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No nod for Salwa Judum February 28, 2007

Posted by naxalwatch in Uncategorized.

State police has reservations about arming villagers, Nishit Dholabhai explains why

As Dhanai Kishor sipped tea at a roadside dhaba, four gun-toting policemen stood guard. That’s all there is left to the status of the president of Nagarik Suraksha Samiti (NSS), besides a state-gifted vehicle to travel.

Kishor is a disappointed man. Last year, his outfit was responsible for eliminating as many as 13 Naxalities, besides having got several arrested.

But instead of encouraging them further, the police have distanced itself from the activities of their group, which is quite similar to that of Salwa Judum in the neighbouring state of Chhattisgarh. Kishor’s team still operates in East Singhbhum and in Mayurbhanj district of Orissa. But the going has got tougher with time.

“Support from the police is not consistent anymore,” he adds.

Unlike Chhattisgarh, where Opposition leader Mahendra Karma and the ruling BJP have joined hands to promote Salwa Judum, Jharkhand has decided to follow a different path.

In a move that has taken many by surprise and is likely to start off a debate on Salwa Judum in the several Naxalite-affected states, opposition to the state-supported vigilante groups has not come from human rights groups or NGOs. It has come from within the Jharkhand police itself.

Top police officials believe Salwa Judum is deepening fissures within the tribal society in Bastar. The so-called “peace march” has created clear-cut divisions, which could well result in a “civil war” of sorts, they say.

In 2005, Kishor had initiated the move of grouping together villagers to fight the Naxalites. The government had supported the basic idea, but it had its own reservations and questions on state-sponsored measures.

“We don’t think Salwa Judum is working. It is not right for Jharkhand,” a top police officer in Ranchi said very clearly.

The police reaction has been questioned by some. Especially, as they point out, 16 of the 22 states are Naxalite-affected. And what’s leading to it is the complete breakdown of any form of governance in the state. In Dantewada district, the nucleus of Salwa Judum, hundreds of villagers remain in camps protected by policemen.

Many of them have been killed by their fellow villagers, who have decided to side with the Naxalites, instead of joining these camps. Those in the camp, in turn, have been armed by the state to take on their fellow villagers, now turned foes. Between them a battleline has been drawn and where it can lead to is anybody’s guess.

“Living conditions in these camps are miserable,” said Tridib Ghosh, a member of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL). Ghosh admitted there was a lot in the state that had changed. The biggest problem today was the total lack of governance.

In the past five years, the state has taken few initiatives to implement schemes at the grassroots. With growing discontent, the Naxalite threats, too, grew.

An action plan to counter this growing Naxalite movement was prepared a year and a half back. Much time has passed but implementation of the plan has been limited only to modernisation of the police force and increasing fighting capabilities.

The other important aspects of rural economic and political development remain sadly ignored.

The centrally-sponsored Rashtriya Swayam Vikas Yojana, which could have gone far in bringing development, didn’t do well, either. Only 56 per cent of the total plans actually made to the implementation stage. The health and education sectors remain in poor conditions, too. “We are going to ask the Centre for 2,000 schools,” said chief minister Madhu Koda, when asked about future plans.

The state’s allocation for the next fiscal is Rs 6,600 crore, a mere Rs 1,000 crore increase. But to complain about funds alone is just an excuse. The trend shows that utilisation from the Centre is far from desirable.

At the chief minister’s sprawling residence, groups of women protested against the “loot” by government officials in implementing the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. “Force will not help. Making people fight will not really give them their rights,” said Dayamani Barla of the Akhil Bharatiya Pragatisheel Mahila Association.

Therefore, the state’s demand of 40 more companies of paramilitary forces, may prove to be an incomplete exercise. Most districts affected by the Naxalite movement are said to be in the “struggle stage” but pockets in the state are now in the “guerrilla stage”. That may be so, but the police is not encouraging “employment of former convicts” like Kishor, alleged to have been involved in a bank robbery before setting up the NSS.


1. tpraja - March 8, 2007

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