Volume 7, No. 5, May-June 2006


Salwa Judum — ‘peace campaigners’ or "wolves in sheep clothing"?


It is now a clearly stated policy to use innocent tribals as cannon fodder in their war against the Naxalites — of the State Using Tribals to kill Tribals. While the elite officers sit n their air-conditioned chambers the poor tribals are to be used to kill their own brethren. This will operate at three levels: First, there has been massive recruitment of tribals into the para-military forces and creation of special tribal battalions. Second, tribal armed vigilante forces are being set up in the villages themselves headed by paid SPOs (Special Police Officers). Third, lumpens and ousted feudal elements are being mobilised through Salwa Judum campaigns of terror and horror to displace entire villages and destroy their natural habitat. It is a vicious concerted attack at destroying the incipient revolutionary movement at the instance of the imperialists and compradors whose huge mining interests are at stake. Just in this last one year they have signed MoUs (Memorandum of Undertakings) to the tune of Rs.4 lakh crores in just the three states of Chhathisgarh, Jharkhand and Orissa. Most of these mineral-rich zones are in tribal areas, many of which are under Maoist influence. The much touted development that the Naxalites are said to be against is the ‘development’ of this mineral mafia — both Indian and foreign.

Having failed to curb the revolutionary upsurge by traditional methods with the use of the para-military forces, they now seek this new policy together with the deployment of the army. As the Maoists hit back against these attacks by the forces of a decadent state, the enemy plans to sharpen its instruments of coercion to levels unheard of even in British times. And this is being done in close coordination between the Centre and the States no matter which party wields power — so-called ‘left’, right or centre.

Offensive of the Centre

There has been high pitched activity at the Centre to tackle what the media calls the "naxalite menace". This is being undertaken under the direct guidance of the imperialist, particularly the US. The high-profile Bush visit to AP and meeting with women of the Self-help Groups is just one indication of the importance attached to counter-insurgency. Bush sought to give legitimacy to the on-going massacre taking place in AP though this visit. Also it is well know that the World Bank is pouring in vast sum into the naxalite areas, in order to wean away the masses from the Maoists, through such self Help Groups and other such ‘development’ projects.

April 13th is to witness the highest level meeting of Chief Ministers of naxalite-affected States to be chaired by the Prime Minister himself. The media reports that this is normally chaired by the Home Minister, but to give it greater significance it is being chaired by the PM himself with the Home Minister in attendance.

On March 31st there was a high level meeting of the Coordination Committee presided over by the Union Home Secretary, Duggal. Here the Salwa Judum was given official recognition when Duggal said that "local resistance groups would be trained in self-defence and given police protection. Their role in containing the Naxalites was discussed at length at the meeting.

The meeting attended by the Chief Secretaries of the 13 affected States and a number of central ministries chalked out a four-pronged strategy — to strengthen the Railway Protection Force, the Government railway Police, the State police and intelligence agencies. As a first step all States were asked to fill the vacancies in the police force of 17,000. Jharkhand recently recruited 11,000 and will be recruiting 1,000 more. AP will recruit yet another 6,000.

Besides this the meeting decided to step up the ‘reform’ programmes to wean away the masses from the Maoists. It decided to extend the SRE (Security Related Expenditure) for naxal areas for another 5 years. For this Rs.250 has been sanctioned. The States were asked to speed up land reforms and for the implementation of the all the development schemes of the Central government in these areas — like the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, the Bharat Nirman, Backward Districts Initiative, and the Prime Minister’s Rural Roads Programme.

Just a fortnight earlier, on March 13th the government presented in the Lok Sabha a Status Paper presenting a 14-point plan to crush the Maoists. These include: (i) that the States adopt a collective approach and pursue a coordinated response, (ii) there be no peace dialogue at the State level unless they lay down arms, (iii) political parties should strengthen their base in the naxal-affected areas, so that the youth could be weaned away from the path of naxal ideology, (iv) efforts would continue to be made to promote local resistance against the Naxalites but in a manner that the villagers are provided adequate security to prevent such actions that took place on the Salwa Judum, (v) States to improve their police response, pursue effective and sustained police action against Naxalites and their infrastructure jointly and individually, (vi) acknowledged that it was not just a law and order problem, (vii) replicate in other states the successful AP surrender and rehabilitation policy, (viii) claiming that the police achieved better results in 2005, they said to improve and strengthen the State police forces particularly in Jharkhand, Bihar, Orissa, and Maharashtra by improving actionable intelligence collection and sharing mechanisms and strengthen their police forces on the pattern of the Greyhounds of AP, (ix) modernization of the State police, revision of security-related expenditure, supply of mine protected vehicles, long-term deployment of the CRPF, deployment of the SSB along the Indo-Nepal border, revision of the guidelines to permit 40% recruitment in Central forces from the border areas and naxal-affected areas and (x) taking up land reforms in a big way in the affected areas. It claimed that it had already provided Rs.2,475 crores for 55 naxal-affected districts under the BDI (Backward Distircts Initiative).

