The Centre on Monday argued before the Supreme Court that salwa judum, a “defensive movement” of armed people in Chhattisgarh, is necessary and is part of a well-defined model of police-public cooperation. It has also argued that given the lack of resources, there is no option but for citizens to defend themselves.
This is a disingenuous argument. Promoting political violence in the name of curbing Left insurgency is not only a bad idea, but could be a precursor to criminalization of society. The one country that took recourse to such tactics, Colombia, is today a political disaster. Lacking security resources to fight militants, the state armed the local people. Colombia has never looked back: Today, right-wing paramilitaries and murderous Left guerrillas dot the landscape.
Perhaps that is stretching the analogy too far. Then maybe not. The Centre’s argument was similar to the one that Colombia put in place: It did not have enough security personnel. Hence its support to salwa judum.
Equally disingenuous is the attempt to link the salwa judum with village defence committees (VDCs) of the kind that operate in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). Not only are the two situations wholly different, but so are the dynamics of interaction between the two sets of opponents, terrorists and villagers in J&K and faction-ridden tribal people in Chhattisgarh.
A group of concerned citizens and academics who went on a fact-finding mission to Chhattisgarh in 2007, concluded that far from countering the Maoist threat, the “movement” had splintered tribal society in the state. Neighbours who had coexisted with each other for long suddenly became enemies. Village after village was emptied and locals now live in abysmal conditions in ring-fenced camps. Instead of improving the security situation, people live in fear.
Security “experts” worldwide believe in the efficacy of such programmes. The dream often is to empty villages in insurgency-ridden landscapes, thus isolating the militants and then “finishing off” the job of destroying them. The strategic hamlet programme in Vietnam is perhaps the best known example of such attempts. Perhaps our “experts” ought to revisit that disastrous experience.
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