What is “Salwa Judum” or Peace March?

Posted on January 1, 2011


Salwa Judum, Dates of operation 2005 – present Active region(s) Bastar and Dantewada districts of  Chhattisgarh, India Status Active Size 4,000Salwa Judum (meaning “Peace March”[1] in Gondi language) is an anti-Naxalite movement in Chhattisgarh, India, which started in 2005 as a people’s resistance movement against the Naxalites, a far-left movement in some states in rural India that is designated by India as a terrorist organization on account of their violent Maoist activities in the state.[2] Initially an uprising of local indigenous people in Chhattisgarh, the Salwa Judum movement later received bi-partisan support from both the opposition and ruling parties.[2][3] A few years later the state government adopted the Salwa Judum movement in order to restore democratic rule to the regions where the Naxalites had established themselves by force.[4] Chhattisgarh state has over the years trained a number of SPOs or ‘Special Police Officers’, from amongst the tribals, who are part of Salwa Judum in the state, also with its formation the state witnessed a marked rise in success against Naxalite action,[5] as a result in 2008, Chhattisgarh along with neighboring Jharkhand accounted for over 65% of the total Naxal violence in the country.[6] The Chhattisgarh government on February 5, 2009, told the Supreme Court that the Salwa Judum was slowly disappearing in the State.[7]

Salwa Judum Soldiers in a village

With success of counter-strikes on Naxalite hideouts in south Chhattisgarh, Maoist activities in the bordering districts of Orissa saw a rise in 2008, thus in Feb 2009, the Central government announced its plans for simultaneous, co-ordinated counter-operations in all Maoist extremism-hit states – Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Bihar, UP and West Bengal, to plug all possible escape routes of Naxalites.[8]
Salwa Judum’s members in Southern Chhattisgarh Bastar and Dantewada districts of Chhattisgarh have traditionally been sparsely populated, rich in natural resources, and yet some of 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.[9] 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[10]. This later collapsed, and the leaders had to seek police protection to survive. However, the second time around 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. A a local tribal leader, Mahendra Karma, a Congress MLA and the leader of opposition in the State Legislative Assembly, jumped into the fray as a political opportunity becoming the public front he took the Bijapur-based movement to Dantewada, Katreli and other villages in the region [11][12].
According to pro-Maoist sources, the Salwa Judum was responsible for many rapes and murders in the villages. They also herded villagers and tibals in makeshift camps, where human rights abuses were rife. According to pro-Maoist sources, Salwa Judum became increasingly violent and out of control. They allege that the Judum had burned or emptied out 644 or more villages, making 300,000 people flee their homes[13].These claims have been disputed by mainstream groups who suggest that Salwa Judum’s detractors are little more than Naxlite propaganda fronts designed to spread disinformation and encourage terrorism.As the situation further escalated in the coming years, Human Rights Watch reported atrocities at both ends, and reported large scale displacement of the civilian population caught in the conflict between the Naxalites and Salwa Judum activists with at least 100,000 people moving to various camps in southern Chhattisgarh or fleeing to neighbouring Andhra Pradesh as of early 2008.[14][15] By mid-2008 the figure grew to 150,000 tribals being displaced.[16]. There was also widespread report of rape and other abuses on women by the Judum.[17]
Since the inception of the movement in 2005, over 800 people, including some 300 security personnel, have been killed by the Naxalites, SPO deaths alone total 98 — one in 2005; 29 in 2006; 66 in 2007; and 20 in 2008 [12][18], when the Maoists rebels continued their attacks, though now considerably more dramatic from the previous years, they were now splitting into smaller groups and specifically targeting Salwa Judum leaders and security personnel who were ambushed in weekly markets in remote areas, and their weapons stolen, also posters threatening Salwa Judum leaders continued to appear in villages across Dantewada and Bijapur [19]. However by mid-2008, movement’s frontliner, Mahender Karma announced that it will soon cease to exist [16], and end 2008, saw Salwa Judum which had controlled the lives of tribal people in camps and its influenced villages for nearly three years losing its hold in the region; the number of people living in the camps dropped from earlier 50,000 to 13,000 and public support was dwindled away [20]. An NHRC report published in October 2008, said that Salwa Judum having lost its earlier momentum was only restricted to its 23 camps in the Dantewada and Bijapur districts of Chhattisgarh [21]
Development of Special Police Officers (SPOs)Location of Dantewada and Bastar districts, the most affected regions in ChhattisgarhThe Chhattisgarh state Police employs tribal youths as SPOs (Special Police Officers), which are essentially 4,000 youth, both ex-Naxalites and those drawn from Salwa Judum camps in the Bastar region, who are paid an honorarium of Rs 1,500 per month by the state government, were trained by with mostly .303 rifles. In Feb 2009, the Supreme Court in India declared such arming of civilians illegal.
