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13 Dec 2005

 Fact-Finding on the Salwa Judum, Dantewara District, by an All-India team

(PUCL Chhattisgarh and PUCL Jharkhand, PUDR, Delhi; APDR, West Bengal and IAPL),

Nov-Dec 2005

Since June 2005, Dantewara District (formerly part of Bastar district), Chhattisgarh, has been in the news for an alleged uprising of adivasis against the Communist Party of India (Maoist). Most media and official reports described this movement, known as Salwa Judum, as a spontaneous and self-initiated reaction to Maoist oppression, and hailed it as a turning point in the fight against Naxalism. At the same time, a few reports indicated that people had been displaced in large numbers and were living in miserable conditions in camps. While this was officially attributed to Maoist threats and retaliation against those joining the Salwa Judum, stray news also came in about the excesses committed by members of the Salwa Judum and security forces. 

An all India team decided to investigate the situation, focusing specifically on the violation of human rights and the impact on people’s everyday lives. A fourteen member team from five different organizations conducted an investigation between 28th  November and 1st December in Bijapur and Bhairamgarh blocks of Dantewara district. The organizations include: People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), Chhattisgarh and PUCL Jharkhand, People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR), Delhi, Association for the Protection of Democratic Rights (APDR), West Bengal, and Indian Association of People’s Lawyers (IAPL). The team visited both camps and villages, met people arrested during the operation, as well as leaders of the Salwa Judum, Police and Civil Administration officials. 

The main findings of the team are reported below (a more detailed report will follow shortly) 

1.    The Salwa Judum is far from the spontaneous uprising of tribals against Maoists that it is claimed to be. It is an organized, state managed enterprise that has precedents in the Jan Jagaran Abhiyans that have occurred earlier under the leadership of the current Dantewara MLA, Mahendra Karma. The Collector himself has been part of 75% of the Salwa Judum meetings and security forces have been backing the Judum’s meetings. The main cadre of Salwa Judum are comprised of Special Police Officers who are being paid and armed by the state, at a rate that is standard in counter insurgency operations across the country. 

2.    The Salwa Judum has led to the forcible displacement of people throughout Bhairamgarh, Geedam and Bijapur areas, under police and administrative supervision.  According to official estimates approximately 15,000 people from 420 villages are living as refugees in temporary camps. People have left behind their cattle and most of their household goods. The entire area is being cleared of inhabitants even as new roads are being built and more police and para-military stations are being set up. The region is being turned into one large cantonment. In many places regular economic activities like weekly haats have stopped. 

3.    We observed a pattern in the dislocation: when Salwa Judum meetings are called, people from neighbouring villages are asked to be present. Heavy security forces accompany the meetings. Villages that refuse to participate face repeated attacks by the combined forces of Salwa Judum, the district force and the paramilitary Naga battalion, which is stationed in the area. In addition, there are separate raids by the Naga Battalion. These raids result in looting, arson and killings in many instances. In some villages, the raids continue till the entire village is cleared and people have moved to camps while in other cases, only old people, women and children are left. Many villages are coming to camps to avoid these attacks in the first place. 

4.    Once in camps, people have no choice but to support the Salwa Judum. Some of them are forced to work as informers against members of their own and neighbouring villages and participate in attacks against them, leading to permanent divisions within villages.  Individual families are sometimes being split between Judum supporters and those who wish to remain in their villages. We also came across instances where the Salwa Judum took young people away from the village and their families were unaware of their whereabouts. In one  of the villages visited by us, Mankheli near Bijapur, we investigated five reported killings that took place over three raids by the Naga IRB forces and found that reports were correct.

5.    It is frightening to note the collapse of civil administration in many parts of Dantewada District. Salwa Judum members man checkpoints on roads, search people’s belongings   and control the flow of transport. They enforce an economic blockade on villages that resist coming to camps. They also try to force civil officials to follow their dictat. 

6.    FIRs registering the looting, burning, beatings/torture by Salwa Judum mobs and the security forces are not recorded. We were told of specific instances where Security Forces threw dead bodies inside or near villages. The intention seems to be to terrorise people into leaving their villages. These killings are not reported, and therefore hard to corroborate. Some reports suggest that 96 people from 34 villages have been killed. However, the only killings that are officially recorded are those by Maoists. In the period since Salwa Judum started, it is true that the killings by Maoists have gone up substantially and the official figure today stands at 70. Rather than being a “peace mission” as is claimed, the Salwa Judum has created a situation where violence has escalated. 

7.     The Salwa Judum does have support among certain sections of local society. The leadership comprises of non-adivasi immigrant settlers from other parts of India, sarpanches and traditional leaders whose power has been threatened by the Maoists, powerful local politicians like Karma, and his network of supporters. Both the local Congress and the BJP are supporting the Salwa Judum together. 

8.    Militarisation: We have heard from several high ranking officials that there is an undeclared war on in Bastar, and we fear that the worst is yet to come. There is a heavy presence of the paramilitary like the CRPF and the Naga Battalion. This creates a situation where forces from other states are behaving like an occupation army. We ourselves saw a number of cattle and people being herded by the Naga Battalion after a raid. One of these cows was slaughtered on the main road in full view of all present. 

In addition, people are being encouraged to carry arms. Village defence committees are being created, SPOs are being trained and armed, and the entire society is becoming more militaristic. 

9.    Although Chhattisgarh is claimed to be a tribal state, adivasi society and culture is being actively destroyed. People, for whom the earth of their village is sacred, are being forcibly removed from it, and the whole social fabric is being torn.   

We demand:

1.    that the government stop using people as a shield and creating armed vigilante groups in villages as a part of its anti-  naxal operations.
2.    that all killings of civilians and non-combatants by the state  as well as by Maoists must be stopped forthwith.
3.    that para military forces be withdrawn from the area, authority of the civil administration restored and dialogue with CPI Maoist be initiated.
4.    that a judicial enquiry be held into all killings committed by the Salwa Judum/Security forces which have gone unrecorded.
5.    that camps should be dismantled and government should assist people in regaining their livelihood in their villages.
6.    that both the government and the CPI Maoist must ensure that people return to their homes in peace and security.