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Since June 2005, the Government of Chhattisgarh, with the support of the Home Ministry has been waging a counter-insurgency operation against the Naxalites in the guise of a ‘people’s movement’ called the Salwa Judum. Officially, the campaign is a ‘spontaneous’, ‘self-initiated’ ‘people’s movement for peace’, but in practice, it has government support, and has increased violence all around. At least 500 people have died on a conservative estimate, killed either by the Salwa Judum or the Naxalites. Democracy has completely broken down in Dantewada.

Salwa Judum is essentially a policy of strategic hamletting where existing villages are evacuated to prevent people helping the insurgents. The policy has been tried before in Vietnam, Guatemala, Nagaland, Mizoram and elsewhere, and has failed to suppress movements. Instead it has resulted in serious human rights violations.

Background

Dantewada (formerly part of Bastar district) is beset by long term problems. Scheduled Tribes or adivasis form the majority, and human development indicators i.e. literacy, primary health care, and basic infrastructure are pathetically low. People are extremely poor as the majority are engaged in cultivating extremely small and un-irrigated holdings. Nearly three fourths of the total land is either covered by forests or is ‘wasteland’. People are heavily dependent on the collection and sale of non timber forest produce like tendu patta for the making of beedis. The administration has been virtually absent after independence.

The region has very rich mineral resources and forests, and the Government of Chhattisgarh has major plans for industrialization here. Previous industrialization in the area has not benefited the indigenous people as has been the case in other tribal areas earlier. There are three steel plants in the offing, owned by Tata, Essar and NMDC, and two large dams, the Bodhghat Hydroelectric Project and the Polavaram dam, all of which will cause major displacement. Gram sabhas held in the villages whose land is to be acquired for these projects are reported to have been rigged, with the government intimidating people into giving their consent to land acquisition. There has been an effort to prevent people from coming together and expressing their displeasure with the way industrialization is happening.

The Naxalites have been active here since the early eighties. Their struggles for higher wages for non-timber forest produce, specifically tendu patta and land redistribution have gained them wide popularity among the poor tribal majority. They claim to have set up a parallel administration. However it has angered sections of the traditional elite that they have displaced. Their anti-administration stand has created conflicts in the community.

The government has not been able to address the Naxal problem adequately. And now through Salwa Judum it is using the civilian population to do the work of the armed forces and the administration. Thousands of local villagers have been appointed as Special Police Officers (SPOs) and given .303 rifles. Some of these SPOs are minors. They serve as human shields for the armed forces in the conflict.

The Salwa Judum ‘peace activists’ and SPOs accompanied by the security forces, go in procession to villages, and ‘persuade’ them to join the Salwa Judum. They burn and loot the houses and fields of those who resist. Villages and even families have been divided. Many people have died in the violence during the attacks. There is no record /FIRs for people killed, rapes and arson by the Salwa Judum. A number of independent groups have confirmed that such incidents are taking place.

Some villages give in and move to camp only to avoid being attacked, and are then forced to participate in attacks on other villages. Captured sangham members (active Naxal supporters) are forced to work as informers.

In the last year, Salwa Judum has displaced more than 50,000 people, many of whom are living in camps. Some are in the jungles and some have fled to neighbouring states. There are reports of plans to establish around 600 new villages and to convert some of the camps into long term strategic settlements, attached to police stations, with a permanent base of informers. However this information is not in the public domain.

The lumpen elements among Salwa Judum members are alleged to extort money from passing vehicles, harass shopkeepers etc. In a state of fear there cannot be any control on an untrained armed group which has no working guideline or policy to adhere to.

People are afraid to leave the camps. Anyone who is not in camp is deemed by the Salwa Judum and administration to be a Naxal supporter. The environment is one of fear and getting people to express their wish in such a situation is difficult. All entry into camps is monitored and permission of the armed forces and local police department is required for visiting and talking to people living there- even for journalists and voluntary agencies.
The rolls of the people in the camps are not available for public scrutiny. In the camps, people are surviving on food for work programs. There is no transparency about the large relief budget that has been officially sanctioned.

There are informal, off the record, acknowledgements of uncontrolled violence of the Judum members, which is seen as inevitable when the common people are given arms. But in the absence of any answerability to the outside world, no account of what happens is officially available. Publicly the administration continues to insist that Salwa Judum is a very good and peaceful movement.

Some 27,000 police and paramilitary personnel have been deputed to the state, including two India Reserve Battalions drawn from Nagaland and Mizoram. The Naga battalion has already earned a reputation for being ruthless which is especially sad given that the Naga people have themselves suffered from strategic hamletting and counterinsurgency measures like the burning of villages. The Naga Hoho has apologized for their behaviour.

Village markets (haats), schools, anganwadis and health services in the villages have been disrupted. Security forces are using schools as bases, which violates international conventions.

The Naxals have retaliated by killing individual villagers and SPOs who have been actively associated with the Salwa Judum, blasted a truck carrying Salwa Judum processionists (Darbhaguda February 2006), attacked Errabor camp and destroyed schools which are being used by the paramilitary as a base.

All this follows a pattern that is common to counterinsurgency campaigns across the world:

1.burning of villages
2.forced relocation, first into transitional camps and then model villages or strategic hamlets, in which the traditional way of agriculture and community relations are completely destroyed
3.Creation and arming of civil patrols, which are claimed to be autonomous bodies of villagers, but are completely run by the army or security forces.
4.Hunt for survivors and guerrillas who are in flight in the forest.

In Guatemala, where such armed conflict has taken place between the government and guerillas, a Commission for Historical Clarification found that the army was responsible for 93% of the human rights violations and the guerrillas for 3%. Across the world, such events are now being dealt with through commissions of truth and reconciliation which involve acknowledgement of past mistakes and reparations to the victims.

We request the Government of India to:

1.Set up an official Truth, Reconciliation and Justice Commission:
a.)to identify all instances of death, rape and arson
b.)give compensation to the victims, and punish those who are guilty
c.)have a referendum in camps to see how many wish to go home, and enable them to go home.

2.Fix responsibility for the breakdown of law and order on the Government of Chhattisgarh and leaders of the Salwa Judum, and the people responsible for human rights violations in the armed forces.

3.Create a National Policy for Internally Displaced Persons, which will make it difficult for the government to create situations where internal displacement takes place.

4.Stop using minors as SPOs, take back guns from SPOs, and absorb the suitable ones into the regular police force.

5.Repeal the Special Security Act in the state that attempts to control and direct expression on the part of journalists.

To join the Campaign or get further information on Salwa Judum, please email cgcampaign@gmail.com

If you agree with this, please add your name below.

Sincerely,

The Undersigned

If you support, please sign.

 

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