Friday, May 2, 2008

Is Salwa Judum heading for an end?

Recently the Supreme Court had criticised the concept of arming citizens to fight militants, groups like Salwa Judum in Chhattisgarh.

Adivasis in Dantewada have been circled by fire for three long years, ever since the controversial adivasi armed group Salwa Judum was set up.

Maoist violence escalated sharply, villages were split wide open, and families were driven to camps run by the group.

But the Judum's hold is weakening; villagers have begun to resent the forced confinement and are leaving these shelters to reclaim their lives.

This is the tendu and mahua plucking season, and since 2005 villagers were banned from entering the forests. Today they are back, collecting and selling forest produce.

But it's still a long way to freedom. Every night, they must return to the camp for a head count.

''We are very scared, we return to the camp every night,'' said a tribal man.

Widespread malnutrition

The starkest symbol of the Judum's failure is the Jagargunda camp where adivasis live like caged cattle.

Here rations reach only once in three months and there is widespread malnutrition, especially among the children and the aged.

Families with starving, ill members want to return home but the fear of the Judum's retribution is intense.

''There is nothing here for us. We want to go but they have told us not to,'' said a tribal woman.

The architect of the movement admits it has spiralled out of control.

''In a revolution, the mass is difficult to control. They will even turn against me. A violent mob does not have direction or conscience,'' said Mahendra Karma, founder and patron, Salwa Judum.

Salwa Judum began as a mission to wipe out Naxalism in Chhattisgarh, instead it terrorised the same adivasis they promised to protect - a strategy that is now unravelling rapidly.

Arm the civilian

However, elsewhere the concept of arming civilians to fight militants has not been abandoned.

Manipur's Chief Minister Ibobi Singh has already appealed to the Home Minister to allow villagers in his constituency to arm themselves.

It's being taken seriously, the home ministry has already sent a team to Heirok in Thoubal district. The CM's move comes after the villagers gave him a memorandum saying they were fed up of militant attacks.

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