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The Salwa Judum cadres

As the Naxalites made their presence felt strongly, especially since the beginning of 2005, a counter- Naxal campaign, named Salwa Judum came up in Chhattisgarh. In local Gondi Adivasi dialect, the term Salwa Judum means a “purification hunt”. [1] The supporters of this campaign translate its meaning as “peace campaign”. The Naxalites on their part stated that Judum means “hunting” and Salwa means “group” and therefore, they say, it is a group hunting of innocent Adivasis supporting the “people's movement”, the movement of the Maoists. [2]

Today, Salwa Judum has become an intrinsic part of counter-Naxalite operations.

There is no authentic record as to when and how the present Salwa Judum campaign was first launched and who actually launched it. There has been episodic protests against the excesses perpetrated by the Naxals. It is believed that Salwa Judum campaign was initiated in early June 2005 by a little-known schoolmaster from Kutru, who got his students to stand up and declare a joint struggle against the Naxalites. [3]

Some of those interviewed by ACHR during the field visit to Chhattisgarh told that on 5 June 2005, 8 Sangham men or Naxalites were apprehended by supporters of Mahendra Karma, the sitting Member of Legislative Assembly from Dantewada and Leader of the Opposition in the Chhattisgarh State Legislative Assembly in Ambeli village under Kutru police station in Dantewada. On that day, the Naxalite cadres came to Ambeli village to carry out their activities but Mr Mahendra Karma's supporters openly resisted them, overpowered, beaten them up and handed them over to Kutru police.

On 14 June 2005, the Naxalites attacked the villagers of Kotrapal village under Bhairamgarh. Eight innocent villagers were killed. This killing by the Naxalites angered the families and relatives of victims.

On 19 June 2005, Mr Karma's active supporters reportedly organised the first meeting of the campaign, which was later christened as Salwa Judum or Peace Campaign by Mr. Karma himself on 25 June 2005.

There have been anger and frustration with the atrocities of the Maoist cadres - killing, abduction, harassment and imposition of taxes upon the already impoverished Adivasi populace. As a surrendered Sangham member of the Naxalites was reported as saying:

“We were forced to become Sangham members. We gave them food and drink, though we had so little for ourselves. For 25 years, they have been here. Earlier they would sweet-talk us, promising to stop exploitation of Adivasis; they said they would form the government. They made fools of us. They harass us, after the police ask questions; they even take away our young girls. Then, they began to kill. They claim to hold Jan Adalats, peoples' court, before doling out punishments or execution orders, but I never saw one.” [4]

It is clear that spontaneous anti-Naxalite sentiment and activities took organized form under the leadership of Mr Mahendra Karma, who earlier launched Jan Jagaran Abhiyan (People's Awakening Campaign) against the Naxalites in 1990 and 1996 but without much success. [5]

Soon, the Chhattisgarh State government lent its support to the Salwa Judum led by the Leader of the Opposition in the State Legislative Assembly. In his Independence Day address on 15 August 2005, Chief Minister Dr Raman Singh assured the Adivasis that the government would abide by its commitment to provide full backup to people  fighting the Maoists. [6] On 25 August 2005, the State government announced that it had set up a Committee headed by Chief Secretary A.K. Vijayvargiya to provide direct support such as logistics, arms and funding to the Salwa Judum. [7]

The state government adopted two blocks - Bijapur and Bairamgarh, comprising 240 villages in Dantewada district as a “pilot project” for the Salwa Judum. [8] The Gram Raksha Samitis (Village Defence Committees) were formed in 130 villages in Bijapur and Dantewara districts on an experimental basis. The VDCs are backed by police clusters, each covering 4-5 villages. [9] As of 4 March 2006, 644 villages of Dantewada district were brought under Salwa Judum.

The persons joining the Salwa Judum camps may be broadly categorised as (1) victims and relatives of victims of Naxalite violence; (2) persons who are induced by free rations and money; (3) persons who want security in the form of recruitment as Special Police Officers and police informers; and (4) persons who support the Naxalites.

While majority have been brought to the Salwa Judum camps by force, many joined the camps because of the inducements provided. Ms Markan Jogi whose husband was killed in the Darbhaguda landmine explosion on 28 February 2006 stated, “We have shifted to the Arrabore relief camp just about 15 days ago. We have been told that my husband will be employed as Special Police officer if we shift to the relief camps started by the Salwa Judum and that he will get a monthly salary of Rs. 1500/ plus free ration”.

Salwa Judum is far from a “peace campaign” with some of its cadres being given full military trainings as Special Police Officers. It has become a state sponsored violent counter-insurgency programme.

ACHR interviewed nine minor girls at Bangapal relief camp. The girls identified themselves as Rinki Bogani, 14 years of Pundri village, Rina Karma, 15 of Bodli, Jamuna Oyami, 15 of Chidrapal village, Budri Mariam, 14 of Pundri, Nilo Kadti, 14 of Talnar, Nila Punem, 15 of Bodli, Jamuna Bhaliga, 14 of Belnar, Judira Oyami, 16 of Chidrapal, and Gita Kunjam, 15 of Kodoli.

The minor girls, who were recruited as SPOs, told ACHR that the Salwa Judum activists wooed them with the prospects of employment as SPO at a monthly salary of Rs.1,500 and that they would be permanently absorbed in the Police department. So, they joined Salwa Judum.

[1] . State Pulse: Chhattisgarh: The purification hunt, available at   http://www.centralchronicle. com/20060125/2501304.htm

[2] . War in tribal heartland, The Indian Express, 27 February 2006

[3] . “Resisting the rebels” by Annie Zaidi, available at http://www.flonnet.com/fl2221/stories/2005 1021006401800.htm

[4] . Ibid.

[5] . Peoples March, Volume 6, No. 11, December. 2005, http://www.peoplesmarch.com/archives /2005/nov-dec2k5/saalva%20judum.htm

[6] . Peoples March, Volume 6, No. 11, December. 2005, http://www.peoplesmarch.com/archives /2005/nov-dec2k5/saalva%20judum.htm

[7] . Raman Singh Asks locals to step up anti-Maoist fight, Indo-Asian News Service, available at http://www.eians.com/stories/2005/08/15/15ram.shtml

[8] . “Resisting the rebels” by Annie Zaidi, available at http://www.flonnet.com/fl2221/stories/ 20051021006401800.htm 

[9] . Raipur mulls arming tribals against Naxals, The Asian Age, 22 July 2005

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