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Scrap Salwa Judum : Brigandry in the name of self-defence

The Tribune, September 27, 2008


THE Supreme Court has strongly disapproved of the Chhattisgarh government’s Salwa Judum or self-defence group to combat the increasing Naxalite menace. It has directed the government to follow the recommendations of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in this regard. The NHRC’s report, presented to the court, is believed to have pointed out innumerable instances of human rights violations and high-handed behaviour by the Salwa Judum activists. Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan, who headed the Bench hearing the case, said: “If private persons, so armed by the state government, kill other persons, then the state is also liable to be prosecuted as an abettor of murders.” Salwa Judum was initiated by the government in June 2005 as a people’s movement against Naxalism and terrorism. However, the remedy proved to be worse than the disease. It became a violent institution and its activists are charged with rape, loot and arson.

In all fairness, Salwa Judum was introduced for ensuring effective coordination between the security forces and the local people in tackling Naxalism. However, it soon degenerated into a private militia that behaved in much the same manner as the Naxalites, killing villagers to settle old scores and perpetrating atrocities on those who opposed them. The government’s strategy of picking up local men, giving them arms training and inducting them as Special Police Officers (SPOs) to assist the security forces in the anti-Naxal operations also backfired. The SPOs used the opportunity to enforce their might in the villages and indulged in arson, loot and mayhem.

The Planning Commission, the Administrative Reforms Commission, the National Commission for Women and several other organisations have pointed out the dangerous track record of the ill-conceived campaign. The Raman Singh government should understand that Salwa Judum is not the answer to the Naxalite violence. Besides improving governance, it must focus on socio-economic measures to help the downtrodden. Giving arms to civilians is illegal and it does not have the force of the law. The Chhattisgarh government would do well to follow the court’s advice to scrap Salwa Judum.