An international human rights organisation has charged security forces and members of Salwa Judum — a citizens group against Maoists — with killing and forcibly displacing people in anti-Naxalite operations in Chhattishgarh.
In its report ‘Being Neutral Is Our Biggest Crime: Government, Vigilante and Naxalite Abuses in India’s Chhattisgarh State’, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said the central and state governments should hold security forces and state-backed vigilantes responsible for the displacements.
It also called on Maoists to end attacks on civilians, stop recruitment of children and allow camp residents to return to their villages.
The conflicts have given rise to one of the largest internal displacement crises in India — at least 100,000 people have resettled in camps or fled to neighbouring states, according to HRW.
It has demanded that the state disband the civil militia groups. “We call for an end to government support to the unlawful activities of Salwa Judum vigilantes,” said Jo Becker, HRW’s advocacy director, who released the report on Tuesday.
However, Chhattisgarh reiterated it was never part of such a movement. “It is a people’s movement against Maoists,” a government spokesperson said.
The report documents human rights abuses against civilians, particularly indigenous tribal communities, caught in a “deadly tug-of-war” between security forces, the Salwa Judum and Naxalites in 18 villages of Dantewada and Bijapur districts since mid-2005.
“Security forces and members of Salwa Judum attacked villages, killed and raped villagers, burned down huts to force people into government camps. Tens of thousands of internally displaced persons are stranded in camps in Chhattisgarh and neighbouring Andhra Pradesh,” the HRW said.
It said Naxalites have retaliated in a brutal manner, abducting, assaulting, and killing civilians perceived to be Salwa Judum supporters. The report also highlights the impact of the conflict on children.
It says that while Naxalites have used six-year-olds as informers and 12-year-olds in armed operations, the Chhattisgarh police too have used children as special police officers to assist in anti-Naxalite combing operations.