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Click here to read CPJC’s statement on the National Human Rights Commission’s recent report on Salwa Judum

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Economic Times Editorial

We endorse the Supreme Court’s disapproval of the creation of anti-Naxal Salwa Judum by the Chhattisgarh government, and the subsequent logistical support and legitimacy it has been extending to what is essentially a private militia. The apex court, while hearing a petition challenging the establishment of Salwa Judum, has rightly observed the state giving “arms to some persons” would mean it is “abetting in a crime if these private persons kill others”.

A democratic state is a keeper of the sovereignty of the people. Any attempt by it to arm one section against another constitutes a clear violation of this principle. It’s time governments realised that Maoist insurgency indicates a crisis of sovereignty for the Indian state. And there is no way it can be overcome without first rendering state institutions inclusive and functionally democratic through a politically-driven process of social transformation.

The Chhattisgarh government has, however, only served to deepen this crisis by aiding and abetting the Salwa Judum. The Judum is, for all practical purposes, a militia of the avaricious local elite, pretending to be an expression of spontaneous local anger against the Maoists. The apex court would do well to accept the plea to set up a committee to visit the camps where local villagers from Naxal-affected areas are reportedly being held against their will.

The perils of political vigilantism have, of late, become much too visible to be ignored. The bloody ‘recapture’ of Nandigram by the CPI(M) cadre last November, or the frequent acts of vandalism carried out by the Shiv Sena and similar outfits to defend Hindu/Maratha culture, point towards a growing propensity to settle disagreements outside the pale of law and institutions.

According vigilante justice primacy over constitutionally ordained legal-judicial procedures risks legitimising private and sectionalist ideas of right and wrong over democratically instituted ideas of justice and fairness. The state would do well to not merely disband the Salwa Judum, but review the entire model of police-civilian cooperation in fighting insurgencies.

Times of India Editorial

The Supreme Court on Monday questioned the legal premise of the Salwa Judum movement in Chhattisgarh. Echoing observations of various civil society groups, the court told the Chhattisgarh government that it was illegal to arm civilians and to allow them to kill. The Chhattisgarh government should now stop defending the indefensible and immediately disband private militias it has put together to fight Maoists.

Surveys by civil society groups have indicated that the movement has been a coercive affair and hardly the voluntary effort the state government claims it to be. It is high time the government recognised the disastrous impact the Salwa Judum has had on the people. Since its inception in 2005, over 50,000 villagers have been displaced from their homes and deprived of livelihoods. Large parts of the state are in a state of civil war.

As the apex court observed, the government cannot abet violence; it is illegal under the Constitution. Maoist violence is a problem that calls for political and administrative solutions. It feeds on social unrest that has resulted from bad governance. Mainstream political parties have failed to stem the rot; instead, these have actively furthered corruption and cornered public funds. Maoist violence is also an outcome of under-policing as authorities simply make up for the lack of professional police by arming private groups. Maoists have attempted to exploit the failures of democratic politics and spread their influence. They have had limited success so far.

Correctives to the failures of democratic politics have to be sought within the constitutional framework. These can’t be achieved by curtailing the rights guaranteed by the Constitution to citizens or by promoting vigilantism. What is needed in states like Chhattisgarh is a right mix of public policies that address problems of education, health and employment and democratic institutions to ensure effective delivery of public funds.

Crony capitalism and private militias are not substitutes for genuine market forces or a professional police force.

A strong civil society is necessary to ensure transparency and accountability in public administration. Efforts like Salwa Judum and laws like Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act do not help in the formation of a civil society.

The latter especially has become a handy tool for the state government to stifle voices critical of the administration. Dissent and debate are essential features of a democracy and necessary to foster a democratic public culture. Absence of these leads to state-sponsored repression and only benefits anti-democratic forces including Maoists.