In 2008, there were 23 Salwa Judum camps in Bijapur and Dantewara districts of Bastar region where almost 50,000 tribals from over 600 villages had settled [12][18]. The government has now discredited the Salwa Judum movement.[citation needed] Union Minister of Home Affairs, P. Chidambaram has praised the role of special police officers (SPOs) in fighting Naxalism and called for their appointment “wherever required.” [22], while the Chhattisgarh Chief Minister, Raman Singh has stated that “Salwa Judum is the answer to get rid of the Naxal menace in the state..” [23].
ControversyChild SoldiersThere have been numerous reports that the Salwa Judum had recruited minors for its armed forces. A primary survey evaluated by the Forum for Fact-finding Documentation and Advocacy (FFDA) determined that over 12,000 minors were being used by the Salwa Judum in the southern district of Dantewada and that the Chhattisgarh Government had “officially recruited 4200 Special Police Officers (SPOs); many of them being easily identifiable as minors”.[24] The Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) also found that the Salwa Judum had engaged in the recruitment of child soldiers.[25] Similar recruitment findings were also reported in the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers’s “Child Soldiers Global Report 2008 – India”.[26]
Human rights violationSome human rights organizations such as the People’s Union for Civil Liberties has raised allegations that Salwa Judum is a government-backed organisation [27][28][29], supported by the Chhattisgarh government, but a fact finding commission of National Human Rights Commission of India (NHRC), appointed by Supreme Court of India found out that Salwa Judum was a “spontaneous reaction by the tribals to defend themselves against the “reign of terror unleashed by the Naxalites.” The report also said that, 15 years after Jan Jagran Abhiyan, an earlier attempt to deal with Naxalites, “local tribals once again mustered courage to stand up to the Naxalites, which only goes to show their sense of desperation”.[21][30]. It also found out that allegations against Salwa Judum were distortions of truth by some biased human right organisations.[31]
State sponsoring of militiaIn April 2008, a Supreme Court bench directed the state Government to refrain from allegedly supporting and encouraging the Salwa Judum: “It is a question of law and order. You cannot give arms to somebody (a civilian) and allow him to kill. You will be an abettor of the offence under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code.”; the state government had earlier denied, Salwa Judum being a state-sponsored movement [18][32], later it directed the state government to take up the remedial measures suggested in the NHRC earlier report [33] The Human Rights Commission alleged that Security forces collaborated with Salwa Judum in their fight against the Maoists.[34]
In December 2008, replying to a petition filed in the Supreme Court, the state government acknowledged that Salwa Judum and security forces had burnt houses and looted property but the allegations against Salwa Judum of killings were not found to be true by National Human Rights Commission.[35][36]
EffectsEncouraged by the highly positive results of the movement in the region, the government is planning to launch a people’s movement in insurgency hit state of Manipur on similar lines. In 2006, Karnataka raised a similar force employing tribals youths to fight Naxalism in the state, as did Andhra Pradesh prior to it [37] Jharkhand is another state that has been successfully using SPOs to counter Leftwing terrorists.[22]
