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India: What about Salwa Judam’s of Kashmir, Northeast, Bihar and Orissa? - Windup all illegal militias used by the state

Selected commentary in the media and statements by rights groups

by sacw.net, 13 July 2011

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Editorials in the press and statements from human rights groups following the landmark ruling by India’s supreme court in the Salwa judam case.

I Editorials

1.

Deccan Herald

Editorial

Illegal militias

July 8 [2011]

’’Violations of rights in tribal areas were rampant.’’

The Supreme Court’s declaration as illegal the recruiting of tribals into anti-Maoist militias in Chhattisgarh will have ramifications not only for anti-Maoist operations in the state but for India’s counter-insurgency operations in other parts of the country. The apex court ruling is a slap on the face of the BJP government. Since 2005, the Chhattisgarh government has been raising the Salwa Judum, an anti-Maoist militia which it claimed was a volunteer force. Unskilled and illiterate tribal youth were armed to take on the vastly superior Maoists for a small sum. In the process the conflict in Chhattisgarh turned into a civil war, pitting tribals against each other. It raised violence to unprecedented levels. Human rights violations were rampant. The Supreme Court ruling should put an end to this ill-conceived strategy. The court has also rapped the Centre on the knuckles for providing the funding of this illegal militia. It has done well to insist that the SPOs should be used for routine police work alone.

Security analysts have described the Supreme Court ruling as a setback to counter-insurgency operations in Chhattisgarh. Nothing is further from the truth. Tackling an insurgency must be done using legal and constitutional methods. Adopting measures like the Salwa Judum that subvert the constitution and raise violence levels are counter-productive as they result in the forming of illegal militias that over time run amok and cannot be controlled by the state. The creation of illegal militias by the state to fight insurgents is not unique to Chhattisgarh alone and this strategy has used in other insurgency-wracked areas like Jammu and Kashmir or the Northeast. Surrendered militants are armed and sent out to fight alongside the security forces.

With the disbanding of the Salwa Judum and the disarming of the militias, their members will now return to the villages where it is more than likely that they will be targeted by the Maoists. It is the duty of the state to protect them. It used and abused them. It must now undo the mess. It cannot wash its hands off them now. The court has done well to call a halt to the Salwa Judum strategy. It must take this excellent ruling to its logical conclusion. It must call on the government to protect the former SPOs.

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2.

Kashmir Times, 7 July 2011

Editorial

SOG is the mother of Salwa Judum

Apex court’s verdict in SJ case is even more applicable to dreaded SOG in Jammu

Supreme Court’s historic judgement on Tuesday, banning the notorious Salwa Judum outfit in Naxal-affected states has a significant relevance to Jammu and Kashmir. Salwa Judum is to (mainly) BJP-ruled states what the so-called Special Operations Group (SOG) is to this state. Both the irregular outfits are actually officially patronised armed gangs let loose to terrorise civilian population. Salwa Judum was the brainchild of BJP’s communal ideology which has a built-in bias for tribals and their way of life. Its blood stained history runs parallel to that of the SOG in Kashmir, the latter being its ‘secular’ edition. Both the anti-social outfits feed upon public money and loot. Their ‘operational’ history reads like record of licensed crimes against the society.

What the apex court’s detailed judgement says in justification for banning Salwa Judum applies in letter and spirit to the SOG. The court has made two specific points: (1) That the irregular combatants, unlike legally authorised forces in uniform, are beyond the pale of discipline and accountability imposed upon duly authorised regular forces of the state and (2) that even in their own case, untrained recruits of Salwa Judum are made to deal with situations requiring fully trained regular armed personnel. Salwa Judum gained notoriety as the armed irregulars patronised and hired by the BJP ruled states performed less of their declared task and indulged more and more in witch hunting of the BJP’s ideological opponents. Tribals in Madhya Pradesh and in neighbouring states became its worst victims. Excesses and atrocities perpetrated upon them attracted world-wide condemnation but the erstwhile NDA government at the centre looked the other way while states under BJP rule continued to promote Salwa Judum.

The history and ‘achievements’ of Salwa Judum are exactly similar to those of the SOG in this part of the country. Its origin lies in the creation of abominable Ikhwanis. ‘Converted’ militants were provided official protection, armed and let loose upon their own people. Some of the worst known atrocities have been committed by this tribe of notorious elements. When the pressure of public opinion against this menace grew, the authorities devised a deceptive mechanism. SOG personnel were inducted into the ranks of regular police force wherever their exclusive outfit became too hot a potato to carry. In practical terms, the SOG is very much there; it has only been camouflaged. However, this deceptive tactic does not make any difference to the reality of what the SOG is all about.

