Salwa Judum (means Peace March or Purification Hunt in Gondi language)
Before the Salwa Judum
Bastar and Dantewada districts of Chhattisgarh have traditionally been sparsely populated, rich in natural resources, and are among the poorest tribal regions. Here the Maoists (Naxalites) have continued to enlarge their base among the local tribals over the past two decades as they had grassroots support. The first movement against the Naxalites was the ‘Jan Jagran Abhiyan’, started in 1991 by Mahendra Karma. This was mostly led by local traders and businessmen. This movement later collapsed, and the leaders had to seek police protection to survive.
There have been many in Bastar who never liked the Naxals, and have been fighting to throw them out. Prominent among them is the Village Suraksha Samiti movement started in 2001. The leaders of this peaceful anti-Naxal movement claim it had reached more than 100 villages before Salwa Judum appeared on the horizon.
However, around 2005 the state had signed the MoU’s with the Tata and Essar groups, and was eager to flush the region of the Naxalites in order let the mining companies smoothly operate there. This was the beginning of the police support and military to the movement.
In the first week of June 2005, locals disgruntled with the Naxals gathered at Karkeli village. It was commended as a spontaneous uprising and the start of Salwa Judum. The first big Salwa Judum rally was planned subsequently in Bijapur town. After Karkeli, Salwa Judum organised rallies in village after village – to recruit members for the movement.
Soon, the Chhattisgarh state government decided to support the movement actively assisted Salwa Judum activists and added a complicated twist in the fight against the Naxals. It was cheered as a path-breaking socio-political move to counter the Red menace. It began recruiting many of them as SPOs or ‘Special Police Officers’, from the local tribals (including Ex-Naxals) who were familiar with local terrain. They were paid salaries, Rs 1500 – 2000 pm and were promised absorption in the police force. Many of these civilians were children (just like Naxals), who were trained with .303 rifles.
How the Strategy Backfired
But it would soon make the tribals even more vulnerable than they were. The Judum activists tried every trick to force villagers join them – suddenly poor villagers had to contend with another bully apart from the Naxals. While the Maoists suspected many to be Judum sympathisers, lashing out at them with ferocity, the security forces were content to see them being used as human shields. In the spiral of violence and retribution, a large number of innocents were caught, both by the Maoists and the Judum.
Those fleeing had to risk being killed or tortured by either of the rampaging sides. Often, the Judum bundled tribal youths into camps run by them, where they would get subsidized rations along with some meager sum of money. Within 3 years 650 villages were burnt or emptied forcing over 3 lakh people to flee their homes – many flee to neighboring Andhra Pradesh, some found shelter in the camps and several went missing.
How Tribal Women United to Protect Their Dignity
Krantikari Adivasi Mahila Sangathan (KAMS), a mass organization led by CPI (Maoist) that claims a membership of 90,000 women, reflects the desire of the Adivasis to manage their own affairs. The KAMS takes up issues like forced marriages, bigamy, domestic violence and the need to break with traditional tribal thinking that oppresses women. When the men are taken away, these women also go en masse to the jails and sometimes succeed in getting them released.
As police repression has grown in Bastar, the women of KAMS have become a formidable force and rally in their hundreds, sometimes thousands, to physically confront the police.
The very fact that the KAMS exists has radically changed traditional attitudes and eased many of the traditional forms of discrimination against women. For many young women, joining the party, in particular the People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA) became a way of escaping the suffocation of their own society.
Tribal women bore the brunt of major Salwa Judum’s drives against their tribe. One of their slogans was Hum Do Bibi layenge! Layenge! (We will have two wives! We will!) A lot of bestial sexual abuse was directed at members of the KAMS. Many young women who witnessed the savagery of Judum joined the PLGA and now women make up 45 percent of its cadre.
In fact, Arundhati Roy, activist and author, has graphically described the brutality of Judum fanatics after interviewing dozens of KAMS women cadre, in her articles.
Thus, the Adivasis, through the PLGA lead by the CPI (Maoist), succeeded in putting up stiff and effective resistance to the Salwa Judum. The government and the corporate houses may not be amused, but they have to learn to listen to “people’s voice”.
Cry Against Judum’s Atrocities
News of atrocities by both sides drew attention of human rights activists and the Supreme Court. In mid-2008, movement’s frontliner, Mahender Karma announced that it will soon cease to exist and the movement fizzled out by end of the year. The Chhattisgarh government on February 5, 2009, told the Supreme Court that the Salwa Judum was slowly disappearing in the State.
The formation of Salwa Judum in the state witnessed a substantial rise of Naxal activity in the Chhattisgarh state. As a result in 2008, over 65% of the total Naxal violence in the country was seen only in Chhattisgarh along with neighboring state of Jharkhand.
By resorting to militarize civilians in the name of Salwa Judum and pitting them against the Maoist, the state government has seriously challenged the efficacy of democratic and constitutional means of finding solutions to people’s problems. It has completely failed to address the root of the discontent, the deprivation and alienation of Adivasis, which form basis of the Maoist foothold in Dantewada.