Campaign for Peace & Justice in Chhattisgarh

c/o F-10/12, GF, Malviya Nagar, New Delhi

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An team of research scholars and students from various Universities across the country and independent researchers visited Dantewada and Bijapur districts of Chhattisgarh from 6th to the 10th of June 2008. The initiative was taken by the Campaign for Peace and Justice in Chhattisgarh a campaign group formed by individuals and organisations who are deeply concerned about the gross violation of human rights going on in Chhattisgarh.

During the four days, we visited a number of villages and a few camps and documented the testimonies of victims who recounted horrid stories of violence they have witnessed and experienced since the start of the Salwa Judum in 2005. As a team, our observations of the area are frightening as cases of killings, sexual crimes, destructions of villages and food stocks and gross human rights violations on a large scale are rampant. We believe that contrary to the Chhattisgarh Government’s assertion of Salwa Judum being a peaceful, spontaneous and autonomous movement, it is in fact a part of well concerted, militarised strategy on the part of the officialdom.

The Adivasis have narrated gruesome incidents of violence against them. Raids by the Judum members resulting in the loss of lives and property in the villages are a regular phenomenon. Loot, arson and torture as a means to coerce people to go to the Salwa Judum camps. In some cases, arson has been used as means not only to coerce people to go to Salwa Judum camps but also to prevent them from returning to their villages. We documented numerous instances of girls and women being raped and subject to other forms of sexual violence by Salwa Judum and security forces.

The atrocities don’t however end at the borders of the camps and in fact several cases of torture and murder have been reported from these camps. Basics such as food, water and sanitation have been denied to those in the camps. Those who stayed back in villages or ran away from Salwa Judum camps live in constant fear of yet another raid by the Judum. Their mobility and access to basics such education, health and weekly markets are severely restricted .

Acts of intimidation and violence by the forces in the pretext of protecting villagers and justifying it by branding them to be Naxalites seems to be a thought out strategy. The level of militarisation and criminalisation in Dantewada and Bijapur is frightening. Constant surveillance has insecurity and has created a tense, war like atmosphere. Our grave concern is that arming civilians as a counter insurgent strategy will eventually create a criminilised society where jungle raj will be the rule of the day.

You may be aware that the NHRC, pursuant to the Supreme Court order on 31st March 2008 has constituted a fact finding team which after a preliminary visit in May, had organised a public hearing on 10th June 2008 in Dantewada. Several people from various villages from across Dantewada and Bijapur attended this hearing and deposed before the commission. Our observations are presented to the National Human Rights Commission that arrived in Dantewada on the 10th of June 2008.

Our fear that the people who have been courageous enough to voice their discontent and give testimonies to NHRC being harassed and threatened by the militarized network. A group of IDPs who had fled Chhattisgarh to Andhra Pradesh due to the violence unleashed by Salwa Judum and had come to depose before the NHRC were detained and harassed at the Konta Police station on there way back to AP. We fear that people from villages within Chhattisgarh may also be harassed and tortured by the Salwa Judum.

[These are preliminary observations by the team presented at a press conference in Raipur on 11th June. We are in the process of preparing a detailed report which will be circulated shortly. ]

Team members: Kamal Nayan Choubey – Ph.d Scholar, Univ. of Delhi

Ranjay Kumar – Univ. of Delhi

Vikas Kumar – Univ. of Delhi

Preeti Chauhan– Univ. of Delhi

Sanchita Bakshi – Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai

Aditya Swarup – NALSAR Univ of Law, Hyderabad.

Contact details: Praveen Mote-09313879073; Sridevi Panikkar-09868099304


Government Should Ensure Protection and Assistance : Human Rights Watch

The Indian government should stop forced eviction and relocation of tens of thousands of men, women, and children from their forest settlements in Andhra Pradesh where they sought safety from the violence in neighboring Chhattisgarh state, Human Rights Watch said today.

In the latest crackdown against displaced persons, the Andhra Pradesh forest department on April 5, 2008, destroyed homes of displaced indigenous persons residing in Kothooru village to forcibly evict them. Since January 2007, the Andhra Pradesh forest department has made about 10 attempts to forcibly evict displaced persons from Kothooru.

“Many thousands of men, women, and children fled to Andhra Pradesh from the conflict in Chhattisgarh,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, senior researcher for South Asia at Human Rights Watch. “Instead of providing them with safe sanctuary, the authorities are tearing down their homes and putting them in harm’s way.”

