Variously called the Peace March, Fight from Freedom and Purification Hunt, Salva Judum — a group of people in Chhattisgarh who have risen against the Maoists — has managed to attract both admiration and criticism from various quarters. The story of how it came into existence in June 2005 is now part of Bastar folklore. Depending upon who the narrator is, the tale swings between heroic and exploitative. Though there aren’t many contradictions about its origin, the difference lies in the nuances and interpretation.
It is quite simple actually. In June 2005, a tractor carrying police ration was driving from Kutru to Bedre police station in west Bastar. Members of the Maoist Sangham (People’s Militia), who primarily were the local tribals, looted the tractor and disappeared in the jungle. When the police found out, it swooped upon the village where the actual looting took place, caught a few tribals, including senior, respectable members of the community and beat them up. A few were put behind bars. This angered the tribals no end. Curiously, this anger was not directed against the police who had beaten the senior members of the tribe, but against the Sangham who looted the police tractor, thereby forced the police to beat them up. Anyway, the narrative goes that seeing the resentment of the tribals, the police let them off with the challenge that if indeed they had not looted the police ration then they must bring the culprits to the police.
To prove their innocence, the tribal seniors caught hold of the Sangham members and handed them over to the police. This angered Naxals. They attacked the village and killed a few tribals. The tribal anger against the Naxals boiled over. They decided to take matters in their hands. Forming groups, they started having meetings to work out a plan against the Naxals. One meeting was held in Tarmendri in June 2005, where Maoists attacked and killed 10-15 villagers. Next meeting was held in Matwara on June 18. Following this, a group comprising 10,000-12,000 tribals went to Kotrapal village for another meeting. Maoists struck again, kidnapping 10-15 villagers and killing five of them. By now the tribals were raging. A few days later, another meeting was held in Bijapur which was attended by 25,000 people. Even as the people were constantly travelling across villages and mobilising support, Congress leader and the head of the Congress Legislative Party in Chhattisgarh, Mahendra Karma, who belongs to the same tribe which spearheaded the campaign saw an opportunity here and extended his leadership to the movement. He christened it Salva Judum.