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Home > Human Rights > CPJC Statement on NHRC Report on Salwa Judum

CPJC Statement on NHRC Report on Salwa Judum

by Campaign for Peace & Justice in Chhattisgarh, 21 October 2008

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Campaign for Peace & Justice in Chhattisgarh
- c/o F-10/12, GF, Malviya Nagar, New Delhi
- Website: www.cpjc.wordpress.com
- Email: cpjcindia at gmail.com

19th October 2008

Since 2005 the Chhattisgarh government has claimed that the Salwa Judum is a "peaceful people’s movement", that "the villagers are never forced to join the camps". They claimed that no minors were appointed as SPOs. It also resisted any independent enquiry, saying "There is no failure on part of state of Chhattisgarh and therefore independent investigation is uncalled for and unwarranted." The NHRC investigation into Salwa Judum which was carried out on the orders of the Supreme Court found that this claim by the Chhattisgarh government regarding Salwa Judum was patently false. They found prima facie evidence of large scale burning of villages, large numbers of missing people, the fact that many people had been forced into camps against their will (though most they claim have subsequently returned), and the appointment of minors as SPOs in the initial stages at least. Some Nelasnar camp residents, they note, "left the village due to atrocities committed by the Naga police." This one example is clearly the proverbial tip of the iceberg. The NHRC investigation revealed that SPOs have been involved in "certain incidents of atrocities against the tribals" and in some instances (e.g Matwada camp killings), the security forces and SPOs seemed to be prima-facie responsible for extra judicial killings. They have also not ruled out the possibility that, as in the Matwada case, other FIRs
registered could be false.

However, given the powers and responsibility of the NHRC, it has manifestly
failed to bring out the full truth of what is happening in Dantewada
district, Chhattisgarh. The National Human Rights Commission is a statutory
body, mandated to be an autonomous overseer of human rights across the
country. The current report is unfortunately a negation of this
responsibility.

There are inherent infirmities in the present report (i) the composition of
the team which consisted solely of police, (ii) the process of public
enquiry, which involved SPOs and Salwa Judum activists acting as
translators, coupled with intimidation of witnesses (iii) the manner in
which conclusions have been arrived at by the NHRC’s investigating team. It
is these which has led the NHRC investigation team to downplay its own
findings
on the atrocities committed by the SPOs and Salwa Judum activists and
concentrate on the violence of the Naxalites. Curiously despite being so
focused on the Naxalites, the report nowhere mentions that the state is
already seized of this problem, having sent more than ten battalions of
paramilitaries to the district, and spent crores of rupees on battling
Naxalism. It did not need an investigation by the NHRC to uncover the
Naxalite ’problem’.

1. Composition of the team and method of enquiry:
The investigation team comprised solely of police officers. It did not have
any representative of the local tribal communities or even any of the NGOs
associated with the NHRC who had asked to be associated with it. The team
went to various Salwa Judum camps and villages in an armed convoy which
included Salwa Judum leaders and members, Special Police Officers (SPOs) and the Superintendent Police of Dantewada. Concerns that the arrival of a
convoy of anti-mine tanks, preceded by road clearing exercises, would do
little to instill confidence in villagers who were already terrified by the
violence of the Salwa Judum and security forces, had earlier been raised
with the NHRC and have been fully borne out by the findings of the
investigating team itself. The NHRC report itself acknowledges at least two
instances, in Pusbaka and Chikurubatti villages, where the villagers ran
away seeing the police/CRPF accompanying the team.

2. Flawed Investigation - insufficient and biased acceptance of evidence:
It is not just the petitioners who have been raising the issue of human
rights violations by Salwa Judum and security forced in Dantewada and
Bijapur. Several independent civil and democratic rights groups have been
consistently raising questions about the manner in which the government has armed civilians and the impunity with which the militarized nexus of Salwa Judum, Police, SPOs and the CRPF has unleashed violence on the local population. This is also probably the only instance where several
government agencies, including the Planning Commission, the Administrative Reforms Commission, National Commission for Women and the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, have also condemned the counter-insurgency strategy employed by the government. The NCPCR report based on a fact-finding by Prof. Shanta Sinha, Mr. JM Lyngdoh (former CEC) and Mr Venkat Reddy, based on testimonies of at least 35 victims in Cherla, noted that "many people shared accounts of family members being killed and women raped by the Salwa Judum" and again, based on a public hearing in Kirandul, "There were numerous accounts of family members being killed for resisting the Salwa Judum". The NHRC has unfortunately chosen to ignore all such reports.

