Monday, December 12, 2005

Naxalism and Salwa Judum

For the uninitiated, Salwa Judum is a peace movement currently sweeping across south Bastar. Salwa Judum means the path for peace in local language. It is headed by the local MLA and leader of opposition in Chhattisgarh assembly, Mr. Mahendra Karma. Salwa Judum is an anti-naxal movement started by tribals and villagers. This has taken a nasty turn lately, with maoists reacting extremely ruthlessly against those participating in Salwa Judum meetings and the activists in turn getting hard on maoist sympathesizers.
For more details do a google search on "salwa judum" or visit

Recently a group of human rights activists visited Dantewada district and came out with a report strongly critical of Salwa Judum and its activities. Here, I don't dispute their findings, but point out the limitations in the report. I have also added my comments on some other issues affecting Bastar as a whole.

The press release ignores the fact that Salwa Zudum was first coined and actually started as a peace movement by a school teacher in Bijapur. We heard about it years back when I was still in college. It gained in momentum when maoists put a ban on 'tendu patta sangrahan' by adivasis, threatening their few measures of earning a livelihod. That the maoists did not provide an alternative and freely allowed some contractors to collect tendu-patta did not help matters.

Anyways, the originators of Salwa Zudum were sidelined compltely by politicians and its agenda is hijacked by the administration. It was not a state-managed show initially. Mr. Mahendra Karma was first to realise its potential, and tapped it for his own elctoral gains. The administration was a little slow in realising that something is brewing up. And when they did, CG government have found a potent weapon to fight those who fight the state. The weapon is life and livelihood of thousands to adivasis. And human rights activists and civil society in the other India realises it now, when the situation has gone out of control. In between all this, there are 30000 people living in camps in conditions worse than most of us can imagine (probably forever), and in between all this are 500 people (the official figure of 70 not being disputed in your report is surprising) who are gunned down by maoists, and in between all this is the very fabric of the tribal society. More on that later. First things first.

Why is there a demand to the maoists to give details of the people killed by them? Are we trying to compartmentalize the dead? Are we trying to imply that some of the dead are should-be-dead and some are not. We have to realise that there is nobody, absolutely nobody, who belongs to the not-good-to-be-alive category. A policeman, a policeman's family, a health worker, a teacher, an aanganwadi worker, a salwa-zudoom supporter, a maoist, all have a right to live, and no one, including the security forces and maoists can take that away from them. We, especially the proponents of human rights, should realise that we cannot divide the dead into good-dead and the bad-dead. Any such report must unequivocally condemn the killing of human beings by maoists. There is no excuse to take human lives.

I would love to give you examples. Last time I went to Dantewada, there was this person who was killed by the maoists the day before. He was a salwa zudoom supporter and by fearing reprisal, had taken shelter in a camp near Raipur. He left his family in his village and had on that day come there to visit his family. He was supposed to leave the very same day but was killed before that. Now, he was a father-of-three, husband-of-a-woman, brother-of-another, and son-of-yet-another. Did he deserve to die? Even if he was not a father of three, and all those, did he deserve to die? I would love to give you more examples. There was a doctor who was gunned down by maoists (yes, they acknowledged it and it was not a story fabricated by police) around 30 km from Konta. Yes, the doctor was "foolish enough" to take a police escort while visiing Konta. Maoists killed him and three other policemen. Did he deserve to die? There were a couple of contractors who were building a road from Dantewada to Nakulnar, despite warnings by maoists. They were killed. There was a young shiksha-karmi who was brutally beaten up in Sukma by maoists. I don't know the reason, neither did I try to find out because when I saw him in Bacheli hospital I could not think of any reason good enough to justify such a beating. A young panchayat sarpanch was gunned down last year by maoists. The salwa-judoom was in its initial stages at that time. Did any of them deserve to die?

Back in 1995, when I was in school, I was going to Hyderabad to see a doctor, as there qwere no good hospital 500 km from Dantewada. It was a APSRTC bus. 30 km before Bhadrachallam some masked men signalled the bus to stop. The driver ignored them thinking that the instruction from his bosses were good enough to save his life. But he had to stop after 500 mts. as they had cut the trees on the road. And then I saw around 30 well-fed men beating a single-hapless-driver and a single-hapless-conductor. Nobody was bold enough to stop them. I cried. They burnt the bus and said that another bus is coming, removed the logs from the road, of course ensured that the passengers and their belongings are safe, and left the driver and conductor to die. They must have died in a day or two. Did they deserve to die? How can someone witness such a scene and then not hate maoists for what they do?

Naxalism must not be supported because they kill people. 'We don't kill innocent people' is their refrain. But anyone who supports their methods has to realise that there is no one not-innocent enough to be killed. Killing cannot be an answer to anything. That is rule number zero of life.