After the presentation of the status paper the Union Home Ministry immediately organised a crucial meeting of the Railway Board Chairman and top officials of the CISF and the Railway Protection Force. This was then followed by the Coordination Committee meeting on March 31st.

Then a week later, on March 6th, the government finalized a Standing Operating Procedure (SOP) in consultation with the States with an objective to formulate operational plans and undertake intelligence-based inter-state joint anti-naxal operations in specified inter-state border areas. Such areas will have a separate inter state Task Force to facilitate need-based intelligence driven joint operations.

Much earlier at the very beginning of this year the CRPF has decided to carve out its own "anti-extremist, specialised and fully-equipped wing along the lines of the AP Greyhounds". As many as 11 companies of the CRPF have been trained in the Army Jungle Warfare School in Assam. There will be sustained operations and greater mobility functioning as the Greyhounds do in AP. Greyhounds in AP get a higher insurance cover and 35% more pay as compared to their counterparts. Today there are 23 battalions of the CRPF that are in anti-naxal operations. They have been provided 10 mine-proof vehicles, 105 medium machine guns and 30 automatic grenade launchers. Of these nine are in Bastar alone. The CRPF has also been allowed to raise its own intelligence wing with 1,200 personnel. NSG and two helicopters have also been given in Bastar.

The Central government has decided to constitute Inter-State Intelligence Support Teams (ISISTs) in the States of Chhathisgarh, Orissa, Bihar and Jharkhand to tone up the intelligence gathering and sharing mechanism. This will be comprised of security officers of the states and the CRPF.

Similar steps have been taken at the state level to intensify the actions against the Naxalites.

Actions in the States

The CPM government of West Bengal has under arrest the largest number of senior leaders of the Maoist party. They have built up an Indian Reserve Battalion which has received training in AP. Recently they have recruited 10, 102 more into the Sashastra Seema bal and established 259 posts on the Indo-Nepal border and 25 on the Indo-Bhutan border. This SSB has seized 263 weapons and arrested 26 Nepali Maoists.

The chief Minister of UP says the government has mounted major efforts to control the naxals. They have formed an anti-naxalite cell to be headed by an IG (Varanasi zone). The cell has men drawn from intelligence units while a Quick Reaction Team (QRT) has also been formed. One mine-proof vehicle has been provided to each of the districts of Chandauli, Sonebhadra and Mirzapur and 38 bullet-proof Gypsies were also being procured. He added that "locals are being prepared to fight off naxals in their areas".

The Chhathisgarh government besides numerous other measures passed in the Assembly the draconian Special Public Safety Act 2005. This, according to civil liberties organisations, throttles free speech (or what remains of it), legitimate dissent, and threatens any and every mass organisation. The Act provides for imprisonment of up to three years for persons who are not members of, but make contributions to ‘unlawful’ organisations. It provides sweeping powers to a District magistrate to notify, and take occupation of a place being used for ‘unlawful’ activities. The DM would also be empowered to seize all movable properties in the place and evict persons. Such all encompassing powers would be ideal for the mining interests who seek to seize Adivasi lands for a song!!! "Unlawful activities" have been loosely defined and includes committing acts, uttering words, writing or making visual presentations that may "create risk" or "danger public order, peace and public tranquility" or "impede the administration of law or institutions".

In Bihar and Jharkhand they have stepped up repression on an unprecedented scale. Here too like the Salwa Judum in Chhathisgarh they have formed similar type of vigilante forces in the villages called the Sendra. They have massively extended their intelligence network; and they are undertaking long range patrolling and introducing a large number of CRPF. In Jharkhand too they are recruiting on a big scale tribals into the para-military forces. In Bihar for a period they also sent the elite NSG (National Security Guards).

In Maharashtra on Oct 20 2004 five innocent tribals were given a life sentence by the TADA court, though they were arrested as far back as Feb.10 1992. Actually the arrest took place to hide a police error when two groups of police force fired on each other. They blamed the tribals for the firing and as being sympathizers of the Naxalites and were arrested under TADA. Till today hundreds of Adivasis are languishing in jail from Gadchirolli district under the TADA. These include women, youth and elderly. Kept at distant places these tribals live in horrifying conditions in the jails and their relatives are forced to go hungry merely to pay for the transport to seen their relative in jail and attend to the court hearings.

‘Neutrality’ of Liberals

The Maoists have been selflessly fighting and giving their lives for the new society and the upliftment of the oppressed, including the most oppressed tribals. Generations of neglect and inhuman exploitation of the tribals are for the first time ever coming to an end. Though living in grinding poverty they were fleeced by one and all — whether the authorities, the police, the forest officials, the trader, the moneylender, or even their ‘own’ village elders. All this has now come to an end in those areas of Maoist influence.

