Friday, February 02, 2007


Sometime back- January 20th, to be precise- I participated in a panel discussion on ‘Salwa Judum (SJ)’ organized at the Jamia Milia Islamia University, Delhi. The discussion- Reconciling Aspirations- was chaired by the noted Gandhian, Mrs. Nirmala Deshpande, MP, while my co-panelists included Mr. KPS Gill, Advisor to the Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh, Prof. Yugandhar, Member, Planning Commission of India, and Mr. BKS Ray, the then ACS (Additional Chief Secretary) to the Government of Chhattisgarh (GOC). We were all allotted fifteen minutes each to speak. At the end of the discussion, the first and last named panelists extended invitations to me to ‘visit Salwa Judum camps’.

Just a day before, Ms. Arundhati Roy, the noted author and social activist, released a Report by the Committee Against Violence on Women (CAVOW) documenting the condition of women in SJ camps. She termed it: ‘very, very disturbing’. Late last year, a two-member team of the National Commission for Women (NCW) had arrived at a similar estimation of the situation after touring SJ camps. Mr. Gill termed the CAVOW report as ‘one-sided and propagandist’: he felt, perhaps rightly, that the GOC’s version should have been obtained. The CAVOW representative said that she had sought comments from GOC representatives, including Mr. Ray, but there was ‘no response’. As such, they had to go ahead with the publication of the Report without GOC’s version.

Meanwhile, two incidents have taken place, which should shed some light on the way SJ, the self-proclaimed ‘spontaneous people’s movement against Naxalism’, is running. The first involves the surrender of 79 ‘Naxalites’ from Keshkal at the state PHQ (Police Head Quarter) at Raipur. Subsequently, three dailies- Indian Express, Dainik Bhaskar and Chhattisgarh- reported that the surrendered ‘Naxalites’ weren’t Naxalites at all: in fact, most of them were innocent tribals who hadn’t the faintest idea why they were being paraded before the press with masks put on their faces. The political response to this exposé was typically skewed: both the Leader of Opposition (LOP) and the PCC (Pradesh Congress Committee) President congratulated the state police on this ‘commendable feat’; when 28 Congress MLAs and 2 Congress MPs issued a joint statement condemning the ‘fake surrenders’ and demanding a White Paper from the CM, the LOP told them squarely that they shouldn’t talk about things that don’t concern their constituencies.

Unhappily for the LOP, the elected representatives from Keshkal- Mr. Mahesh Baghel, who is Parliamentary Secretary in the GOC, Mr. Devlal Dugga, MLA from adjoining Bhanupratapur, and Mr. Sohan Potai, the local MP, all of whom belong to the ruling BJP- did issue detailed statements condemning the ‘fake surrenders’. Not only that, they met the CM and demanded strict action against the police officers that engineered the ‘fake surrenders’. Mr. Baghel went on to say on record that he personally knows many of the people who ‘surrendered’, and that many of them were in fact BJP workers. In the end, the CM relented to an IG-level inquiry. Two days ago, most of those who had surrendered were recruited as ‘SPOs’ (Special Police Officers) in the presence of this same IG conducting the inquiry. As SPOs, they will be given arms, a monthly salary of Rs. 1500/-, and a license to kill. I guess that is the price one has to pay to buy their silence?

The second incident involves the ‘encounter’ of two young men at Bandé in Kanker during ‘a joint-operation conducted by the Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh police departments’. Both were described as ‘dreaded Naxalites’. Yet again, the local political representatives of the district from both the major parties, the Congress and the BJP, launched a full-scale movement against these killings. The movement had two demands: an ex-gratia payment of Rs. 500,000/- each to the families of those killed; and registration of FIR (First Information Report) under section 302 of the IPC (Indian Penal Code) against concerned policemen. The Chhattisgarh police was quick to disassociate itself from these fake encounters, saying that it was a Maharashtra police operation.

Not surprisingly then, Prof. Yugandhar went on record to state that "the Planning Commission of India does not support [this] SJ."

It is clear to me from the above mentioned incidents that there is considerable desperation on the part of the GOC, particularly the state police department, to show ‘positive results’: both the fake encounters and fake surrenders are an outcome of enormous political pressure, which must most certainly have intensified after the GOC’s thrashing at the Kota bye-election.

And as with everything else about SJ, it is the tribal who must ultimately suffer.


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Amit Aishwarya Jogi
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