The Prime Minister, Government of India
Chief Minister, Government of Chhattisgarh
As members of an Independent Citizens’ Initiative, we visited different parts of Dantewara District in Chhattisgarh from the 17th to the 22nd of May 2006 and met with a cross-section of people with different perspectives on the ongoing conflict in the district. In particular, we met a large number of adivasis in their villages, in relief camps and in jail. We also met the Chief Secretary and other senior officials, the Collectors of Dantewara and Bastar, the IG Police at Jagdalpur, and Shri Mahendra
Karma, the Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly and the prime mover of Salwa Judum.
Our views and findings are briefly as follows.
- At the very outset, we wish to register our outright condemnation of any kind of violence,
whether it is committed by the Maoists, Salwa Judum or by security forces and the police. We are aware
that the Maoists have committed several brutal acts of violence in which innocent lives have been
lost. We whole-heartedly condemn such brutalities.
- At the same time, we wish to state here that any counter-insurgency operation founded on
violence in response to violence is totally unsustainable, especially when it fails to distinguish between
combatants and non-combatants. By resorting to such an approach, the government is questioning
the efficacy of democratic means of finding solutions to problems and of all lawful procedures. It
is justifying the Maoist notion that ultimately only the gun has power.
- From what we have seen, Salwa Judum is not the "spontaneous peoples’ movement" it is made
out to be. It appears to be fully sponsored and supported by various government agencies.
- The local civil administration is in a state of collapse. The Salwa Judum has been taken over
by lumpen elements prone to running a parallel administration, which is completely unaccountable.
The leadership of the Salwa Judum appears to be drawn from the very section that has been
responsible for exploiting the adivasis. Unless Salwa Judum is disbanded forthwith, the government
will lose all control.
- While the acts of violence committed by the Maoists are reported, there has been no recognition
of similar acts committed by Salwa Judum, the local police or the para-military forces. We have
ourselves come across several unrecorded instances of killing, gang rape and other violence against
women, arson, looting and forced displacement of villagers committed by Salwa Judum workers
and the para-military forces. The deaths are said to number in the hundreds. Many adivasis are
languishing in jails for months on false charges. Many are missing. In those cases, no magisterial
enquiries, mandatory under the law of the land, have ever been conducted. An independent and
impartial inquiry alone would reveal the nature and magnitude of violence and the identity of the
culprits in each case.
- Salwa Judum has spread an all-pervasive fear and terror not just among adivasis, but also
among journalists, shopkeepers, bus drivers etc. All those that fail to side with the Judum are at once
termed "Maoist" and brutally dealt with. It is essential to maintain a distinction between
civilians and combatants.
Minors are being armed (with .303s) and made to man checkpoints. Civilians, especially
minors, cannot be used as shields or substitutes for military or police forces. By using civilians as combatants
the Salwa Judum has fractured tribal society grievously.
- We found very little sensitivity towards adivasi problems in terms of food security, health,
education and control over natural resources. Instead, we found prejudice, condescension and disregard for
people’s basic rights – the very attitudes that drove them to support the Maoists in the first
place. The government appears to have no solution regarding the livelihood needs of people resettled
along the road.
- The Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act, 2005 creates a wide scope for human rights
violations that make a mockery of the democratic norms enshrined in our constitution.
Against this background, we earnestly appeal to the Central and State Governments to proceed as follows:
- Keeping in view the enormous havoc that it has already caused, disband Salwa Judum with
- Enable the adivasis in the relief camps to return to their villages before the monsoon sets in, so
that they can attend to their agricultural activities.
- Institute an independent and credible enquiry into all incidents of violence committed by
any organization, whether it is the Maoists, the local police, the para-military forces or Salwa Judum
and take stringent action against all those concerned.
- Shun violence as part of the counter-insurgency strategy and, instead, recognize the urgent
socioeconomic factors that lie at the core of adivasi concerns.
- Announce a comprehensive set of confidence building measures under Schedule V of the
Constitution and accord unambiguous recognition to the adivasi entitlement over natural resources viz. land,
forest, minerals etc.
- Restore good governance in the district by replacing its senior functionaries by those with
proven track record, aptitude and sensitivity in addressing adivasi problems.
- Repeal the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act, 2005.
- Announce an unconditional cease-fire and call the Maoists for a National Dialogue on all issues that concern the well-being of the people in general, and adivasis in particular. Since both the Maoist threat and tribal concerns go beyond the political boundaries of Chhattisgarh, it is imperative that these are addressed at the national level, collectively by the Central and the State Governments.
We believe that, as a democratically elected entity, the Central and the State Governments will heed our appeal. We have separately issued an open letter to the CPI (Maoist) and a copy of the same is enclosed for your information.
Ramachandra Guha (Historian and Columnist, Bangalore), Harivansh (Editor, Prabhat Khabar, Ranchi),Farah Naqvi (Writer and Activist, New Delhi), EAS Sarma (former Secretary, Government of India, Visakhapatnam), Nandini Sundar (Professor of Sociology, Delhi University), B. G. Verghese (former editor, Hindustan Times, Indian Express, New Delhi).