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What is Salwa Judum?

Salwa Judum (literal meaning 'peace march' in the Gondi language) is an anti-
naxal movement in Chhattisgarh. We are calling it a movement because
officially it was a movement of the people against the naxals (Maoists). It was
started by a Cong. MLA called Mahendra Karma in 2005 in the Bastar region of
South Chhattisgarh.

What transpired in Salwa Judum?

Private citizens were given arms by the state under the garb of recruiting them
as Special Police Officers. There is a provision to recruit SPOs in the Indian
Police Act of 1861 for engaging a person to assist the police. Chhattisgarh
Police employed essentially tribal civilians who were armed with regular police
rifles. With these arms they were supposed to fight the naxals.

About 4,000 youth from Bastar were employed as SPOs in the five Naxal-
affected districts of Bastar region. They were paid an honorarium of Rs 1500
per month (later raised to Rs. 2500) and also given general training in handling
of weapons and conducting checking of vehicles and people using the roads in
the area.

Fifteen years ago in Bijapur, there was a similar thing called Jan Jagran

In effect, it amounted to raising people against people. This experiment was first
tried in Kashmir in the mid-1990s when some dissidents of the terrorist group
Hizb-ul-Mujahideen were secretly armed by the J&K police and the army and
paid to fight against the HM. This group was called Ikhwan-ul-Musalmeen. One
of the Ikhwanis, Kuka Parrey later became a MLA also. However, gradually,
the HM terrorists succeeded in killing most of them and the experiment

What was the motive?

There is a serious problem of actionable intelligence for anti-naxal operations.

In the absence of intelligence, the security forces were not able fight the naxals
properly. It was thought that the locals who are closer to the ground would have
more intelligence and thus they would be able to fight the naxals.

The official stand of the Chhattisgarh Home Minister Ram Vichar Netam was
that as security forces were unfamiliar with the difficult terrain in Bastar ,they

were forced to seek the help of local tribals. So the government had been forced
to arm these civilians for self-defence.

A section of the society also tried to argue that it was a spontaneous uprising of
the people against the depredations of the naxals. Few people bought the

Allegations against Salwa Judum

Salwa Judum volunteers were frequently accused of misusing their powers and
terrorizing villagers. Salwa Judum volunteers have had allegations of human
rights abuses, extortions, rapes and murders made against them.

Human rights organizations alleged that the civil militia employed as SPOs by
the government were operating like mercenaries and criminals. They also
alleged that the Salwa Judum SPOs conducted frequent raids on villages and
attacked and killed suspected sympathisers of naxalites, torched their houses
and looted livestock.

Consequences of Salwa Judum

Large-scale displacement of people: Villages with Salwa Judum volunteers

became targets of the Maoists forcing around 3 lakh people to abandon home
and move into relief camps.

There are 23 Salwa Judum camps in Bijapur and Dantewara districts of Bastar
region where almost 50,000 tribals from over 600 villages have been settled.

Since the launch of Salwa Judum in June 2005, more than 800 people, including
some 300 security personnel, were killed by naxals.

A chronological account of the legal battle against Salwa Judum

Civil rights organizations like the PUCL approached the Supreme Court against
the Salwa Judum.

Initially the state government tried to deny everything. The state government
maintained that Salwa Judum was not a state-sponsored movement and said that
action would be taken if any Judum activist violated the law.

April 1, 2008

Hearing two petitions seeking a direction to the state government to refrain from
allegedly supporting and encouraging the Salwa Judum, a Bench comprising
Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan and Justice Aftab Alam said: “It is a question of
law and order. You cannot give arms to somebody (a civilian) and allow him to
kill. You will be an abettor of the offence under Section 302 of the Indian Penal

The Bench said a neutral agency should inquire and assess whether people had
joined Salwa Judum camps on their own.

August 11, 2008

The SC directed the Chhattisgarh government to explain its stand as to why

Salwa Judum should not be disbanded; by when schools would be vacated by
security forces; what they had done by way of rehabilitation and compensation
for all those affected regardless of perpetrator – whether Salwa Judum or
Naxalites; what they had done to register criminal cases, and their response to
an independent committee to oversee rehabilitation and criminal prosecution.

Sept. 20, 2008

The Supreme Court asked the Chhattisgarh government to implement some of

the recommendations of the National Human Rights Commission, which went
into the activities of the Salwa Judum set up by the State to tackle naxal

The NHRC submitted, in a sealed cover, a report to the court, which had asked
it to probe the allegations that the Salwa Judum, which had been provided with
arms, was committing atrocities on innocent people.

A Bench comprising Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan and Justices P.

