Karela Fry

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Salwa Judum is illegal

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If there is one principle of law which is crystal clear, it is the following: the state cannot kill a citizen unless s/he undergoes a trial and a death penalty is imposed by a legally constituted court. Anything else is illegal.

In complete consonance with this principle, the Supreme Court has declared the Salwa Judum, organized by the center and the government of Chhattisgarh, illegal, and has asked for it to be disbanded. The (Kolkata) Telegraph reports:

The Supreme Court today barred the Chhattisgarh government from arming tribals to fight Maoists and pulled up the Centre for looking the other way as the state raised a private militia for counter-insurgency operations.

“The young tribals have literally become cannon fodder in the killing fields of Dantewada and other districts of Chhattisgarh,” it said, coming down heavily on the practice of treating Naxalism as a law and order problem rather than a socio-economic issue.

By arming unskilled, illiterate and frustrated tribal youths to take on the vastly superior Maoists for a pitiable honorarium, the state had violated Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution that promise all citizens the right to equality and the right to life, a two-judge bench said.

“The training that the state claims it is providing those youngsters with… against one of the longest lasting insurgencies mounted internally, and indeed may also be the bloodiest, is clearly insufficient,” the court said, noting that the fatality rates among them were higher than those among security forces.

The court was hearing a petition filed by academic Nandini Sundar, historian Ramachandra Guha, social activist Swami Agnivesh and former bureaucrat E.A.S. Sarma.

Chhattisgarh reacted by changing the private militia’s name to special police officers (SPOs). The Centre has claimed its role was confined to sanctioning their numbers as it funded an honorarium between Rs 1,500 and Rs 3,000 for each SPO recruited.

The court today barred Chhattisgarh from using the SPOs for anything but routine police work and directed it to recall the arms issued to them.

It ordered a CBI probe into allegations of violence in three villages during a trip by Agnivesh in March to provide humanitarian aid. The probe will be completed in six months.

That violent agitator politics and armed rebellion in many pockets of India have intimate linkages to socio-economic circumstances, endemic inequalities, and a corrupt social and state order has been well recognised, it said.

The Centre has been repeatedly warned of the linkages, the court added, quoting from a recent report by a Planning Commission expert group.

Yet the powers-that-be in India are propagating the view that obsession with economic growth is our only path, and that the costs borne by the poor and the deprived are necessary costs, Justices B. Sudershan Reddy and S.S. Nijjar said.

To pursue policies whereby guns are distributed among poor and barely literate youths would be tantamount to sowing suicide pills that could divide and destroy society, the court said. “Our Constitution is most certainly not a ‘pact for national suicide’.”

“The fight against terrorism and/or extremism cannot be effectuated by constitutional democracies by whatever means that are deemed to be efficient. Efficiency is not the sole arbiter of all values,” the judges said.

The article from the Telegraph is a model of reportage. In one short article it summarizes the material that is spread through two or three articles in other newspapers, and some points that are left out by a few. Read the report: it is short and has more than the quote above.

As one can expect, governments are not falling over themselves to correct illegalities. IBN reports:

Chhattisgarh government has sought advice from legal experts after the Supreme Court today asked it and the Centre to desist from arming tribals and deploying vigilante groups like Salwa Judum in the fight against Maoists. “I have heard about the Supreme Court’s order and the state respects it. We are consulting legal experts on this issue,” Chief Minister Raman Singh told reporters here. To a query, he said Salwa Judum was a “self-movement” and not started by the government. Home Minister Nanki Ram Kanwar too echoed Singh’s sentiments and said further action cannot be taken without legal advice. The SPOs have been appointed only after consultation with the Centre and they are playing an important role in the operation against the Maoists, he said. Senior state police officials too voiced concern over the apex court’s ruling saying that police may have to face a lot of trouble in the absence of SPOs. It is said that SPOs and Koya commandos play an important role in anti-naxal operations as being natives they are well-versed with the region.

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