Updated: June 8, 2015 12:01:03 am
The Chhattisgarh government must move immediately to prevent the revival of the Salwa Judum under a new name and banner. Banning it in 2011, the Supreme Court had asked the state government to “take all appropriate measures to prevent the operation of any group, including but not limited to Salwa Judum and Koya Commandos, that in any manner or form seek to take law into private hands, act unconstitutionally or otherwise violate the human rights of any person”. The SC had also ordered the government to probe and punish Salwa Judum personnel accused of criminal activities. However, this does not seem to have held back Chhavindra Karma, son of Mahendra Karma, the late Congress leader who founded the Salwa Judum, from going ahead with his plan to revive the controversial movement.
The Salwa Judum was launched as a “people’s movement” to counter the Maoists a decade ago. It mimicked the Maoist strategy, using fear and violence to control people and occupy territory. The private militias that Mahendra Karma raised with political support even drafted children and teenagers. As violence flared, thousands of people were forced to shift out of their villages to makeshift camps. The subsequent militarisation of the region destroyed communities. Over a thousand people, including more than 600 civilians, died in the first 30 months of the Salwa Judum. Two years after the SC banned the movement, Mahendra Karma was killed by the Maoists. The Salwa Judum has ebbed and Maoist attacks have become sporadic since, but the people who sought refuge in the camps have not been able to return to their villages and rebuild their communities.
Maoism in Chhattisgarh is a political problem as well as a security issue. The Salwa Judum did not offer any solutions on either front. Intelligent policing and well-planned operations by properly equipped and trained security personnel are necessary to check Maoist violence. But the Maoists in Chhattisgarh also draw their social legitimacy from the degeneration of the political mainstream. If those like Chhavindra Karma are serious about challenging the Maoists, they must focus on the tribal political economy, especially issues of land alienation and exploitation of natural resources. Better governance that upholds the people’s right to life and livelihood can emphatically refute Maoist claims. A revival of private militias will only exacerbate the violence and feed into the militaristic vision promoted by the Maoists.
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