Now that the Supreme Court has held SOG’s equivalent Salwa Judum to be an unlawful outfit and called for its immediate disbandment, authorities in J&K would be better advised to take the cue and do what ought to be done. The spirit of the judicial pronouncement in this case is stronger than its letter which confines itself to Salwa Judum for purely technical reasons. If anything, SOG has not only been used to undermine the constitution and law as interpreted by the Supreme Court, but it has also been enabled to infiltrate and poison the state’s constitutional, democratic system. Thinly disguised patronage enjoyed by Ikhwanis and their local political collaborators in legislative elections is an open secret. Their obnoxious presence within the system has fouled the atmosphere. If Salwa Judum deserves to go, SOG qualifies more strongly to follow suit.

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3.

The Hindu, July 9, 2011

Editorial

A landmark verdict

“Laws cannot remain silent when the cannons roar,” the Supreme Court of India declared earlier this week, upturning Cicero’s dictum to pronounce a historic judgment on the violent darkness that has enveloped the heart of India in Chhattisgarh. While the State and Union governments have predictably announced their intention to seek a review, the court’s decision to disarm and disband the forces of mostly young, barely literate, and poorly trained Special Police Officers (SPOs) deployed by the state in the fight against Maoist insurgents is a blow for constitutional order. “Modern constitutionalism,” the court noted, “posits that no wielder of power should be allowed to claim the right to perpetrate ... violence against anyone, much less its own citizens, unchecked by law and notions of innate human dignity of every individual.” The burden of the judgment is simple: the country does face a threat from the Maoist insurgency but any attempt by the state to use “lawless violence” as a counter will only perpetuate and intensify the cycle of violence, as “the death toll revealed by the Government of Chhattisgarh” itself indicates. By default as well as design, the SPOs — whether organised under the name of ‘Salwa Judum’ or ‘Koya Commandos’ — have become the chief instrument of this lawless and failed counter-insurgency strategy. Innocent tribals have been the primary victims, either as targets of the SPOs or as poorly trained foot soldiers in a bloody war the government is not even prepared to properly finance.

In demanding an end to the SPO system, the Supreme Court has acted as much out of concern for the hapless tribal population of Dantewada as for the tribal youth who were press-ganged by their individual circumstances into becoming “cannon fodder” for the state. Chhattisgarh as well as the Union of India were guilty of violating the fundamental rights of citizens at large and the SPOs themselves. The court has also made the link between Chhattisgarh’s illegal counter-insurgency strategy and the wider “neoliberal” approach being followed by the government at the Central and State levels. This approach is spawning disaffection among the poor and giving a boost to insurgency. The Salwa Judum is the illegitimate product of a system that sees nothing wrong in giving tax breaks to the rich and guns to the poor to fight each other, the court said. But the Constitution “is most certainly not a ‘pact for national suicide’,” it concluded in ordering an end to this state of affairs. These are profound words. Both the Union of India and Chhattisgarh must immediately implement this splendid expression of judicial wisdom, not waste time in seeking a review.

II. Statements by Human Rights organisations

1.

Peoples Union for Democratic Rights

6 July 2011

PUDR welcomes the Supreme Court Judgment against practice of arming tribal youth as SPOs in order to fight the Maoists.

People’s Union for Democratic Rights welcomes the recent judgment delivered by the Supreme Court in which it has struck down as ‘unconstitutional’ the practice of arming local tribal youth as special police officers (SPOs) in order to fight the Maoists. It has asked the state government to:

- • immediately stop using SPOs,
- • recall all firearms distributed to them,
- • desist from funding the recruitment of any other vigilante groups,
- • ensure the filing of FIRs into criminal activities committed by them, and
- • offer protection to those who need

The judgement was delivered by Justice B. Sudarshan Reddy and Justice Surinder Singh Nijjar on the writ petition filed by Nandini Sundar, Ramchandra Guha, EAS Sarma and others (Writ Petition (Civil) No (S). 250 of 2007).

