From hunter to hunted: Salwa Judum leaders have nowhere to hide

Salwa Judum movement, which took birth in 2005, grew under govt patronage.

Raipur: Leaders of Salwa Judum, the anti-Maoist civil militia, say they are being hunted down in a planned manner by the rebels even as the Chhattisgarh government, which was widely accused of arming the movement at one time, looks the other way.

The movement, which took birth in 2005, grew under government patronage and was blamed for the escalation of violence and for victimising and alienating thousands of tribal villagers in the Bastar region, has almost fizzled out in the last two years.

Now police also confirm that Salwa Judum leaders are being killed.

"Maoists have assigned a separate unit for killing Judum leaders and the rebels are getting regular success in wiping them out," Mahendra Karma, a former Bastar MP and Congress heavyweight who was credited for the launch of the movement.

"About 200 Judum leaders have been killed in the past two years and some 400 face the threat of being killed any moment," Karma said.

Raghu Singh, a key Judum leader in Bijapur, was killed by Maoists on July 22. Dozens of Maoists on July 08 attacked the house of Avdhesh Singh Gautam, another leader who is also linked to the Congress, in Dantewada district. He survived, but his son received a bullet wound and two others were killed.

Rights activists say under Salwa Judum, civilians were armed by the state government to go after Maoist supporters in the Bastar region in a planned manner, even though the authorities called it a spontaneous people`s uprising against the rebels.

"The state government has distanced itself completely from the movement, leading to the collapse of the biggest popular public resistance against Maoists," said Karma, 60, who tops the hit-list of Maoists and has survived several attempts on his life.

Over 50,000 people became homeless as a fallout of Salwa Judum. Mostly tribal poor, they were uprooted from their forested villages and the government rehabilitated them in 23 makeshift camps in Dantewada and Bijapur districts.

Karma said the movement has been dormant for about two years now - no rallies have been held during the period and its leaders are living in relief camps. He said whenever they go outside their camps, Maoists target them as the government does not provide them security.

Chhattisgarh`s director general of police Vishwa Ranjan said, "Everybody, including police, know that Salwa Judum leaders face a serious threat, as Maoists keep track of them.”

"They get police escorts, but they get killed when they leave the camps for some work or visit their native villages without informing police. Judum leaders fall prey only when they leave the relief camps without informing police because at the camps they are fully protected."

Anil Vibhakar, a Raipur-based columnist, said, "The Chhattisgarh government succumbed to the pressure of rights activists and pulled out support from the Salwa Judum and the movement collapsed. Now its leaders are either dead or living in fear of being killed any moment."

The state`s first chief minister and Congress leader, Ajit Jogi, who was one of the strongest critics of the movement, said in the State Assembly in July while referring to Salwa Judum, "the movement destroyed tribal culture and displaced thousands of poor tribals. It also became a hub of corruption."

He came down heavily on the state`s BJP government for fully supporting the Salwa Judum. "The Maoists have a list of all leaders associated with the Salwa Judum whom they will wipe out as had happened with a similar movement in Bastar called Jan Jagran."

The Bastar region is made up of five districts - Dantewada, Bijapur, Narayanpur, Bastar and Kanker - and is a considered the nerve centre of Maoist militants in India.

Chhattisgarh has witnessed over 1,948 Maoist attacks in the past three years claiming the lives of at least 418 civilians and 435 policemen.

IANS

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