When the Supreme Court in 2011 banned the Salwa Judum, a state-sponsored tribal militia propped up to counter Maoists in Chhattisgarh, it ordered the state government to investigate and register FIRs against all alleged criminal activities of the Salwa Judum.
In addition to allegations of murder (500 cases) and arson (103 cases), 99 affidavits were submitted to the Supreme Court accusing the tribal militia of rape. Women have been victimised by the Salwa Judum says the lawyer. AFP Two years after the judgment, the state is yet to register its first FIR against the Salwa Judum for sexual violence. “Where ever there is a war, women are the most vulnerable. In the Salwa Judum case itself there are affidavits in the Supreme Court regarding some 99 rapes and the court has to decide what to do about them. I personally had taken up the cases of six women that had not been registered by the Superintendent of Police. They had filed a private complaint and given their statements before the Magistrate. But ultimately they had to take back those statements under pressure and were not able to pursue them,” says Sudha Bharadwaj, Bilaspur-based advocate and General Secretary of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) in Chhattisgarh. Expressing her disappointment to instances of the system’s unresponsiveness to injustices against tribals, Bharadwaj says, “When people have tried to raise issues in court, they have often been victimised. Cases of human rights violations have been pending before the Supreme Court, the High Court, the National Human Rights Commisssion (NHRC) years. Even in the recent Sarkeguda Judicial Enquiry, people have given their affidavits but nothing has happened so far. Unfortunately our institutions are failing people.” On 25 May, Mahendra Karma, the architect of Salwa Judum, was among the 28 people who were gunned down in a brutal attack by Maoists who opened fire on a convoy of Congress leaders while they were returning from a political rally. A recent statement issued by the PUCL condemning the cold blooded attack on unarmed political workers of the Congress party and as “unacceptable” and “reprehensible” draws attention to the ongoing cycle of violence in the state. “Under no circumstances can acts of brutality be justified, even if they be in response to equally heinous and brutal acts unleashed by the security forces, as we are seeing presently in Chhattisgarh, as recently as the killing of eight innocent tribal villagers in Edasmeta village of South Bastar on 17 May and 18 May, 2013, or in response to the brutalities committed by the vigilante Salwa Judum founded by the deceased Mahendra Karma,” reads the PUCL statement. Speaking about the apprehensions of tribals about fresh military operations by the government following last week’s attack, Bharadwaj says, “The Chhattisgarh PUCL has condemned the attack by Maoists in no uncertain terms. However, our great concern is that the only response we find from both the State and the Central government is of stepping up militarisation. While we totally appreciate the concerns on the law and order front, the basic democratic issues of the people of this region have to be kept in mind, they have to be addressed. Otherwise, it will be impossible to de-escalate this violence, to reduce the alienation of the tribal people.” A big concern that has now is the danger of displacement due to further militarisation of the region, says Bharadwaj. “In the course of the hearing of the Salwa Judum case, the NHRC had recommended that all internally-displaced persons should be rehabilitated in their villages. We seriously fear that with increased militarisation there might be more people fleeing. This should not be the case. Counter-insurgency operations should not become ground-clearing operations,” says Bharadwaj. Humanitarian medical agencies such as the MSF and Red Cross which are already operating in Bastar should be given free access to the region to provide medical care in order not to risk “criminalising an entire population” she adds. “That will lead to serious collateral damage. A lot of innocent adivasis will get killed.” Urging for better sense to prevail, Bharadwaj refers to the government’s own reports that have argued at looking at left-wing extremism as more than a crisis of law and order. “The recommendations of the Expert Group of the Planning Commission on Left Wing Extremism, the Report of the Ministry of Rural Development, the NC Saxena Report on implementation of forest rights, and the recent letter of the Union Minister for Tribal Affairs Kishore Chandra Deo all speak very strongly about the importance of implementing PESA and the Forest Rights Act in its true spirit, about empowering the Gram Sabhas, about the need for taking people in confidence before mining or industrialization, and how these are the underlying issues which are feeding Naxalism. If they are not addressed, and people continue to be displaced or criminalised, it will result in further spiraling of violence,” says Bharadwaj.