It is the duty of any person with the smallest human values to support this gigantic emancipation process and roundly condemn the state force for the repression unleashed on them. The Salwa Judum is a known military campaign and was accompanied by horrifying terror, displacing thousands and putting them into defacto concentration camps. But what was astounding was that when the Maoists hit back on Feb.28 blowing up a truck many rushed to the defence of the state forces condemning the Maoists for the killing of tribals. The conflict is not between violence and non-violence; but between justice and injustice. It is on the latter that one has to take a stand. And as for violence it is endemic in every aspect of the existing system; unfortunately it is only when the oppressed hit back that the issue of ‘non-violence’ suddenly occurs.

It is no doubt sad that tribals are being pitted against tribals in a war that is essentially between the oppressed and the draculan rulers. But this is part of government policy where tribals are to be used as cannon fodder in their war against communism. It is this that should in fact be condemned. Whether tribals are recruited into the CRPF, IRB, or as SPO sort as the front paw of their recent attacks in the name of Salwa Judum, it is this policy of using tribals to kill tribals that should be roundly condemned by any democratic or progressive. But after the Feb. 28th incident even Amnesty International, which had been totally silent against the horrors of the Salwa Judum, issued a statement condemning the Maoist action.

But to a discerning the reality is known for what it is — nothing but a military operation in a civilian garb. Even such a pro-business paper as the Economic Times saw through this which the so-called Human Rights organisations, like AI, could not see. In its Editorial of March 2nd the ET said, while condemning the Maoists : " Policing which failed miserably to anticipate and prevent the assault, would, in any case, only fix the problem temporarily. A more enduring solution has to be political. Salwa Judum, an anti-naxalite movement is certainly not such a response. The experiment — launched by the local Congress MP Mahendra Karma, blessed by the BJP-led state government, and celebrated by sections of the national media — has only complicated the matter. Armed Salwa Judum activists have countered Maoist violence with their own brand of terror. The Judum, for all practical purposes, functions as a militia of the oppressive local elite even as it claims to express spontaneous local rage against the naxals……… The State must withdraw its patronage to the ‘movement’ and declare it illegal. The point is to change traditional social relations that engender such violence. It must be kept in mind that the wretched of the earth take to violence when justice, governance and democracy fail them".

If a staid business paper like the Economic Times can see that far why is it that our liberals sometime act so befuddled? Later the same paper states that it is the Union Home Ministry that is providing the funds for the Salwa Judum ‘movement’. Of course not all are like the Amnesty International and some top intellectuals have condemned the Salwa Judum.

Even before the Feb.28th action a group of leading scholars working on Bastar sent a letter to the PM and the Chief Minister of Chhathisgarh expressing concern for the violence going on in Dantewada district. In their letter they questioned the Government policy of providing military and financial support to the ‘Salwa Judum’ against the Maoists and their sympathizers. In the course of the ‘Salwa Judum’, villages that refuse to participate had been burnt, their goods and cattle looted and crops destroyed. They said that even by then 15,000 to 30,000 people have been displaced. They added "we gather that the administration plans to relocate them in permanent settlements attached to police stations…… The government policy had resulted in Adivasis in the area facing the permanent destruction of their culture, besides losing their customary rights over their land and forest resources." The scholars urged the government to ensure that the killing and looting stopped immediately, and the people were enabled to return to their villages. The signatories include: Nalini Sunder, Professor of Sociology at the Delhi School of Economics; Walter Huber, Professor of Communications and English at Reitaku University in Japan; Chris Gregory, Reader at the Department of Anthropology, Australian National University; Navjot Altaj, Artist; Madhu Sarin, development planner; Nicolas Prevot, ethnomuscicologist at the University of Paris and Samuel Berthet, political scientist at the university of Nanes.

Now what more evidence can their be that these Salwa Judum hoodlums are nothing but the front paw of the para-military when they were openly supported and backed by the Home Ministry in the high profile March 31st meeting. They have even gone so far as to devise an insurance plan for the killed hoodlums. Is then any more proof required for understanding who the SJ people are — "peace campaigners" or "wolves in sheep clothing"?

To remain neutral in this heroic battle for justice means to defacto support the enemy. Many a liberal give the impression that the innocent tribals are being caught in the cross-fire between the Naxalites and the State. The battle is in fact between the people and the moneybags; the people are being led by the Maoists, while the moneybags are utilising the government and its armed force to crush the people. It is a liberation struggle from centuries of oppression and exploitation. There is no neutrality in this epic being played out in the very heart of our country. The time has come for all progressives to take a stand — for freedom and justice or for the continuing of the dark rule of the moneybags and their corrupt agents. All progressives must come out openly to roundly condemn the state policy of using tribals to kill tribals.

April 10 2006




Home  |  Current Issue  |  Archives  |  Revolutionary Publications  |  Links  |  Subscription