Editorial, the Nav Hind Times

THIS is not for the first time that a state government has tried to drag the observation of the Supreme Court into controversy on the plea that it was an obiter dicta; an observation, which is not a judgement. nor even part of the order-sheet of case. No doubt it was an oral observation but the apex court on Monday while indicted the Chhatisgarh government for arming civilians with the sole intention of killing other civilians, it also sought to know from it the legal status of the Salwa Judum movement. Irrespective of the position held by the state government and its police on the apex court observation, the fact is this has exposed the state government’s claim about the fairness in letting masses take the law into their hands. What is significant is the Bench comprising of the Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan and Justice Aftab Alam also observed that the state could not distribute arms to individuals in the name of countering insurgency as this amounted to abatement of crime and agreed to the demand of the human rights group for an inquiry into the operations of Salwa Judum. It is indeed a matter of shame that the state police chief instead of taking the observation of the apex court in right spirit was indulging in the blame game and was resorting to white lies by denouncing the existence of Salwa Judum training camps. But the fact is the political executives of the states have been going around boasting of the achievements and striking power of the Salwa Judum. The state government instead of hiding behind the facade legal jargons, should ensure that civil society does not disintegrate. Arming the people to fight the naxalite is the right panacea. The government must allow the democratic system to function effectively and at the same time should ensure that benefits of the development reach to the rural poor and corruption is weeded out at the micro level.

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday expressed its disapproval of the constitution of the ‘Salwa Judum’ (self-defence groups) by the Chhattisgarh government and giving them arms to tackle the naxal menace.

Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan, heading a two-Judge Bench, asked Additional Solicitor General Gopal Subramaniam: “How can the State give arms to some persons? The State will be abetting in a crime if these private persons kill others.”

 

The Bench that included Justice Aftab Alam was hearing a petition filed by Nandini Sundar, Ramachandra Guha and E.A.S. Sarma challenging the setting up of Salwa Judum. (more…)

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PRESS RELEASE

31st March 2008

Government’s Support to Salwa Judum Amounts to Endorsing Vigilantism says Supreme Court

Noting that the State cannot distribute arms to individuals in the name of countering insurgency as this amounts to abetment of crime, a Supreme Court bench comprising Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan and Justice Aftab Alam today said there could be no objection to an independent enquiry into Salwa Judum. They were hearing two Writ Petitions regarding Salwa Judum-one filed by Nandini Sundar, Ramchandra Guha and EAS Sarma and the other by Kartam Joga, Dudhi Joga and Manish Kunjam. The Bench said they were very disturbed by the petitions and that this was a very serious case. The Bench noted that the current policy of the government regarding Salwa Judum amounted to endorsing vigilantism and that such lawlessness cannot be tolerated.

The petitioners reiterated that the Salwa Judum was a state sponsored vigilante force that had been responsible for extreme violence in Dantewada and Bijapur districts, Chhattisgarh, and for forcing people into camps. The counsel for the petitioners, Mr. Ashok Desai and Mr. T. R. Andhyarujina, argued that there were already independent reports, which contained a scathing critique of Salwa Judum, such as the report of the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights and the Administrative Reforms Commission. The Bench gave the petitioners permission to file an application seeking an independent enquiry with particulars. The next hearing was fixed for the 15th of April 2008.

Bijo Francis in UPI Asia Online

Can legality be attributed to an armed private militia known for its systematic violence against ordinary people? The simple common sense answer to this question is an emphatic NO; yet this is what the Supreme Court of India has been asked to decide recently. The militia in question is known as Salwa Judum. Litigation in the public interest has been filed in the Supreme Court challenging the state government’s support of this militia, on which the court is expected to decide in the coming days. 

 Salwa Judum is a private militia sponsored by corrupt politicians in Chhattisgarh. It was allegedly formed to protect villagers from assault by Maoist groups operating inside and outside Chhattisgarh. The Judum operates in public view, their cadres recruited by serving and retired police or military officers and trained in using weapons and employing armed attack strategies. After the recruitment and training, before deployment the cadres are given official titles as special police officers.  

In the past two years, cases of rape, murder and extortion were reportedly carried out by the Judum in Chhattisgarh. A simple Internet search will provide thousands of links to well-documented articles and reports about the Judum and their atrocious activities. The Judum has been known to recruit child soldiers and use them as human shields. Their activities resemble those of fundamentalist religious groups or armed secessionist groups — acts of organized crime committed against innocent persons with impunity.  

