Friday, December 21, 2007

Article on Salwa Judum published in Navbharat Times

Salwa Judum – Navbharat Times

The Salwa Judum in Chhattisgarh has less to do with the Naxalites than it has to do with the contempt that the governments – both of Chhattisgarh and the Centre – feel for adivasis. Many policy documents of the government, including the Ministry of Home Affairs Status Paper on Naxalism and the Draft Tribal Policy say that Naxalism is a not just a law and order problem but one that stems from the failure of government institutions and the legitimate sense of injustice and exploitation that adivasis feel. Yet, when it comes to the solution to this problem, the entire focus of government is on wiping out Naxalism through force.
Despite knowing that police behaviour towards adivasis is a major cause for Naxalism – government’s answer is to further strengthen the police to dominate adivasis. The Constitution makes special provision for adivasis and dalits in the 5th Schedule. However, leave alone these special provisions, which have never been observed, even their fundamental rights are violated with impunity through state policies involving displacement. And when such groups take up arms to fight for their rights, instead of engaging in dialogue or strengthening government delivery of education, health and so on, the government responds by bringing in paramilitary and unmanned aerial helicopters.

Only a government that has no regard either for its citizens or for its own policy documents can start or support a so-called ‘people’s movement’ in which over a thousand people are said to have been killed, over a hundred women brutally raped, over 3000 houses burnt and over one lakh people displaced. And these are underestimates of the violence created by Salwa Judum. While the killings by the Naxalites are recorded and highlighted by the media, the violence by the Salwa Judum is unreported. Law and order has broken down – Salwa Judum activists do not recognise letters from the Chief Secretary or allow UNICEF and other organisations to operate. By a strange logic, the government insists that anyone who is not in the camps is a Naxalite, and as a result, anganwadi, schools and health services have been suspended in large parts of Dantewada district. Journalists have been targeted by Salwa Judum.

The government insists that the Salwa Judum is a self initiated, voluntary people’s peace campaign against the Naxalites. However, a work plan for the Jan Jagran Abhiyan (Salwa Judum by another name) drawn up by the Collector, K.R. Pisda, in 2005, describes the tasks to be carried out by each department, noting that ‘if innocents die in large operations, higher up authorities must keep quiet. Unless Maoists are killed in large numbers people will have divided loyalties, and for this, police must be given targets.’ The Chief Secretary of Chhattisgarh informed a coordination meeting on Naxalism held in March 2006 that ‘they would first gear up the Salwa Judum movement in the 2 blocks before extending it to new areas as this movement has proved to be an effective instrument in countering naxalites.’

By any logic, the time has come to suspend Salwa Judum. First, it has not helped to counter Naxalism, since now more people support the Naxalites than when Salwa Judum began. Second, the camps provide no security to people since they are now even more insecure having been cut off from their fields and livelihood. The only people benefiting are some politicians and camp leaders who have a vested interest in the relief money, and the RSS who has a captive population in the camps.