Court order pulls the plug on Salwa Judum

July 7, 2011

By Annie Banerji

In a case where the federal government was excoriated due to its passivity on anti-extremist violence, India’s Supreme Court took matters into its own hands to rein in the Salwa Judum counter-insurgency movement in the central state of Chhattisgarh.

The apex court on Tuesday prohibited the recruitment of tribal youth as special police officers (SPOs) in the Salwa Judum, which means “campaign for peace”.

“The appointment of tribal youth as SPOs, who are barely literate, for temporary periods, and armed with firearms, had endangered and will necessarily endanger the human rights of others in society,” the judiciary said in its order.

Salwa Judum, which originated in Chhattisgarh in 2005, is a people’s movement against Maoist insurgents.

Quite contrary to its name, Salwa Judum is anything but peaceful. The anti-Maoist movement, adopted by the state government to reinstate democratic governance to affected regions, functions with guns, sticks and bows and arrows against not only left-wing extremists, but apparently also security personnel and innocent tribal folk.

Since the time of its inception, Judum members have been accused of looting houses, burning down villages and causing the displacement of thousands of tribal people.

The Supreme Court in 2007 appointed the National Human Rights Commission of India (NHRC), an autonomous statutory body of the government, to investigate Salwa Judum.

The NHRC report substantiated the government sponsored arming of civilians, sometimes forcefully, saying it was a “spontaneous revolt of the tribals against years of atrocities and harassment suffered by them at the hands of Naxalites”.

Both the Indian home minister and Chhattisgarh chief minister had praised Salwa Judum in 2009, noting that SPOs are the answer to the Naxal threat.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court bench ordered the central government to cease funding for SPO recruitments and decried the state government’s claim that it was providing livelihood to youth by assigning them as SPOs.

The judges have directed authorities to retract all firearms from the government-backed counter-insurgency members, who are said to have killed about 500 left-wing extremists in the past three years, to stop the vicious cycle of brutality in the state.

Though “workaholic” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh may assert that he is no lame duck, it seems in his second term, the Supreme Court has had to step in a few times too many in cases like the 2G spectrum allocation scandal, illicit Indian funds hidden abroad and now the anti-Maoist forces.

Does this imply that the prime minister lacks initiative or does it mean the conflict between the Maoists, Salwa Judum and innocent civilians is not high enough on his priority list?

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