A stark truth has hit the Chhattisgarh government after the release of Sukma collector Alex Paul Menon, who spent 13 days in Naxal captivity. In extended debriefing sessions with senior officials in Raipur, he has revealed that close to 70% of his abductors took up the gun in response to the Salwa Judum movement.
Menon, 32, interacted with over 100 Naxals during his captivity. Officials revealed the collector was not allowed to “'acclimatise” with his captors and his guards kept changing. While five to 10 Naxals kept guard by day, an additional five were put on sentry duty at night. He managed to have extended conversations with most of them to gain an insight into the Red movement in the state.
Menon kept a diary for the 13 days he spent with the Naxals, moving from one place to another, blindfolded, deep inside dense jungles. He wrote that the Salwa Judum — which means peace march in the Gondi language — had driven most of the rebels to take up violence. While one of his captors told Menon he was angered over houses being burnt by the so-called peace marchers in his village, another revealed that he volunteered to train as a Naxal after his parents were killed by Salwa Judum members.
According to the officials, 30% of the Naxals Menon met said they were fighting for the poor and 70% reacted in anger to what is now well-documented violence by the Salwa Judum. Eighty per cent of the rebels were illiterate and all were in the 16-22 age group. Each man carried either an INSAS automatic rifle, an SLR or a 303 rifle. All of them drew a great sense of power from wielding the weapons and gave Menon lectures on how they represented the rights of adivasis.
The Salwa Judum, which initially claimed to be a spontaneous uprising of villagers, was in effect a state-sponsored anti-insurgency campaign that uprooted lakhs of villagers. Scores of youth were armed by the state and made to fight alongside the police and paramilitary from 2005 to mid-2011, when the Supreme Court declared the movement unconstitutional.
Soon after Menon's release on May 3, CM Raman Singh said words like Salwa Judum did not exist in the government’s dictionary. But officials dealing with the heightened Naxal activity are reviewing Menon's analysis. His diary was taken away by his captors but his message has reached the CM and chief secretary and it is grim: the move to arm civilians in the fight against Naxals has only added to the ranks of the rebels.