Since June 2005, between 30,000 and 50,000 people have fled to Khammam and Warrangal districts of Andhra Pradesh following escalating tensions in Chhattisgarh between Naxalites, an armed Maoist group, and a state-supported vigilante group called Salwa Judum. Although the Indian federal, and Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh state governments describe Salwa Judum as a “spontaneous uprising against Naxal abuses,” Human Rights Watch found that police routinely participate in violent Salwa Judum raids against villages suspected of being pro-Naxalite. According to Human Rights Watch investigations in November and December 2007, most villagers fled to Andhra Pradesh because of attacks by Salwa Judum and police.

Once in neighboring Andhra Pradesh, many of these displaced persons settled in reserved forest areas. Saying these settlements are illegal, the authorities have without prior notice or due process repeatedly burned down the hamlets of hundreds of displaced persons, forcibly evicting them from forest lands. In some cases, Andhra Pradesh forest department officials have forced them into trucks and dropped them close to the Chhattisgarh state boundary.

A Human Rights Watch investigation in November and December 2007 found that Andhra Pradesh authorities have also failed to provide the displaced persons with basic assistance including food, water, shelter, medical services, sanitation, and livelihood opportunities as set out by the United Nations Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. The Andhra Pradesh government denies existing government welfare benefits to those displaced on several grounds, including that they are not residents of Andhra Pradesh.

“The Indian federal and Andhra Pradesh state governments have done nothing in nearly three years to address the massive displacement of people from Chhattisgarh,” Ganguly said. “Thousands of people need help, and the government has utterly failed to respond to their needs. Instead, they try to force them back to areas where they are even more vulnerable. It’s unacceptable.”

Human Rights Watch called on the Indian government to immediately draw up a plan to address the specific protection and assistance needs of displaced persons in Andhra Pradesh. The government should take immediate steps to prevent the Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh governments from unlawful forced relocation and extend all government welfare schemes to displaced persons without discriminating against them.

The Indian government should also develop a comprehensive national policy for internally displaced persons in consultation with displaced persons, governmental, non-governmental, and inter-governmental organizations, and in accordance with the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.

Times of India

NEW DELHI: Taking serious exception to the arming of Salwa Judum, an anti-Naxalite movement, by the Chhatisgarh government, CPI has asked the Centre to consider its immediate disbanding and initiate a high-level inquiry into alleged criminal activities of its members.

In a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, party National Secretary D Raja said the Chhattisgarh government has been providing logistical support and legitimacy to a “private militia” which has been “asserting the right to control and intimidating and punishing anyone they consider to be suspected Naxalite”.

Alleging that the atrocities committed by Salwa Judum activists go unreported, the CPI leader demanded that the Centre should explain its view on the immediate disbanding of the group and institute a high-level independent inquiry into all acts of violence committed by its members.

“Far from being a peaceful campaign, Salwa Judum activists are armed with guns, lathis, axes, bows and arrows. There has been a breakdown of civil administration and the rule of law in Dantewada district (from where Salwa Judum movement started),” Raja alleged.

It was “clear violation” of democratic principles and norms that the government armed one section against another, he said, alleging that Chhattisgarh government has only served to deepen this crisis by aiding and abetting Salwa Judum.

“The Salwa Judum is, for all practical purpose a militia of the avaricious local elite, pretending to be an expression of spontaneous local anger against the Naxalites,” he said.

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.

Opposition parties in Chhattisgarh Wednesday asked the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to wind up the state backed anti-Maoist civil militia movement, Salwa Judum. The opposition remarks came after the Supreme Court Monday ticked off the Chhattisgarh government for arming tribals to form the Salwa Judum. The apex court said the people couldn’t be armed and encouraged to take law into their own hands.

Welcoming the observation by the court, Congress leader Ajit Jogi said: “Chief Minister Raman Singh should take moral responsibility for killing of hundreds of innocent civilians in recent years in Maoist violence.

“Raman Singh government supplied arms to militia cadres to fight Maoists for the sake of political gains that has actually now threatened the existence of tribal community in Bastar. Hundreds of innocent people (are) massacred and bodies dumped in forests,” Jogi, a tribal leader and former chief minister, told IANS.

Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) state unit asked the government to wind up the Salwa Judum movement in the wake of the apex court’s remarks.

“The government has put tribal civilians against one another in Bastar by promoting Salwa Judum that has resulted in bloodshed. The movement must be wound up to protect human rights and the tribal community,” a CPI-M statement said.

Salwa Judum, which translates as peace mission, is a controversial anti-Maoist movement formed in June 2005 to bring the area dominated by leftist guerrillas back under government control.

Human rights organisations have also blamed the BJP government for funding and arming the Salwa Judum. They allege that the government tactics have created a major law and order problem in the state’s southern Bastar region, as the militia cadres have taken the law into their own hands.

The state government says it is studying the court observations to take further action.

Linked from

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.