Sunday, April 6, 2008

Gunpowder for State

Salwa Judum, the low-cost strategy of the Chhattisgarh government to tackle Naxals, meant uprooting thousands from their villages and suspension of human rights in areas of its operation.
After a silence of three years, at least two agencies have spoken against Salwa Judum, the inhumane strategy adopted by the Chhattisgarh government to contain the Naxals. Both the Supreme Court as well as the Administrative Reforms Commission have said that the State has no business to egg masses to take law into their hands and wage a war with fellow citizens.
“The government had been providing protection to the villagers from Naxal attacks. It was too expensive. So it was better to support the Salwa Judum.’’ This was how Chhattisgarh’s Director General of Police Vishwa Ranjan explained in an interview to this paper a few months ago as to why the government decided to back Salwa Judum, the groups which were resisting Naxal attacks in the Bijapur district.
The strategy was extended and thrust on the other districts. Of the five districts in Bastar which are hit by Naxal presence, two were brought under the sway of Salwa Judum.
Those who were brought under Salwa Judum were shifted to camps as they needed protection from the Naxals. And again, since it was “expensive” to protect these camps, the police recruited local village boys as ‘special police officers’ whose job was to catch all those who were not joining Salwa Judum.
It is as easy and inexpensive as it can get.
But can that be the only reason to do something that can affect the lives of so many helpless villagers who got no protection from law if they were not part of Salwa Judum?
Vishwa Ranjan does not say that the moment the government backed the Salwa Judum with arms and SPOs, the area was divided into those who joined Judum and those who did not.
He also does not say that those who joined the force and shifted residence to relief camps could not ever go back to the villages. For, if they went they would be either killed by the Naxals or by the terrified villagers who were hiding in the forests and continuing to tend their fields.
Many of them were living off the charred remains of grain stocks left after the Salwa Judum bands had looted their villages, as the police watched supportively.
Recently, a meeting of a Chhattisgarh e-mail network in Champaran village there had some visitors from the neighbouring state of Andhra Pradesh. These were men, women and children who had escaped from the villages in Dantewada after Salwa Judum forces killed their families. They were hiding in a room at the venue of the meeting fearing they would be caught by the police or Salwa Judum informers.
What is obvious is that the Salwa Judum helped the police achieve only one thing: distance itself from the masses and making it all the more difficult to catch the real criminals.
The government admits not running any welfare scheme in the Naxal-hit villages. What it did offer was violation of the rights to life, home and livelihood by unleashing Salwa Judum forces and SPOs on the hapless tribals.
The arrest of activists like Dr Binayak Sen is also part of this escapist route which targets non-criminals since the real ones are hard to catch.
The Chhattisgarh government silenced potential critics, especially in the local media, as well as curbed all resistance movements in a single stroke when it adopted the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act in September 2006, which prohibits the media from reporting any activities that can be seen as ‘unlawful activities’. The government proclaimed human rights organisations like the PUCL as being illegal and went on to target its activists.
While the reforms commission and the Supreme Court have recognised the need for a humane way to tackle insurgency, will the Chhattisgarh government ever have second thoughts about the path it is pursuing?

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