An Uncivil War (INDIA)

It's 9 pm. At the gates of Salva Judum relief camp on the outskirts of Giddam block, the big orange bulbs burn bright. A small group of taciturn men keeps vigil with bows and arrows. In times of bi-weekly landmine blasts and AK-47 bursts, the irony of defending the citadel with a hopelessly medieval armoury is lost on them. "Come what may, we will fight," says one of them.


There are a few armed policemen too. But they are lodged inside the camp on a roof without a staircase. At night they lie behind sandbags while Judum supporters man the outposts below. The reason isn't hard to fathom.

In 2003, Naxals had attacked the Giddam police station, one km away. Three policemen were killed, the arms looted. More recently, policemen have been kidnapped, killed or simply blown to bits in blasts.
Late last month, IG Bastar W M Ansari's entourage narrowly escaped a landmine. Fear spreads like a dark ink after sunset in these parts of South Bastar Dantewada district.

The camp - which looks more like a tsunami shelter and is located rather clumsily below a small hill - is pretty close to Red country's ground zero. Naxals often drop by in the area, make enquiries, distribute pamphlets, sometimes kill and kidnap.

A few kilometres away, a cow was blown up in a landmine blast last month, say villagers of nearby Kasoli. And a Tunmaar panchayat official was slaughtered by Maoists last year. Just about 10 km away flows Indrawati river.

On its other side, villagers say, the republic of India is almost a fiction. In the parallel economy of the parallel government in those areas, the Sensex is yet to cross 11,000 and no one's aiming for double-digit growth.

Salva Judum is meant to check this untrammelled charge of Left-wing extremism in south Chhattisgarh. Since last June, the movement has turned thousands of tribals and non-tribals into vanguards of this campaign.

Roughly translated from Gondi dialect, Salva Judum means peace mission. Seldom has a movement been so fantastically misnamed. Through Judum activists, the state government has practically outsourced the long, bitter war against Naxalites.

Guided by former Communist-turned-Congress leader - also leader of the Opposition in the state assembly - Mahendra Karma, Judum also has backing of the BJP state government.

Casualties have soared. According to South Asia Terrorism Portal, 83 perished to Left-extremist violence in Chhattisgarh in 2004. Last year, the figure went up to 126. Three months into 2006, the number stands at a scary 133.

A disturbing new trend is the dramatic rise in civilian casualties. Compared to 52 civilians for the entire last year, 86 are already dead this year.

Maoists themselves have apologised for causing civilian deaths. And local human rights activists point out that several killings by Judum supporters are unaccounted for.

The future remains tense. Speaking on phone, Karma admits Judum is a long struggle that could take several years to complete. But he also adds: "By summer, we want to destroy the Maoist gateway in South Bastar.

He believes that the Naxals thrive by creating a high-quality information matrix that needs to be wiped out. "That's our first priority," says Karma. No wonder human rights activist Binayak Sen says, "Claims of unreported deaths are growing in huge numbers."

It is a brutal uncivil war characterised by an absence of choice. The only option before people is the flag they choose to fight under: the Maoist red flag or the Judum's white flag. You are either with us or against us: George Bush's dictum prevails.

Most Judum supporters - some prosperous, many poor - are lodged in tumbledown government relief camps. Official statistics say 45,958 men, women and children are lodged in 27 camps across five blocks in the district.

Some activists have also been appointed as Special Police Officers (SPOs): a high-sounding nomenclature which ensures them Rs 1,500 per month and makes them the first line of defence against Maoists.

South Bastar collector K R Pisda says eventually 5,000 SPOs will be trained. So far, 1,000 rifles have been distributed temporarily. But no SPO at Haram and Bangapal camps possesses a rifle.

In fact, their training has been limited to a few physical exercises. "We have asked for 5,000 more .303 rifles and .410 muskets," says Pisda.

Several Judum activists are eager to pull the trigger. "If I come across Naxals, I will kill them," says Budhram of Kakarlanka, who lost his father to the Reds. But not everybody has the same motivation levels.

At the camps, most Judum supporters say they fled their homes due to Maoists. Parguram Karami, 19, says poor people work hard to become rich. "What's the point of becoming rich if Naxals take your money away," he asks.

However, sources say some villagers have also been coerced into joining the Judum. But then, in these parts, truth is always a version. And nobody is keen even to give that.

Judum supporters have now begun frisking vehicles at checkpoints. "Earlier we were only troubled only by Naxalites and the police. Now there is a third party to bother us," says a villager.

The face-off has spurred a displacement much worse than any created by a big dam project. Many Judum kids now stay alone and study in ashram-cum-schools funded by the state.

Their parents live in soulless camps away from the life and culture they grew up in. Says Bisobai of Kokarlanka village, "Village life was better. But if we go there, we will die." It is as though an entire society is going through a forced civilisational change.

About six km from Haram relief camp, Judum supporters are building mud-brick homes in Kasoli village. Each costs Rs 12,000 and is being financed by the government. It will be a rural colony of 300 families from 10 different villages.

But danger lurks. A few days back, the Reds threw pamphlets at a nearby village. Don't side with Salva Judum, it warned.
That's the story. A band of well-entrenched and fully armed Maoists who rule the jungles and want to expand their world at any cost.

On the other side, a new opposition backed by the state, its armed police and paramilitary battalions. Neither is taking any prisoners. And this is not even the end of the beginning.

Von: 01.04.06 Avijit Ghosh

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