The Salwa Judum is back, in a new form. No one’s owning up yet

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By Anil Mishra

On guard Chinnaram Gota is one of the creators of the DSSS
On guard Chinnaram Gota is one of the creators of the DSSS

THIS GANDHI Jayanti, a few people got together to create the anti-Naxal Dandakaranya Shanti Sangharsh Samiti (DSSS) in Bijapur district’s Kutru town. They are the same people who created the Salwa Judum five years ago. Even the meanings of the names are similar; Salwa Judum means a peace march.

The DSSS is a threat to normalcy returning to this area after the Judum’s retreat. There are signs the Naxals are ready, too. Recently, 87 families of three villages fled and sought refuge in Bijapur. Youth from these families have applied for jobs of SPOs (Special Police Officers). The DSSS commitment to non-violence is inscribed in its credo: Ahimsa Parmo Dharma.

Who are the creators of the DSSS? When TEHELKA went looking for Chinnaram Gota in Farsegarh, he was working in his fields. He came on a tractor, a magazine belt tied to his waist, gunwielding SPOs riding astride with him. Gota took part in 29 encounters with the Naxals as a Salwa Judum leader.

None of the DSSS founders have any clarity about its mission. Vikram Lal Mandavi says people in Bastar want peace. He says before the Judum, the Adivasis were under pressure from both the police and the Naxals. He begrudges the government pulling out of the Judum.

While ex-members acknowledge the Judum indulged in violence, they blame the Naxals for it. Judum senior Madhukar Rao says they went from village to village to persuade Naxals and their supporters to surrender. Those who surrendered were not regarded as Naxals and nobody maintained their records. It was such people who stayed in the Judum and gave it a bad reputation, Rao says. And then the Judum became a Congress or BJP campaign.

Which is why the DSSS will have no politicians, Rao clarifies. He has a sample of DSSS strategy: to meet the family and relations of Naxals and get them to persuade the rebels to surrender. The DSSS does not have any expectations from the government, but would not mind if help came its way. Among those who attended the DSSS inauguration were District Collector Rajat Kumar and Superintendent of Police RN Das as well as senior officials.

The new outfit is a threat to normalcy in this area after the Judum’s retreat

This time, Rao says, people would not be asked to clear out of their villages. Then how will the DSSS mobilise? The answer presented itself in Rani Bodli village, where Naxals killed 55 CRPF soldiers in a girls hostel in 2007. The school and hostel are both under CRPF possession. The school has been shifted 5 km away to Somanpalli village. Deputy Sarpanch Vichham Gota says the villagers were invited to the launch of the DSSS in Kutru. He is enthused because he was told the forum would also be used to battle the government to secure jobs for the unemployed.

With sparse employment opportunities, 90 percent of the youth should be appointed SPOs. At least, that is what Chinnaram says, because the Naxals fear the SPOs. He says had the government backed the Salwa Judum, there would be no trace of the Naxals.

The Judum story becomes complex when accounts of the refugees are considered. The Kutru camp has 2,500 refugees, while the Farsegarh camp houses 400 people displaced five years ago.

SPO MANGDU from Abujhmad lives in Dantewada’s Kasoli camp as a permanently displaced man. He vents his spleen at the government. A former Naxal collaborator, he abandoned 60 acres in the hope that going with the government would guarantee security and growth. He was assured of a bridge across the Indravati river; of five police posts in his village across the river. Five years later, Mangdu and others in a similar situation, feel cheated and imprisoned.

The Judum revival is not limited to Bijapur. Dantewada’s Konta region is also a potential site for its resurrection. The situation in Bastar is comparable to five years ago, when the Judum started. Three months ago, officials were saying that Bijapur has returned to normalcy. The signs were all there. Roads had started opening in places like Gangalur, which was under Naxal influence.

Now the situation is returning to pre-Judum days. Just a few months before the Judum’s birth, 17 families fled Satwa village in Bhairamgarh Block across the Indravati, adjoining Abujhmad. All of Satwa’s young men are SPOs today, and a locality has been created to settle them in Chitalanka near Dantewada. The 87 families that fled three villages of the Madded Block have sought refuge in Bijapur.

The government should not have pulled out of the Judum, Mandavi of the DSSS says

Collector Kumar says there is no Judum revival. He says it is worth exploring possibilities that bring peace to the region. If the DSSS is on the path of peace, the administration will help it.

In real terms, this means the ground is prepared for another conflict. The DSSS manifesto mentions Kutru as the place of the birth of all Adivasi movements. The movement will try to take it across to all of Dandakaranya, and has called a meeting to this effect on 14 October.

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