In mediaChannel 4’s Unreported World telecasted a programme titled “India’s Hidden War” in October 2006, on the Maoist war against the state and people of India[38]
Further readingThe Adivasis of Chhattisgarh: Victims of the Naxalite Movement and Salwa Judum Campaign, by Asian Centre for Human Rights. Published by Asian Centre for Human Rights, 2006.See also
NaxaliteCompact Revolutionary ZoneNaxalite-Maoist insurgencyUnified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist)References
^ TOI, Mar 20, 2010^ a b [1] Ramachandra Guha.^ [2] Kanchan Gupta.^ [3] Pioneer^ CoBRA reaches Bastar to join anti-Naxal ops Indian Express, February 5, 2009.^ Centre gives its tacit approval to Salwa Judum Times of India, January 8, 2009.^ Salwa Judum disappearing: Chhattisgarh The Hindu, Friday, February 6, 2009.^ Co-ordinated operations to flush out Naxalites soon Economic Times, February 6, 2009.^ [4]^ [5]^ Inside India’s hidden war The Guardian, May 9, 2006.^ a b c ‘Salwa Judum can’t work in the long run’ Chhattisgarh Director General of Police Vishwa Ranjan. Business Standard, January 13, 2008.^ [6]^ ‘Salwa Judum, forces too violating rights’ The Times of India, July 16, 2008.”The 182-page report — ‘Being Neutral Is Our Biggest Crime: Government, Vigilante and Naxalite Abuses in India’s Chhattisgarh State’ — documents human rights abuses against civilians, particularly tribals, caught in a tug-of-war between government forces, Salwa Judum and Naxalites. “^ Indian state ‘backing vigilantes’ BBC News, July 15, 2008.^ a b How the Salwa Judum experiment went wrong The Mint, July 10, 2008.^ ‘Existence of Salwa Judum necessary’^ a b c Hearing plea against Salwa Judum, SC says State cannot arm civilians to kill Indian Express, April 1, 2008.^ at least 18 people associated with Salwa Judum were killed during this period .. Indian Express, July 23, 2008.^ Salwa Judum may stay in Bastar after polls NDTV, November 13 , 2008.^ a b ‘Existence of Salwa Judum necessary’ The Economic Times, October 6, 2008.^ a b Chidambaram all praise for SPOs The Economic Times, January 8, 2009.^ Salwa Judum is answer to naxal menace: Raman Singh Times of India, January 10, 2009.^ Zemp, Ueli; Mohapatra, Subash (2007-07-29). “Child Soldiers in Chhattisgarh: Issues, Challenges and FFDA’s Response”. Retrieved 2009-05-31.^ The Adivasis of Chhattisgarh: Victims of the Naxalite Movement and Salwa Judum Campaign. New Delhi: Asian Centre for Human Rights. 2006. p. 42. ISBN 81-88987-14-X. Retrieved 2009-05-31.^ “Child Soldiers Global Report 2008 – India”. Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers. 2008-05-20. Retrieved 2009-05-31.^ “Findings about the Salwa Judum in Dantewara district”. 2005-02-12.^ “Salwa Judum report”. South Asia Intelligence Review of the South Asia Terrorism Portal.^ “Salwa Judum report”. Asian Council For Human Rights.^ DNAIndia^ dnaIndia^ SC raps Chattisgarh on Salwa Judum Rediff.com, March 31, 2008.^ Implement NHRC recommendations on Salwa Judum, Supreme Court asks Chhattisgarh government The Hindu, September 20, 2008.^ India backing violent militia DAWN – July 11, 2008^ “Politics/Nation”. The Times Of India. October 6, 2008.^ Salwa Judum victims assured of relief The Hindu, December 16, 2008.^ Tribal youths will now fight Naxals The Times of India, May 11, 2006.^ India’s Hidden War Channel 4, Friday 27 October 2006.External links
The Adivasis of Chhattisgarh: Victims of Naxalite Movement and Salwa Judum CampaignUnreported World: India’s Hidden WarNaxal Issues[7]Economic and Political Weekly Article on NHRC reportReport of the IAPL Fact Finding MissionVideo Documentary (20 mn.) on Salwa Judum Camps