PUDR welcomes the judgment as it offers a very powerful critique of what it describes as a ‘bleak and miasmic world view propounded by the respondents’. The Court indicts the state for claiming that anyone who ‘questions the conditions of inhumanity that are rampant in many parts of that state ought to necessarily be treated as Maoists, or their sympathizers’. The order condemns the respondents for reiterating the need for ‘constitutional sanction, under our Constitution, to perpetrate its policies of ruthless violence against the people of Chhattisgarh to establish a Constitutional order.’ The judgment dismisses the manufactured consent that has been created to build public opinion on the state of lawlessness prevailing in Chhattisgarh. Instead, it asserts that ‘the problem rests in the amoral political economy that the state endorses, and the resultant revolutionary politics that it spawns.’ The root cause of the problem of violence, the judgment says, lies in the ‘culture of unrestrained selfishness and greed spawned by neo-liberal economic ideology’ which promotes ‘policies of rapid exploitation of resources by private sector without creditable commitments to equitable distribution of benefits.’

As the judgment makes clear through its trenchant critique, the entire miasmic worldview —built on the premise that ‘economic growth is our only path and that the costs borne by the poor and deprived, disproportionately, are necessary costs’—violates fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution, particularly Articles 14 and 21 (equality before law and dignity of life). In a bid to contain dissatisfaction, the policy of the state to distribute guns instead of books among poor tribal youth only points to the further degeneration and dehumanization of the environment, the judgment notes.

PUDR believes that the situation in Chhattisgarh was never a law and order problem and was deliberately made into one by the ‘mandarins of high policies’ in order to protect and pursue anti-people economic policies. PUDR reiterates its belief in the judgment and hopes that the current policy of creating armed vigilante groups such as the Salwa Judum or Koya Commandos will cease immediately. PUDR applauds the efforts of the petitioners who have painstakingly gathered facts and presented them before the court since 2007.

Paramjeet Singh and Harish Dhawan

Secretaries

pudr[at]pudr.org

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2.

Amnesty International

India urged to implement court ban of anti-Maoist militias

7 July 2011

Authorities in India’s Chhattisgarh state must immediately comply with a decision by the country’s Supreme Court to disband and disarm anti-Maoist state-sponsored civil militias, Amnesty International said today.

Since 2005, civil militias known as Koya commandos are alleged to have committed serious human rights violations with the support of government security forces in Chattisgarh.

More than 3,000 people, including civilians, Maoist insurgents and members of civil militias have been killed during the last six years of insurgency in the state. All the armed forces operating in the area, including the government as well as the Maoists, have committed serious human rights violations.

"The Supreme Court’s decision to ban the civil militias is a landmark step in protecting indigenous people – adivasi – and other local communities from ongoing human rights violations," said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International’s Director for Asia and the Pacific.

"This judgment is a strong signal to other states in India that they should reconsider their decision to set up civilian militias to fight insurgents," Zarifi said.

At least 35,000 people continue to remain internally displaced after six years of insurgency in Chhattisgarh state.

The Supreme Court ordered the immediate disarming of the Koya commandos, but also called on the Indian authorities to ensure that former Koya militia members, previously known as Salwa Judum, are protected from reprisals.

"Of course people have a right to protect themselves, but as we’ve seen around the world, when governments set up civilian militias, especially without adequate training and discipline, it only increases the danger to civilians, including people who may have been former militia members," said Sam Zarifi.

India’s Supreme Court has also ordered an investigation into the latest round of serious human rights violations committed by the security forces and the Koya commandos in March this year.

Security forces and Koya commandos face credible allegations of killing three adivasis and injuring more than 20 others during a week of violence. Three women were sexually assaulted and almost 300 homes were burnt down and looted.

"An investigation into these horrific attacks on local communities is a very welcome, if overdue step. However, the Indian authorities must immediately launch an investigation into allegations of other human rights violations committed by the Koya commandos," said Sam Zarifi.

The 6,500-strong civil militia in Chhattisgarh is currently financed under a security plan by the Indian state. The government recently approved a plan for recruitment of 12,000 Special Police Officers (SPOs) in five other states affected by the Maoist insurgency. SPOs receive small salaries from the government and are armed by the authorities.

III. Relevant Reports:

’Apex court verdict unlikely to affect Orissa’

‘State sponsored vigilant group’ to counter naxal menace in Bihar

Bihar to recruit more SPOs to spy on Naxals
Militarization and its effects in NE India