Friday, April 4, 2008

Disband Salwa Judum

We endorse the Supreme Court’s disapproval of the creation of anti-Naxal Salwa Judum by the Chhattisgarh government, and the subsequent logistical support and legitimacy it has been extending to what is essentially a private militia. The apex court, while hearing a petition challenging the establishment of Salwa Judum, has rightly observed the state giving “arms to some persons” would mean it is “abetting in a crime if these private persons kill others”.

A democratic state is a keeper of the sovereignty of the people. Any attempt by it to arm one section against another constitutes a clear violation of this principle. It’s time governments realised that Maoist insurgency indicates a crisis of sovereignty for the Indian state. And there is no way it can be overcome without first rendering state institutions inclusive and functionally democratic through a politically-driven process of social transformation.

The Chhattisgarh government has, however, only served to deepen this crisis by aiding and abetting the Salwa Judum. The Judum is, for all practical purposes, a militia of the avaricious local elite, pretending to be an expression of spontaneous local anger against the Maoists. The apex court would do well to accept the plea to set up a committee to visit the camps where local villagers from Naxal-affected areas are reportedly being held against their will.

The perils of political vigilantism have, of late, become much too visible to be ignored. The bloody ‘recapture’ of Nandigram by the CPI(M) cadre last November, or the frequent acts of vandalism carried out by the Shiv Sena and similar outfits to defend Hindu/Maratha culture, point towards a growing propensity to settle disagreements outside the pale of law and institutions.

According vigilante justice primacy over constitutionally ordained legal-judicial procedures risks legitimising private and sectionalist ideas of right and wrong over democratically instituted ideas of justice and fairness. The state would do well to not merely disband the Salwa Judum, but review the entire model of police-civilian cooperation in fighting insurgencies.

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