Frankenstein’s Monster

The LWE menace needs more than small and periodic ameliorative measures

Ghazala Wahab

A personnel carrier destroyedSometimes imagination can be as dangerous as lack of it. In 2005, the state Congress leader in Chhattisgarh, Mahendra Karma was struck by what he must have thought a masterstroke: Pitting people against people. This would accrue multiple benefits, for him personally and for the BJP-run state government.

One, it would discredit the Maoists as terrorists, who do not enjoy the support of the people. Two, the government need not work on addressing the socio-economic grievances of the people because there are none. The only grievance is terrorism unleashed by the Maoists for which strong action by the police and the Paramilitary is required; and three, it would earn Chhattisgarh government brownie points over other states, because in no other states afflicted by the Left-wing extremism (LWE) scourge, had people risen against the Maoists.

Hence, both state government and the opposition joined hands to create Salwa Judum, which they called a historic movement. In reality it was a loosely-armed, ill-trained militia comprising emaciated tribal to fight hard-core, well-trained and well-equipped Left-wing terrorists. Of course, the government just stopped short of calling Maoists terrorists; though some angry Congressmen did use the ‘T’ word after the ghastly killing of Mahendra Karma during a pre-election rally earlier this year.

It was an idea alright, but a terrible one; the horror of Salwa Judum unfolded over the next few years, as Chhattisgarh witnessed terrible massacres, targeted killings and massive dislocation of the tribal population from their villages and cultivation fields. A large number of people were rendered homeless in their own areas, fleeing their homes for refugee camps, set up by the state government to house Salwa Judum; with their livelihood gone, they became dependent on government largesse for survival. Young men and boys, some as small as 16 years old, were enrolled as Special Police Officers (SPO) for salaries as low as Rs 1,000 per month. The idea eventually culminated in the assassination of Karma.

But long before the Maoists extracted their grisly revenge on Karma and his fellow Congressmen, human rights activists and the civil society had started a campaign against disbandment of Salwa Judum. The state government then recruited the young and able-bodied men from within the movement as SPOs; some were rechristened as Koya commandos, basically to show that very few people lived in the camps.

However, acting on a writ petition filed in 2007, the Supreme Court in 2011 ordered the Chhattisgarh state government to:

• immediately cease and desist from using SPOs in any manner… directly or indirectly, aimed at controlling, countering, mitigating or otherwise eliminating Maoist/Naxalite activities in the State of Chattisgarh; • make every effort to recall all firearms issued to any of the SPOs… The word firearm as used shall include any and all forms of guns, rifles, launchers etc., of whatever caliber;

• take all appropriate measures to prevent the operation of any group, including but not limited to Salwa Judum and Koya commandos, that in any manner or form seek to take law into private hands, act unconstitutionally or otherwise violate the human rights of any person. The measures to be taken by the State of Chhattisgarh shall include, but not be limited to, investigation of all previously inappropriately or incompletely investigated instances of alleged criminal activities of Salwa Judum, or those popularly known as Koya commandos, filing of appropriate FIRs and diligent prosecution.

The Supreme Court ordered the Government of India to:

• cease and desist, forthwith, from using any of its funds in supporting, directly or indirectly the recruitment of SPOs for the purposes of engaging in any form of counterinsurgency activities against Maoist/ Naxalite groups.

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