Yet when the case was filed in the Supreme Court, the Chhattisgarh state government defended the Judum by trying to categorize it as a “village people’s association” against extremist forces. The central government of India has also supported the Judum in several ways. An affidavit filed by the Chhattisgarh state administration in the court tries to justify its support to the Judum. The state administration has been openly promoting the group’s activities by promising that cadres recruited and trained by the group will be absorbed into the state police force.  

The intention of the state administration in supporting the Judum is quite obvious. The Judum cadres, who are not affiliated with the government, can get away with any criminal activities they are asked to commit while the government insulates itself from responsibility.  

For example, the Judum is responsible for forcibly evicting tribal communities from their ancestral grounds so the land could be sold by the state administration to private companies for excavation of minerals and other natural resources. These activities contravene Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the government of India has sworn to promote, protect and fulfill with regard not only to its own citizens, but to the international community as well.  

In Chhattisgarh, rivers, forests and other tribal lands are being sold by the state administration to multinational and national companies in the name of industrial development. Those who resist are exterminated by the Judum and those who organize protests are branded as anti-state activists. Not a single case has been registered against any of the Judum cadres, though human rights activists who raised their voices against the militia have been charged with crimes and detained. The case of Dr. Binayek Sen is just one example. Sen, a renowned pediatrician and activist, is still in custody after repeatedly been denied bail by the Supreme Court.  

Salva Judum is not an isolated group in India. There are several such private militia operating with the blessing of state governments. Most of them were started by Hindu fundamentalist groups, whereas Salva Judum’s parentage is traced to a Congress politician, though its functions are supported by a Hindu fundamentalist state government.  

Yet the Judum did not come into existence in a vacuum. Any armed movement, whether the people join it voluntarily or otherwise, whether it is state sponsored or not, is the reflection of intolerance in society. This intolerance may have diverse reasons, but one element that coexists with intolerance is exploitation. Salva Judum is an organized, state-sponsored tool intentionally created for exploitation. When the people’s inability to tolerate exploitation reaches its maximum threshold, the society degenerates into chaos. This is what is being alarmingly reported from India. 

 In the past year there have been more than 50 cases of mob justice reported from India. In most of these cases a person suspected of committing a minor crime was beaten up and often killed by a violent mob. These mob attacks on suspects are a reflection of the people’s lack of trust in the mechanisms of justice. When the official justice system fails to deliver true justice, the people take the law into their own hands. Of course the result of such spontaneous actions might be way beyond justice. In short, when people believe that unless they take the law into their own hands justice will not be served, society will degenerate into a state of anarchy and madness.  

The Supreme Court of India’s decision in the case of Salwa Judum will have far-reaching implications. Given that anti-state activities are spreading across the country – in the name of Maoism or Naxalism or whatever name one may attribute to such activities – the court’s decision will impact the law-and-order situation in India. If the court decides that Judum and its activities are legal, hundreds of such forces will be free to operate across India. 

 In a country that is ethnically, religiously, geographically and linguistically diverse, such a judgment could be the unwarranted catalyst for trouble. If the court decides that a militia like the Judum is illegal and the state has a responsibility to prevent such organizations, without defining what is legal and what is not, the state can use the judgment as an excuse to prevent any association, whether peaceful or not, within the country. 

 The Supreme Court has an enormous responsibility in these circumstances. The Supreme Court of India in the past has discharged its role as an instrument for social engineering with commendable skill. The expansion of the interpretation of Article 21 of the Constitution, from a mere guarantee of the “right to life” to include everything that is conceivable for the “right to a decent and peaceful life,” is just one example.  

But that was in the past. In recent years the court has shown a tendency to restrict personal liberty by delivering some of the most lopsided judgments. A recent judgment limiting the scope of public interest litigation, which forced the court to subsequently clarify its position, is an example.  

What is required in India today is not just a judgment-delivering court. India needs a judiciary that will not just sit and decide cases, ignoring the social realities, but one that would deliver justice, in its full legal sense.

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