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India: Press release by petitioners in response to supreme court order on Salwa Judum

8 July 2011

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PRESS RELEASE

STATEMENT ON SUPREME COURT ORDER DATED 5.7.11 ON SALWA JUDUM/SPOs BY JUSTICE SUDERSHAN REDDY AND JUSTICE SS NIJJAR

We warmly welcome the order by Justice Reddy and Justice Nijjar directing the State of Chhattisgarh to stop using SPOs in counterinsurgency operations, disarm them and stop supporting vigilante movements by any name. We also welcome the order to the Centre directing it to cease from financially supporting SPOs to engage in counterinsurgency.

Judging from the personal reactions we have had – from a very wide variety of people many of whom we do not even know – the order has been widely hailed as a landmark restatement of constitutional values. If the state is to be recognised as legitimate it must act lawfully and cannot sacrifice the law and Constitution for immediate expediency. As the judges have so succinctly observed “the power of the people vested in any organ of the State, and its agents, can only be used for promotion of constitutional values and vision.” However, judging by the reaction of the Home Ministry and the Chhattisgarh government, this basic constitutional principle is being willfully ignored. This simply reinforces the point that the judgement makes about the way in which the respondents are undermining the Constitution and thereby the basic human values enshrined in it. Instead of accepting the Court order for the sake of good governance and the national interest, they are talking about a review petition.

Right from 2007 when the case was first heard before the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the highest court in the land has consistently maintained that the state cannot arm civilians. This, it is clear from the record, has been the considered opinion of not simply Justices Reddy and Nijjar, who issued the present order, but of the judges at previous hearings, such as Justice Balakrishnan, Justice Kapadia, and Justice Aftab Alam.

That the SPOs and Salwa Judum have been engaged in horrific crimes is a matter of record. The judgement therefore directs the State of Chhattisgarh to “investigate all previously inappropriately or incompletely investigated instances of alleged criminal activities of Salwa Judum, or those popularly known as Koya Commandos, filing of appropriate FIRs and diligent prosecution.”

At the same time, the judgement is as much a lesson for the Maoists as for the government. It makes it clear that the Maoists too cannot take the law into their own lands. For when the Constitution does swing into action, it has the power of people’s aspirations behind it, and is a far more powerful and credible weapon in their hands than the gun. As the judges say, “the fight against Maoist/Naxalite violence cannot be conducted purely as a mere law and order problem to be confronted by whatever means the State can muster. The primordial problem lies deep within the socio-economic policies pursued by the State on a society that was already endemically, and horrifically, suffering from gross inequalities. Consequently, the fight against Maoists/Naxalites is no less a fight for moral, constitutional and legal authority over the minds and hearts of our people. Our constitution provides the gridlines within which the State is to act, both to assert such authority, and also to initiate, nurture and sustain such authority.”

We therefore appeal to the Maoists to join all right thinking citizens in hailing this historic judgement and to desist from harming SPOs, or any other group of citizens in any way. They should be allowed to peacefully reintegrate into their villages. We also appeal to both the Maoists and the government to initiate peace talks on the basis of justice and constitutional principles, since ultimately that is the only way forward.

Nandini Sundar, Ramachandra Guha, EAS Sarma

(Petitioners in WP 250/2007)

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