Now coming back to the report. It claims that the Salwa-judoom has forced adivasis to leave their home and land. I totally agree with you. Actually, it is the administration which is forcing them to relocate to those camps. The naga batallion claims to guard them, but in all measures use the women and kids as a human shield to guard themselves against potential maoist attacks. The condition of these camps are horrifying and thousands will die if blankets are not provided immediately. Mr. Karma won't do that. We will have to do that. But since when has India cared about its tribals, their lives and their livelihoods? I see a void here and was relying on your report to fill that space. I was surprised to see that despite 14 highly educated members visiting those camps at the onset of winter, there was no demand to improve the condition of those camps. That is the urgent requirement. Beleive me, the fact-finding team were best equipped to bring up this issue. And there should not be any delay in demanding urgent releif materials for them.

I don't think anyone can counter the fact that Salwa Judoom is there to stay. Administration has found its weapon. It might be a weapon of mass-destruction, but they won't abandon the project. The more maoists turn violent, the more they loose support among tribals. Salwa judoom would not have gained prominence had the maoists not reacted to it so violently right from the start. Now that the maoists have proved how much they respect adivasi lives and people opposing them, the government won't back down. They were able to break the backbone of the movement, but it would soon emerge again. Any such report, or national and international coverage will lead to the CG government abandoning it. People will continue living in those temporary shelter probably for years. 57 years of independence could not bring the adivasis peace, dignity, right to land and right to live. Nor will it be achived in the next few years. It would be naive to beleive that naxalites are fighting for the people. They are not. They are fighting for an ideology. An ideology, that despite everything, suppresses dissent and beleives that torture and taking human lives is an answer to everything. When they see the exploitation of tribals by contractors and non-tribals, they see it not as a threat to the adivasis, but as an oppurtunity for them to promote their own ideology. And by asking the tribals to take up guns, instead of enlightening them about peacefully demanding their rights, they ensure that the government supports the exploiters. Where does all this lead to?

So, the debate should be how best to counter it. How best to improve the current situation? How best to turn this threat into an oppurtunity. Here, my personal opinion is that it should be the human rights activists who should lead a Salwa Zudoom kind of movement. A true peace movement, which abhors violence in any form. A movement, which should be strong enough to withstand violent attacks by either side. They should talk to the ground level symphathesizers of Salza Zudoom and impress upon him the importance of human lives. Impress upon them that they should not be puppets in the hands of either Mr. Karma or the government, or the maoists.

Maoists have a high degree of awareness quotient. When they visit a rural health center, you can find out if the person is a maoist by the way he talks. He woould ask 'why the doctor is not there' and demand his right in a confident voice. That confidence should be transferred to the villagers. Maoists can do it but won't, lest they loose their clout among villagers. Empowering villages and decentralization can achieve these goals. When adivasis demand for the basic services like health, education and livelihood, from the administration with conviction that would be an ideal situation.

Here I feel that it should not be the home ministry that is most actively involved in counter-naxalism. The department of panchayati raj should be the one leading it. Only true decentralization and micro-management of resources can be a long term solution to naxalism. Everything else is a temporary solution, maybe ephemeral. There should be specific reservation for adivasis (one from each family) in the industrial training institutes, and ensure that they get jobs in local mines and other industries. The steel plant near Dilmili is going to come up in near future. Despite all protests and processions, let's accept that it is going to come up. At least we can make sure that when it does come up, the local people and adivasis are the ones who are best equipped to gain from it. Here we should note that adivasis also deserve and want a better life. For those who argue that precious adivasi culture would be lost in this way, 'Culture bachane ka beeda hamesha gareebo and kamzoro par hi kyu padta hai, jab aisa chillane wale shaharo me achchi shiksha pakar araam se jee rahe hote hai'?

The salwa zudoom should be turned into an upliftment programme. It should be more than a fighting force and human armour. The camps can be made a homogenised unit, with training and examples set for local self-governance. With these people on the side of the administration, they should be imparted more skills. Advance farming methods should be taught to them and they should learn to grow non-traditional crops which give better revenue. Bastar landscape is ideal to grow mushroom and some ayurvedic herbs. Bastar art, the local art of craftsmanship, should be publicised nationally and internationally. Bastar has too much to give to this nation and local people is where it should start from. These camps can be centres to cultivate excellence, so that when they return to their homes they are better and empowered people. All this so that a ban on 'tendu-patta-sangrahan' does not threaten their life and existence in future.


At 5:20 am, Blogger Mainak said...

had barely recovered from last nights's "hazaron khwayishen aisi" shot when i bumped onto this post...that too while listening to "bandeh"..was psyching but definitely nice to discover a gem of a post

At 9:44 am, Blogger Anoop Saha said...

Thanks Manak.

I am also a great fan of both Indian Ocean and Hazaaron Khwaishen Aisi. :-)

At 5:05 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very well researched article Anoop... It is really painful to see my birthplace bleeding so profusely due to naxal violence...There was a time when I alongwith my friends used to spend countless hours in the lap of nature... & today I am told those inviting woods have become frightening... So much have changed in the last 12 years when I left that place.. The innocent adivasis are being used as cannon-fodder by mean and ruthless naxalites to achieve their own ill-conceived ends... Is it the 2nd Kashmir in making??? Off-course homegrown this time..
Prabhat Bhardwaj

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