When state makes war on its own people
A report on violations of people's rights during the Salwa Judum campaign in Dantewada, Chhitsgarh, April 2006
Since June 2005, Dantewada 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 forcible emptying out of villages as part of the government's anti-Maoist policy, and of excesses committed by members of the Salwa Judum and security forces.
A fourteen-member team from five organizations conducted an investigation between 28 November and 1 December 2005 in Bijapur and Bhairamgarh blocks of Dantewada district, focusing specifically on the violation of human rights and the impact on people's everyday lives. The organisations are: People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) Chhattisgarh, People's Union For Civil Liberties (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 information in this report is based on: a) Discussions with government officials and paramilitary forces; b) interviews with people in Bhairamgarh, Matwada, Meertur and Gangaloor camps; c) discussions with people we met in villages that we visited, d) interviews with leaders and members of the Salwa Judum; and e) discussions with fact-finding members of a CPI team. We have also relied on the CPI's Open Letter to the Prime Minister dated 16 November 2005, detailing their findings, two CPI (Maoist) press releases dated 10 October 2005 and 20 November 2005, and their Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee newsletter, Prabhat, dated July-December 2005, as well as press clippings from June 2005 till the present. On the basis of the fact-finding, three facts stood out strongly, all of which ran counter to the government's assertions: First, it is clear that the Salwa Judum is not a spontaneous people's movement, but a state-organized anti-insurgency campaign. Second, it is misleading to describe the situation as simply one where ordinary villagers are caught between the Maoists and the military. The Maoists have widespread support and as long as people continued to live in the villages, it was difficult for the government to isolate the Maoists. Rather than questioning its own nonperformance on basic development, the government has resorted to clearing villages on a large scale. Tens of thousands of people are now refugees in temporary roadside camps or living with relatives with complete disruption of their daily lives. Prospects for their return are currently dim. Third, the entire operation, instead of being a peace mission as it is claimed, has escalated violence on all sides.
However, only the murders by Maoists are recognized, and the Salwa Judum and paramilitary operate with complete impunity. The rule of law has completely broken down.