The Supreme Court’s judgement in the Salwa Judum case is not only a severe indictment of the central and Chhattisgarh governments but also irrefutably confirms what human rights activists have been saying for years: the raising of such a vigilante force is unconstitutional and the state had kept Salwa Judum (SJ) alive in the insurgency-ridden state, despite repeated warnings.
Pointing out that much of the state’s deposition about the recruitment requirements and training provided to the SJ cadre lacks “credibility”, the apex court has fittingly declared SJ illegal and has ordered the state to disarm the group. It has also asked the Centre to desist from funding such groups and asked the Chhattisgarh government to make arrangements for the security of the SJ’s young, tribal special police officers (SPOs).
Using an apt metaphor, the court said a society is not a “forest where one could combat an accidental forest fire by starting a counter forest fire that is allegedly controlled”. The order is also a clear warning to other insurgency-hit states like Orissa, Jammu and Kashmir and Manipur who have also raised such forces.
Over the years, the tribals in Chhattisgarh have bore the brunt of the vicious battle that is raging between the state and the Maoists. Caught in the crossfire, many have opted for ‘fighting’ for the state, obviously the lollypop being the paltry few thousand rupees as honorarium.
But once they entered the SJ camps, there was no return because they became the targets of the Maoists.
Most of the SPOs have studied only up to class 5 and lack proper training to take on the Maoists. In the process, as the Supreme Court rightly observed, they became “cannon fodder” in this war.
It is true that once they are disarmed, the young SPOs could become targets for the Maoist again. The state, therefore, must make provisions for their security and Chhattisgarh has promised to do that.
But providing security is one part of the solution, the other crucial part is rehabilitation.
This is the right time for the central government to step in and start rebuilding the trust between the government and the people. There are thousands of tribals who have fled from the state and are staying in Andhra Pradesh. All efforts must be made to bring them back. The country has enough schemes to ensure that these people are resettled in their own land.
The court has laid the ground for this start, it’s now up to the government to bite the bullet.