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PUCL, September 2008

Supreme Court order vindicates PUCL's stand on Salwa Judum

PUCL– Chhattisgarh
Post Box No. 87, Main Post Office, Raipur – 492001: Chhattisgarh: India, E-mail: pucl.cg@gmail.com Press Release:

Raipur, 22nd September, 2008

The recent order of the Supreme Court of India dated 19th September 2008 in the Writ Petition filed by Nandini Sunder and Ors in the matter of SALWA JUDUM is the vindication of PUCL's stand on Salwa Judum stating categorically and clearly that it is a state sponsored violent campaign to crush the voices of dissent and democracy. This was based on the report of a fact-finding team organized by PUCL in 2005. Those interested in getting the full Report entitled, When state makes war on its own people may get in touch with us. The same was also translated into Hindi.

We reproduce below the news item appearing in The Hindu, Saturday, September 20, 2008.

"Implement NHRC recommendations on Salwa Judum, Supreme Court asks Chhattisgarh government

Saturday, Sep 20, 2008. The Hindu

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday asked the Chhattisgarh government to implement some of the recommendations of the National Human Rights Commission, which went into the activities of the Salwa Judum (self-defence group) set up by the State to tackle naxal menace. Earlier, the NHRC submitted, in a sealed cover, a report to the court, which had asked it to probe the allegations that the Salwa Judum, which had been provided with arms, was committing atrocities on innocent people.

A Bench comprising Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan and Justices P. Sathasivam and J.M. Panchal was hearing a petition filed by Nandini Sundar, Ramachandra Guha and E.A.S. Sarma. They challenged the setting up of the Salwa Judum which, they alleged, was indulging in killings and committing atrocities on tribals in the guise of countering the naxal movement.

The Chief Justice, who perused the NHRC report, told senior counsel K.K. Venugopal, appearing for Chhattisgarh, that the commission "has done a meticulous work. It has given a series of recommendations. It is very painful to read the report. It says there is arson and looting, people are armed and they [Salwa Judum] are committing serious offences. It says people who are subjected to serious problems are still afraid of coming out."

The Chief Justice observed: "When somebody [Salwa judum] is given arms, he claims to be a pseudo police. Once he is given arms, he will commit an offence though he has no right to do any such act. Some remedial measures have been suggested in the report and the State may consider implementing them. Whatever is urgently required to be done, do it."

Mr. Venugopal assured the court that the government would implement the recommendations "which are of immediate concern." The Bench asked the Registry to supply copies of the NHRC report to the parties and asked them to file their response, and posted the matter to October 23.

The petition said the Salwa Judum was launched to combat naxalites but in reality these activists conducted frequent raids on villages and attacked and killed suspected sympathisers of naxalites, torched their houses and looted livestock.

In defence of Salwa Judum, the Chhattisgarh government said: "It is not state-sponsored, but a people's initiative to combat the menace of naxalites. The State is committed to resolving the problem of naxalism, and any peaceful movement which resists violent methods definitely gets support of States."

Additional Solicitor-General Gopal Subramaniam appeared for the Centre and counsel Nithya Ramakrishnan, for the petitioners." The Chhattisgarh PUCL had organized an All India Team consisting of 14-members from 5 organisations to study the Salwa Judum in 2005. The Team consisted of members and representatives of:

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 Team visited Dantewara from 28th November to December 1, 2005, and came out with the following conclusions: "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."

(Excerpts from the report entitled, When state makes war on its own people
Dr. Binayak Sen, General Secretary, Chhattisgarh PUCL had taken the bold initiative in organizing this Fact-Finding Team, and had taken concrete steps to counter the claim of the Chhattisgarh Government and Salwa Judum leaders that it was a peaceful campaign. The then Director General of Police, CG Government Mr. O P Rathore (who is no more alive now) had then made a public statement that the PUCL was glorifying the naxalites, and spreading falsehoods. He had also threatened publicly that he would take care of PUCL and its leaders like Dr. Binayak Sen.

We, in the PUCL, have been maintaining that Dr. Binayak Sen has been falsely implicated under The Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act, 2005 only because of exposure of state-sponsored fascist and anti-democratic campaign like Salwa Judum. The Supreme Court of India, and the National Human Rights Commission have now stated the same truth about Salwa Judum, but three years later. The CG PUCL has decided to carry forward the campaign to close down SALWA JUDUM, rehabilitate all victims with adequate compensation create conditions for the people to return to their land and livelihood, and trial of criminal cases against the leaders and members of SALWA JUDUM based on the CBI enquiry, and also against the erring officials and politicians.

The State sponsorship and complicity in carrying out a violent campaign like SALWA JUDUM is clearly established in the plan prepared by the then Collector of Dantewara, Chhattisgarh, which was published and widely distributed in a pamphlet form, and which was reproduced in the All India Report as referred to above. Excerpts from this NOTE by the Collector, Dantwara are quoted below. With the Supreme Court of India giving clear directives to the State Government, the PUCL would like to repeat its demands that were made in the Report of the Fact-finding in December 2005:


1. That the government stop using people as a shield and creating armed Village Defence Committees as part of its anti-naxal operations;

2. That paramilitary forces be withdrawn from the area and the civil administration be restored;

3. That all killings by the state, the Salwa Judum and the Maoists be stopped.

4. That sincere dialogue with the Maoists be initiated, and a political resolution to the situation be found;

5. That FIRs be registered for all crimes committed by the Salwa Judum and security forces and the culprits be prosecuted;

6. That the government and the CPI (Maoist) ensure that people return to their homes in peace and security;

7. That people be assisted in regaining their livelihoods in their villages and camps be dismantled.

" We would like to APPEAL to all democratic forces in the country to join this campaign to end Salwa Judum, repeal the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act 2005, and release Dr. Binayak Sen, and all others detained under this draconian law.

