
They chose to take the risk
go elsewhere, rather than stay in the camps. These camps, which are
supposed to be run very efficiently with massive funds being poured
out, are claimed to be dens of vice. The adivasi women are least safe
in these camps. The standard of food and medical facilities are awful
in a majority of camps. It is important to enquire the massive amounts
of relief package being siphoned away. The only source of employment
in these camps is working as contract labour on daily wages, or to enroll
as an SPO. While a majority of adivasis were engaged in agriculture
and collecting minor forest produce, now they are reduced to nothing
more than coolies.
MYTH: Salwa Judum
metric of success for the Salwa Judum campaign is, in the words of state
DGP that the naxalites have themselves admitted to the killing of 500
of their cadres in the salwa judum campaign. But then they have also
claimed to have recruited more number of people in last two years from
Bastar, than in the previous 20 years. Far from weakening it, this campaign
has given more ammunition to the naxals both in form or personnel and
human rights issues. While a large number of ’sangham members’
have indeed died, the naxals retain their ability to carry on massively
coordinated strikes of forces and civilians. Forget central committee,
state committee, zonal committee or its district committee, even a dalam
commander (which is the lowest hierarchy among the naxalite armed wing)
is not there among those ‘500 naxalites’ killed by SJ. The
organs of the state have claimed repeatedly that the top leadership
of naxals has taken refuge in the forests of Dantewada, yet none of
them were captured from that region. This most brutal suppression of
human rights for seemingly fictitious successes has few parallels in
the world, most notably in Darfur, Peru, Sierra Leone and Congo. Salwa
Judum fits with the union home ministry’s idea of “aiding
local resistance groups”, that has never shown any success in
any part of the country and yet shamelessly employed in all regions
of direct conflict for apparent quick results.
On November 14 2006, there
was a large rally of nearly 70000 adivasis in Dantewada, shouting slogans
against Salwa Judum. If there ever was a popular support for SJ, it
had disappeared completely within a few months. A similar rally was
taken out in July this year in Cherla village near Konta.
The reason that is now cited
in some sections for the continuation of SJ is that a quick withdrawal
will mean a loss of face for the state government. Given a choice between
‘loss-of-face’ and large scale societal annihilation and
the kind of brutality mentioned in this article (that is merely a tip
of the iceberg), it is not very hard to choose.
Salwa Judum is continuing,
and the violence is showing no signs of abatement. The policy of arming
civilians to counter insurgency has never been discussed in the parliament.
Proving once again that famous Edmund Burke hypothesis, “All that
is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
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