What is Salwa Judum? A tainted and bloody reaction

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It had a short but violent life. However, it continues to be bloody with its face Mahendra Karma becoming the latest victim. Salwa Judum began in 2005 and ended in 2011.

Salwa Judum took birth as a spontaneous manifestation of peoples anger against arbitrary Maoist or Naxal actions and attitude in Bastar region of Chattisgarh. But with the intervention of the political and police establishment it became a state-backed armed movement against the Maoists, and then lost its way.

The seeds of Salwa Judum or Peace March or Purification Hunt in tribal Godi language was a reaction against Maoist strike call on collecting tendu leaves and opposition to development projects like road construction.

The tribals in some villages came under Judum umbrella against the Maoists and took processions and held meeting to talk about development. The year was 2005.

Then came the political class. At first it was supported by then Opposition leader Mahendra Karma of the Congress. The government stepped in and it took the shape of a counter-insurgency operation against the Maoists or the Naxals.

The state appointed youngsters as special police officers (SPOs) and armed them. From being a peaceful campaign, Salwa Judum became an armed operation with ‘activists' are armed with guns, lathis, axes, bows and arrows.

Terror v/s terror

Between 2004 and 2010, there were 2298 attacks by Naxalites in Chattisgarh, and 538 police and para military personnel were killed. In addition 169 SPOs, 32 government employees (not police) and 1064 villagers had also been killed in such attacks.

Against such violent background the Salwa Judum started its terror. People were forcibly picked up from their villages and confined into ‘relief camps'. There was a breakdown of rule of law in Dantewada district as Salwa Judum ‘activists' became vigilantes who assert the right to control, intimidate and punish anyone they consider to be a suspected Naxalite.

There were numerous cases of murder, loot, arson, rape and other violence and atrocities by Salwa Judum members and many went unreported. The government refused to accept responsibility for the actions of the Salwa Judum ‘activists'.

Violence against women

One human rights organisation's report said: "The Salwa Judum has been responsible for a huge amount of violence in the district, which includes killing civilians, burning and looting their houses, and raping women. Rather than stopping Maoist violence, it has actually led to an increase in retaliatory killings by Naxalites."

"The creation and support of the Salwa Judum has divided entire villages and families, perhaps irreversibly. They are forced either to choose the Maoists or the Salwa Judum. Official figures state that 644 out of 1153 villages or nearly 56% are involved in the Salwa Judum. A cycle of retribution and revenge has been set in motion, with the Salwa Judum targeting villagers believed to be sympathetic to the Maoists and the Maoists in turn killing those active in the Salwa Judum."

There were various reports by rights groups on the atrocities committed by the Salwa Judum, which was supposed to be a peoples movement and peaceful. A petition was filed in 2007 in the Supreme Court by Nandini Sunder, a professor of Sociology at Delhi School of Economics, Ramachandra Guha, a well known historian, environmentalist and columnist and E A S Sarma, a former IAS officer.

Supreme Court steps in to disband Salwa Judum

The Supreme Court on July 5, 2011 asked the state of Chattisgarh to disband the force of SPOs and Salwa Judum. Its order is a lesson in how to handle social problems like naxalism.

Excerpts from the SC judgement by Justice B Sudershan Reddy and Justice Surinder Singh Nijjar:

"The response of law, to unlawful activities such as those indulged in by extremists, especially where they find their genesis in social disaffection on account of socio-economic and political conditions has to be rational within the borders of constitutional permissibility. This necessarily implies a two-fold path: (i) undertaking all those necessary socially, economically and politically remedial policies that lessen social disaffection giving rise to such extremist violence; and (ii) developing a well trained, and professional law enforcement capacities and forces that function within the limits of constitutional action."

"The creation of a cadre like groups of SPOs, temporarily employed and paid an honorarium, out of uneducated or undereducated tribal youth, many of who are also informed by feelings of rage, hatred and a desire for revenge, to combat Maoist/Naxalite activities runs counter to both those prescriptions."

"The State of Chattisgarh immediately cease and desist from using SPOs in any manner or form in any activities, directly or indirectly, aimed at controlling, countering, mitigating or otherwise eliminating Maoist/Naxalite activities in the State of Chattisgarh."

"The State of Chattisgarh shall take all appropriate measures to prevent the operation of any group, including but not limited to Salwa Judum and Koya Commandos, that in any manner or form seek to take law into private hands, act unconstitutionally or otherwise violate the human rights of any person. The measures to be taken by the State of Chattisgarh shall include, but not be limited to, investigation of all previously inappropriately or incompletely investigated instances of alleged criminal activities of Salwa Judum, or those popularly known as Koya Commandos, filing of appropriate FIR's and diligent prosecution."

What is Salwa Judum? A tainted and bloody reaction

A crater is seen on the road on Sunday in Bastar where Maoists attacked Congress party's convoy on Saturday.

What is Salwa Judum? A tainted and bloody reaction

Chhatisgarh Congress chief Nand Kumar Patel whose body was found in the jungles a day after Maoists attacked the party's convoy in Bastar in Chhattisgarh on Saturday.

What is Salwa Judum? A tainted and bloody reaction

A scene at the site of Maoists' ambush on Sunday in Bastar where the Congress party's convoy was attacked on Saturday.

What is Salwa Judum? A tainted and bloody reaction

The mangled remains of a vehicle at the site of Maoists' ambush on Sunday in Bastar where the Congress party's convoy was attacked on Saturday.

What is Salwa Judum? A tainted and bloody reaction

Security personnel inspect the site of Maoists' ambush on Sunday in Bastar where the Congress party's convoy was attacked on Saturday.

What is Salwa Judum? A tainted and bloody reaction

Security personnel carry a body at the site of Maoists' ambush on Sunday in Bastar where the Congress party's Parivartan Yatra was attacked on Saturday.

What is Salwa Judum? A tainted and bloody reaction

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress President Sonia Gandhi meeting injureds at a hospital in Raipur on Sunday, a day after the Congress party's convoy was attacked by Maoists in Bastar.

What is Salwa Judum? A tainted and bloody reaction

Congress President Sonia Gandhi gives the solatium to family members of Chhattisgarh Congress President Nand Kumar Patel in Raipur on Sunday. Patel died in attack by maoists on Congress party's.

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