Sathasivam and J.M. Panchal was hearing a petition filed by Nandini Sundar,
Ramachandra Guha and E.A.S. Sarma. They challenged the setting up of the
Salwa Judum which, they alleged, was indulging in killings and committing
atrocities on tribals in the guise of countering the naxal movement.

The Chief Justice, who perused the NHRC report, told senior counsel K.K.
Venugopal, appearing for Chhattisgarh, that the commission “has done a
meticulous work. It has given a series of recommendations. It is very painful to
read the report. It says there is arson and looting, people are armed and they

[Salwa Judum] are committing serious offences. It says people who are
subjected to serious problems are still afraid of coming out.”

The Chief Justice observed: “When somebody [Salwa judum] is given arms, he
claims to be a pseudo police. Once he is given arms, he will commit an offence
though he has no right to do any such act. Some remedial measures have been
suggested in the report and the State may consider implementing them.
Whatever is urgently required to be done, do it.”

The NHRC report

The NHRC report, it was disclosed by the media, was rather intriguing.

The Supreme Court-appointed NHRC investigation into Salwa Judum went on

to justify government-sponsored arming of civilians by calling it a "spontaneous
revolt of the tribals against years of atrocities and harassment suffered by them
at the hands of Naxalites".

The 118-page report, submitted to SC, also dismissed most of the allegations of
human rights abuses made by the petitioners in the apex court, including widely
reported use of minors by Salwa Judum. Instead , the report was harsh on
Naxalites for human rights abuses and saw action by Salwa Judum activists
from the prism of necessary retaliation.

Only at a few places NHRC blamed Salwa Judum for excesses like looting and
burning of houses or made note of the fact that many who joined did not come

The report also pointed out that police cases were not filed against excesses by
both Salwa Judum and Naxalites.

The running thread in the report was critical of Naxalites and blamed them for
everything. As an afterthought, the last paragraph of the report suddenly wakes
up to the fact that socio-economic deprivation has resulted in the growth of
naxalism. Therefore, it suggests "multi-pronged approach” along with security-
centric solutions.

The NHRC enquiry team also "did not find the Salwa Judum to be involved in
asserting the right to control, intimidate and punish anyone they consider to be a
suspected Naxalite" , the report said. "Salwa Judum is primarily restricted to
relief camps being run with government support," it added.

NHRC also did not "come across any evidence to suggest that the district
administration had deliberately withdrawn any development activity or service
from a village because the villagers had not supported Salwa Judum".

Admitting that "Salwa Judum movement has lost its momentum now" and was
merely restricted to the 23 relief camps in the Dantewada and Bijapur districts
of Chhattisgarh, the NHRC team recommended that authorities should continue
to provide them adequate security cover in the camps and, in the long run,
create conditions for the safe return of all the displaced families.

Dec. 16, 2008

The Chhattisgarh Government admitted in the Supreme Court that Salwa Judum
and security forces had burnt houses and looted property and compensation has
been ordered to the families of the victims of these atrocities.

Chhattisgarh Government said it had passed an appropriate order that residents

of uninhabited villages would be rehabilitated and that residents of camps
would be given rations and health protection.

Further, it said that security forces should not occupy schools or ashram
buildings, which had been a long standing demand of the human rights
movement in different parts of the country.

Sept. 1, 2010

The Center also filed affidavit as ordered by the court. The Center informed the
Supreme Court that Salwa Judum, constituted by the Chhattisgarh government
to deal with Naxal violence, was on the way out and it was not extending any
support to the militia.

It said: “We have instructed the State government not to extend any support to
Salwa Judum activists or to any private armed group.”

The court was not satisfied with the response of the Chhattisgarh government
also that has been mentioned above. It said the affidavit was lacking in
particulars and sounded as if the State government was holding a brief for
Salwa Judum and also holding back information. The court said that there was
no mention of the number of complaints against Salwa Judum activists, what
action had been taken, how many cases were registered and what happened to

Oct. 22, 2010


The Supreme Court expressed displeasure that Salwa Judum and special police
officers (SPOs) appointed to counter Maoists were reportedly still active in
Chattisgarh despite assurances by the state government to the contrary.

"You said Salwa Judum is on way out, SPOs are no more there and we get to
hear about their activities," a bench comprising Justice B Sudershan Reddy and
Justice SS Nijjar said.

Feb. 11, 2011

The Salwa Judum movement has been abandoned, said Chhattisgarh chief
minister Raman Singh admitting that it had proved to be counterproductive.

"Innocent people were being killed," admitted Singh. Singh added, however,
that a "peaceful campaign" to wean locals away from supporting Maoists would