Salwa Judum


By Akash Mishra, WBNUJS

Editor’s Note:  Salwa Judum began in 2005 as a Government supported People’s resistance movement from the districts of Bastar and Dantewada in Chhattisgarh wherein the tribals were provided with ammunition and minimal training to combat the menace of naxalism. Salwa Judum in Gondi means ‘purification hunt’. This paper seeks to answer the following research questions:

  1. Did the Salwa Judum movement started by tribals change with the passage of time and falter in its original objective?

  2. What was the socio-legal impact of the Salwa Judum movement as well as the Anti-Salwa Judum movement?


Salwa Judum began in 2005 as a government supported People’s resistance movement from the districts of Bastar and Dantewada in Chhattisgarh wherein the tribals were provided with ammunition and minimal training to combat the menace of naxalism. Salwa Judum in Gondi means ‘purification hunt’.  The locals here have been stuck in a crossfire of violence and counter-violence since decades as these areas are ‘liberated zones’[i] where the administration and the policing is done by a parallel government run by Maoists. Demarcated form a democratic set-up, these areas were ruled by the Maoists and their anti-establishment agenda due to the unjust treatment they always received from a state that they considered to be an ‘absent state’ in context of their development.

These Maoists, motivated by their personal harrowing experiences at the hands of the local police and officials as well by extractive interventions by the state coupled with capital, have been bent on de-stabilizing the existing authorities through their parallel government structure. Now, there are thousands of locals who don’t believe in the ideology of the naxalites and or at least consider this authority through the ‘barrel of gun’, wrong. Unable to bear the fear tactics and violence perpetuated by the Maoists through their Janatana Adalats which burnt their houses, beat them indiscriminately as punishment or by taking away their livelihood by placing bans on employment generating works[ii], there was simmering discontent which erupted soon after.


During April-May 2005, many tribals were beaten up in Bijapur for voicing their dissent over the seasonal ban of tendu leaf collection by the Maoists. In resistance, the first rally was started at a weekly market on June 5th.[iii] So, taking cue from the rising discontent and fear, the Salwa Judum movement began with state support. Its leadership was comprised of victims of Maoist atrocities who were appointed as Special Police officers (SPOs) in order to counter the naxalite violence in the intricate regions where the police authorities have not been able to reach. In the initial stages, it was hailed as a “Spontaneous movement by the tribals against the Maoists”[iv].


Also known as Koya commandos, these activists were supposed to act as guides and informers for the police but this “Peaceful Movement” took an ugly turn and reports about SPOs burning villages, raping women, killing people even suspected of having sheltered Maoists started surfacing. [v]. Non-tribal leaders who were mostly land-owners emerged to take leadership of the moevemnt (Ex- Mahendra Karma) There was a radical change undergoing the movement’s prime objectives as commercialization was rumored to be a driving force for the unwarranted interventions. Villagers were threatened with burning their houses if they didn’t join the refugee camps[vi]. This was the rule of law in Dantewada and Bastar under the aegis of hollow terms like “purification hunt” and “Strategic hamletting”.

Nearly 46,000 people living in camps forced by the Salwa Judum and the security forces.[vii]  It was openly declared that “those in the camps are with the government and those in the forests are with the Maoists”. [viii] 644 villages were affected due to the movement. Also, these forces used schools as camps which the naxalites in turn, blasted during attacks. Reports suggest that there has been a 22% increase in Maoist activities since Salwa Judum was launched[ix] raising questions over the very raison d’être of the movement.[x]

Both parties, the Maoists as well as the Salwa Judum, claimed tribal representation, with the security forces demanding information about the naxalite movements, and the naxalites themselves brutally attacking anyone suspected of betraying them. In this manner, the machismo of revolution was being answered by the machismo of counter-revolution[xi] with the common man being the ultimate sufferer. This peaceful movement by the locals, that was supposedly supported but not directed by the state, was slowly transforming into a cycle of carnage promoting lawlessness and violence.[xii]


This led to the creation of a movement against the human rights violations taking place in these districts with activists like Ramachandra Guha, Nandini Sundar etc and various human rights groups mobilizing public opinion against the Salwa Judum experiment[xiii]. Organizations like PUCL, PUDR and Campaign for Survival and dignity held public meetings against the arrest of vociferous anti-Salwa Judum proponents like Binayak sen and demanding a halt to Salwa Judum and the Corporate-centric repression.

The tribal movement had initially found footing due to the inhuman excesses by the Maoists but the initiation was taken over by the government authorities to create an armed militia that included tribals as well as non-tribals who have been rumored to be involved being funded by corporations interested in gaining more resources from the area.[xiv]


In Nandini Sundar & Ors v. State of Chhattisgarh[xv], the Supreme Court gave its verdict on the issue of Salwa Judum and concluded that existence of such a state-sponsored militia is unconstitutional and ordered its immediate disbandment. The SC concluded that Article 21 was being violated here because notwithstanding their volition, the youngsters having such low educational qualifications would not be able to understand the dangers and even after the provision of rigorous training, it would still endanger the lives of these young men with unrestrained authority.

