When the state arms citizens to take on powerful opponents like the Naxals, it is admitting that it has failed in its role as the custodian of people’s security. The Supreme Court has come out strongly against the State’s nefarious role in setting up Salwa Judums in which arms are provided to civilians to fight Naxals in states like Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh. The apex court has rightly accused the state of being an abettor to crime when it gives arms to citizens that they are meant to use to kill Naxals. The Salwa Judum project has been disastrous from the beginning. For starters, the State expects armed locals to take on powerful, ideologically motivated Naxals, a task that they are not trained to do. In other words, they are cannon fodder behind which the state can take refuge under the guise of passing power to the people. These hapless villagers and their families become easy targets for the Naxals as their casualty figures show. The other danger is that these Salwa Judums become a law unto themselves and begin to use their state-sanctioned extra-constitutional powers to terrorise other citizens.
Under no circumstance can the state be a party to encouraging vigilantism and this is what the Supreme Court has pulled it up for. Incidents of vigilantism have been recorded by a fact-finding team that visited Dantewada in Chhattisgarh and Khammam in Andhra Pradesh in January, 2008. It is now quite clear that these Salwa Judums are not spontaneous movements by people against Naxals. They are the result of coercion by the state of a people caught between the devil and the deep sea.
There are several mechanisms and institutions to deal with insurgencies. Should we believe that they are so ineffective as to leave policing in the hands of untrained citizens? Or could the more sinister motive be that the police, even paramilitary, do not want to be in the line of fire and would instead sacrifice the very people they are meant to protect? The verdict will play a significant role in affixing accountability for law and order. What has been going on so far in the name of the Salwa Judum amounts to criminalising society. The state must endeavour to get to the root cause of the disenchantment that attracts so many people to Naxalism. The court’s ruling is a clear signal to the State that it cannot abdicate its responsibility as law-enforcer any longer.