In Solidarity, Rajendra K Sail President Chhattisgarh PUCL Mobile: 94242-01288

Excerpts from the District Collector’s Work Proposal for Salwa Judum, 2005

“Common Man’s Awareness Raising Campaign against Naxalites, 2005.

Work Plan to Make the Campaign Successful”;

District South Bastar, Dantewada (Chhattisgarh).

“Dantewada district is an entirely naxalite-affected district. The district has 11 development blocks. Currently, in two out of 11 blocks, namely Bhairamgarh and Bijapur people from 200 villages falling within Kutru, Farsegarh, Bedre, Jangla, Bijapur, Bhairamgarh and Nelsnar police stations, fed up with naxalite excesses, have started a people.s awareness campaign against them. This campaign has now spread to 60 villages from Bade Tumnar and Barsur area of Geedam block and people from these areas too are present at meetings. In the coming days this campaign will spread to three other development blocs namely Usur, Bhopalpatnam and Konta”.(p.2).

“Naxalites prohibited all their (villagers) activities and tyrannise them on a daily basis. They demand that villagers hand over young boys and girls to join their dalam. Refusal carries threat to their lives. Those working hard are left with ten sacks of paddy and rest is forcibly taken away. They do not let any development work take place, oppose all administrative work thus progress of villages is halted, and basic amenities cannot reach villages, people do not get jobs, all this has resulted in the problem of starvation.”(p. 3).

“So far, the campaign has held meetings in thirty places and in six places rallies have been held. In the meetings people from 30-35 villages meet on an agreed date at a designated place.”(p.4).

“Considering the village by village conditions operating it is imperative that the campaign receive administrative support. . Firstly, the campaign needs a common leader who can direct the campaign in a planned way. Secondly, adequate security must be provided to the participants so that they can overcome pressure from the naxalites. And thirdly, during the campaign, villagers must be provided transport as and when needed, as well as food and a place to stay at government expense.”(p. 5).

“(C)ollecting information about village population, number of families, distance from police station to the village.; .of constituting village defense committees which should comprise village headperson, panch, sarpanch as well as young men.”(p. 9).

“It is proposed that young men and women from the villages be made Special Police Officers. Depending upon the size of the village 5-10 SPOs would be needed. These SPOs will receive Rs 1,500 per month as honorarium.”(pp. 9-10).

“Apart from imparting training to the villagers, providing them with traditional weapons such as bow and arrow, farsa , axe, stick, ballam , etc is extremely important. Although such weapons are with most villagers but to encourage them people should either be given arrows or iron to prepare arrows. While villagers are asking for guns or license to use them, this is not advisable. Even if licensed guns are provided they can be looted by naxalites or the licensee could be killed to get his gun . Besides, an armed person can later on join a naxalite organization which will enhance the strength of the naxalites. Therefore, the villagers. request [for guns] is not worth accepting and they should only be provided traditional weapons.”(pp. 10-11).

”If we look minutely at police work in naxalite affected areas, it is more defensive and less aggressive. Now the time has come when the police . have to become more aggressive. Although sometimes because of reasons beyond one.s control some excesses do take place and some innocents do get affected. But keeping in mind the overall context of major operations, it is important that the higher-ups remain silent. (pp. 13). . Only when people see naxalites fleeing or getting killed will they side with the administration. Therefore, this policy must be pursued strictly. And for this police officers should be given a target.(pp. 14). .

(A)ppointing, temporarily, a DIG for Bijapur police district who can oversee the progress of the campaign on a daily basis..(pp 16).

The work plan argues for widening the definition of .naxalite. for the purpose of rehabilitation of surrendered naxalites, to include .sangam members.. The current definition restricts it to those in uniform, carrying arms or a member of a dalam. The .real strength [of Maoists] lies in sangam membership who are from among the villagers. . Villagers are common people who side with whoever is powerful and follow whatever is demanded of them. Sangam members are the actual workers of the naxalites who help in operations of the naxalites. . To end the problem of naxalites, it is not enough to kill naxalites but more important to crush and destroy their system operating at the village level.(pp. 15.16).

The work plan proposes to divide the area into sectors comprising 8-10 villages (pp17). These clusters of villages will have deployment of security forces. It suggests a company for each cluster. And each cluster will contain village defence committees and the newly enlisted SPOs would be used for regular searches (pp 18).

The collector also argues that media coverage of Naxalite attacks makes it look as if they are gaining the upper hand. By reporting what Naxalites are doing as against reporting how ordinary people (read Salwa Judum) are responding, the media indirectly gives the Naxalites a voice.. He advocates controls on the media, beginning with a meeting between the administration and all news publishers/media channels reminding them of their accountability to the people (p. 25).

Note: Page numbers refer to the original document

People's Union for Civil Liberties, 81 Sahayoga Apartmrnts, Mayur Vihar I, Delhi 110091, India. Phone (91) 11 2275 0014