It was not disputed that many of the young tribals volunteered for the movement but still concluded that “Such factors would not lessen the moral culpability of the state or make the situation less problematic in terms of human right violations of the youngsters being appointed as SPOs” [xvi] The SC judgment accepts that the common man does not take up arms “for no rhyme”. However, it blames the systematic breakdown in perpetuation of the constitutional ideals for the people joining the Maoists which further increased due to the violence perpetuated post-2005.[xvii]

The Court cited the April,2008 report by the planning commission’s Expert Committee , describing Salwa Judum as something which delegitimizes politics, dehumanizes people, denigrates those involved in their “security” and above all represents the abdication of the state itself.


Analyzing the situation, it must be understood that at the heart of it all lies the idea of human security which is being breached consistently wherein not only the notion of security from statism and the interstate system is being unraveled but also an attempt  to couple security with the concerns of international humanitarianism and human development. [xviii]

It is imperative that the state is duty-bound to provide security to the masses as well as work towards their upliftment. The government in C.G should have acknowledged the peaceful movement by the tribals and helped them change their circumstances through a more adamant-upon development approach in these impoverished regions. The solution that the tribals have been looking for is a radical change in the attitude of the authorities towards a more developed and just system in these districts of C.G and not bloodshed.

Even though the SC judgment stopped the Salwa Judum movement to continue any further but its implications are still on-going. Owing to Salwa Judum, the lives of thousands of men were/are put in danger. The wave of retribution is still not over as the members of Salwa Judum are being hunted down by the Maoists and they aren’t able to return back to their lands.[xix] The government is still in the same state of non-functionality in these regions and the Maoist situation worsened instead of improving with an increase in recruits towards the Maoists cadre.

The crux of the initial tribal movement was the utter failure of the government mechanism to provide them security from their unrelenting Maoist issues primarily based on the lack of Socio-economic amenities. The government capitalized on the initiation against the Maoists and allowed an armed militia to function with the “young tribals becoming ‘cannon fodder’ in the killing fields of Dantewada”. There was a sea of change in the original objectives of the movement with violence, harassment and unreasonableness seeping into the structure of Salwa Judum.
In an interview taken by Bela Bhatia with an SPO clarifies the monstrous shape this movement had taken. The SPO on being asked why he killed villagers during the operations replied that they killed anyone found in the jungle as if he was with the Judum; he would be in the camps.[xx]

Uneducated young men, lack of clarity on their role, unabridged freedom, arms and ammunitions and violent methods; all these elements combined together to create bloodshed across Dandakaranya through Salwa Judum. The prime objective of the tribal movement was the cleansing of the Maoists from the region but in pursuance of this objective, the state committed the folly of not understanding the true nature of the methods it was using.

Edited by Hariharan Kumar


[ii] Gautam Navlakha, Maoists in India, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 41, No. 22 (June 9th, 2006) 186-189.

[iii] K. Balagopalan, The NHRC on Salwa Judum:A Most Friendly Inquiry, December 20, 2008, available at www.epw.in/commentary/nhrc-salwa-judum-most-friendly-inquiry.html?ip_login_no_cache=61948b9e4ca1cbd22eeb82074d4a1e3d (Last visited 9th March, 2013)

[iv] Ibid

[v] Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 42, No. 32 (Aug. 11-17, 2007), pp. 3305-

[vi] Nandini Sundar, Bastar, Maoism and Salwa Judum, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 41, No. 29 (Jul. 22-28, 2006), 3187-3192.

[vii] ibid

[viii]  K. Balagopal, Physiognomy of Violence, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 41, No. 22 (Jun. 3-9, 2006), 2183-2186

[ix] Rediff news, Salwa Judum was not a people’s movement, August 19, 201, available at www.rediff.com/news/report/salwa-judum-was-not-a-peoples-movement/20110820.htm (Last visited 9th March,2013)


[xi] Ramachandra Guha , The Revolution and its children: The Battle for Bastar , June 27,2006 available at www.telegraphindia.com/1060627/asp/opinion/story_6402011.asp (Last visited 9th Marhc,2013)


[xiii] Panjab eh din news, International Day of Action to free Binayak Sen and Demand Repeal of Black Law, available at www.panjab.ord.uk/english/BINAYAK.htm (Last visited 9th march, 2013)


[xv] WP(Civil) NO(s). 250 of 2007 SC

[xvi] Bela Bhatia, Judging the judgment, July 29,2011, available at sanhati.com/excerpted/3937/ (Last Visited on March 10th, 2013)

[xvii] ibid



[xx] Bela Bhatia, Judging the judgment, July 29,2011, available at sanhati.com/excerpted/3937/ (Last Visited on March 10th, 2013)

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