Though NHRC report claims to reach several conclusions, it summarily rejects several of the complaints in the petition by saying that they have "not been substantiated", based either on insufficient evidence or a specious acceptance of the police version. Some instances are:

i) The NHRC has made registration of FIRs as the bench mark of
ascertaining whether an incident of violence took place or not. The NHRC
seems to have charily ignored the fact that in cases where state agencies
are responsible for human rights violations people would be unable to lodge
FIRs for fear of their life or that false FIRs may have been lodged by the
police themselves falsely implicating others. This even though the report
itself admits at least one instance where a villager was killed by Salwa
Judum activists no FIR has been registered.

ii) The report uncritically accepts the police version of the cases and
makes that the basis for "substantiation" or otherwise. This even as the
report itself has had to admit at least one instance- in the Matwada case
which was highlighted due to the efforts of local groups, that false FIR has
been filed by the police blaming Naxals for an incident which was prima
facie committed by Salwa Judum and security.

iii) In at least two cases, the NHRC visited the wrong village – of the
same name but in a different thana. In the case of Polampalli in Usur thana,
which was used as a test case to say that rape was not substantiated,
despite the correct details being mentioned in the petition, the NHRC team
visited Polampalli in Dornapal thana.

iv) The NHRC team has ignored the evidence provided by independent
journalists and others which contradicted the police version and accepted
the police version at face value. In the Santoshpur case for instance, at
least 4 independent journalists have separately and one after another
confirmed to the killing of Kodiya Bojja by SPOs, based on interviews with
next of kin soon after incident. NHRC however uncritically accepts police
version that he was killed by Naxalites.

v) Most strikingly, all testimonies given by IDPs in Andhra Pradesh
regarding killings of their relatives by Salwa Judum and SPOs have been
discarded, while all testimonies given by camp residents and villagers
regarding killing by Naxalites has been accepted at face value. The AP
testimonies have been ignored even when they are corroborated by the
evidence of burnt and abandoned villages (e.g. Kottacheru, Lingagiri etc.)

3. Several misleading conclusions: It is not clear how NHRC came to its
conclusion that no village was being discriminated against for not joining
Salwa Judum camps when it notes that rations are available only in camp and that Salwa Judum is identified with the camps, and that "the only government agency active in the area is the police". The National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights had noted in its fact-finding report, that ’A big problem is that schools and Anganwadi teachers have been shifted from the villages to the camps leading to a concentration of service-providers in camps and no services available to those who are still living in villages.’

4. The NHRC avers to some instances where security forces and SPOs seem to be prima facie responsible for extra judicial killings. It states that it came across certain cases in which the "excesses" have been committed by ’public servants’ and where the State has proceeded against those "who
failed to operate within the four corners of the law". However it does not
give details of any such instances. Till date, the Dantewada and Bijapur
district administrations, the Chhattisgarh Police and the Chhattisgarh
Government have not accepted or made public the cases where Police Officers, Special Police Officers or CRPF personnel in Dantewada and Bijapur have been proceeded against for violation of law.

5. Justifies Vigilantism: Most worrying however is the manner in which
the NHRC report openly justifies Salwa Judum on the grounds that people
cannot be denied the right to defend themselves against the atrocities
perpetrated by Naxalites thus condoning civil vigilantism and arming one
section of the society against the other, which in fact represents
abdication of the State itself.

Justice Rajendra Babu, Chairperson, NHRC had said in one interview, "The
NHRC has not given a clean chit to Salwa Judum. What we said in our report to the Supreme Court was that the problems afflicting Chhattisgarh are not law and order problems but socio-economic ones." Burning villages, and extra-judicial killings are surely law and order problems. Meanwhile the
Raman Singh government which has come under a lot of criticism for its
support to Salwa Judum is going all out to publicise this biased report as a
vindication of its disastrous strategy.

We hope that the Supreme Court and the wider public sees the biases the
report evidently demonstrates. At the same time, even the limited findings
by the NHRC are sufficient to indict Salwa Judum and SPOs as an
extra-constitutional, vigilante force which must be disbanded forthwith.
Those who wish to must be allowed to return home, and all victims, whether of Salwa Judum or Naxalites must be given compensation on an equal footing.

A judicial enquiry is essential to establish the scale of victimization and
prosecute those who are guilty.