When the Salwa Judum was launched in 2005, it was believed to be a ground-breaking solution to the intractable Maoist problem in Chhattisgarh. It was tom-tomed as the ultimate remedy to the climate of unending violence in the tribal hinterland.
As the Salwa Judum activists marched from village to village, 'liberating' Maoist villages, it was hailed as a spontaneous peace offensive from the tribals against the ultra-Left insurgents. Both the Chhattisgarh government and the Union Home Ministry exulted in the success of the movement.
Six years on, the solution has turned out to be worse than the problem. It has pitted tribals against tribals, unleashed violence on an unprecedented scale in the forests and rendered thousands of tribal refugees in their own land. Lakhs of innocent tribals have been trapped in the vicious cross-fire between the Maoists and the Salwa Judum activists and turned more vulnerable than ever before.
Worse, the movement is sucking in young lives into the cruel fight. Armed and in battle fatigue, boys hardly into their teens have started wielding the gun and the swagger. They love to kill and boast they have been trained for armed combat. The bravado comes from the active support extended by the government. The Chhattisgarh government has been training youngsters with weapons and in armed combat and calling them Special Police Officers (SPOs). They get Rs 2,150 a month, rice at Rs 2 a kg and free oil in exchange for their loyalty to government.
According to media reports, more than 2, 00,000 people have been displaced from their villages. Activists pick up villagers forcibly and dump them into wretched 'relief camps'. They have to survive with bare minimum food, little water and not much in the form of basic amenities. Those who have migrated to other states to escape the spiral of violence are in a miserable state.
It was a nasty game, inhuman too. The government was playing the tribals against the Maoists to protect itself. The Salwa Judum activists were the unsuspecting victims of a conspiracy of the state’s police. Human rights activists have been raising their voice against the movement but it had fallen on deaf years.
Now, the Supreme Court has stepped in to set the situation right. On Tuesday, it restrained the Chhattisgarh government and the Centre from appointing tribals as SPOs and arming them for its Salwa Judum counter-insurgency operations against Maoists. It termed the step as ‘unconstitutional’.
The court said that the eligibility criteria including the educational qualification and training of the tribals to combat Maoists goes against the provisions of statues and the Constitution. It said that creation of Koya Commandos — the trained tribals — and the idea of Salwa Judum itself was in violation of the Constitution.
The issue of SPOs was raised by sociologist Nandini Sundar, historian Ramachandra Guha, former bureaucrat EAS Sarma and others. They had sought that the court direct the state government to refrain from supporting Salwa Judum. The police had argued that SPOs have excelled in performing police duties and asserted that in anti-Maoist operations such officials were of immense help in their role as guides, translators and spotters.
"You are playing with the so-called SPOs. What will happen if they turn against the state. God save this country," the bench had observed in its last hearing.
After the court’s verdict the Salwa Judum should end. In Dantewada, the Ground Zero of Maoist activities, it has virtually caused a collapse of the government machinery and all other democratic institutions. The Chhattisgarh government should look for real solutions to the problem of escalation of Maoist activities and support base in the forests.
The solution lies in finding the answer to the socio-economic problems in the area not militarising the tribals.
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Updated Date: Jul 05, 2011 19:04:20 IST