Memories of Salwa Judum and Adivasis’ Genocide

Akash Poyam


Colonization is a process that gradually takes over our physical material and internal reality. The dispossession of land and killings of Adivasis in Dandkaranya in experiences of people has been nothing but an extension of Indian State’s colonization into tribal heartland that intensified even more after creation of India. While there is complete absence of acknowledgment towards Adivasis’ indigenous knowledge system and their existing social system. There is a continuous attempt of state to civilize them, and assimilate them into ‘mainstream’ Indian society. This is again rationalized and justified through the industrialization and militarization of the region. Creation of India was a result of manipulation and coercion of many princely kingdoms that also included many Tribal kingdoms of central India, who earlier enjoyed relatively more autonomy over their territory. Division of Central Province-Berar and then into multiple states was result of this colonization, to dilute the indigenous identity, and transform them as citizens of nation. It followed the colonization of their indigenous knowledge, culture and land. All the ‘conflict’ regions, like North East or Jammu & Kashmir or the Central Indian Adivasi regions, idea of India does not find its place. Hence, Indian state uses its repressive apparatuses to keep its dominance and power over people.

During his term as finance minister, Chidambaram had proposed rapid urbanization as the only way forward for the country, justifying countless MoUs signed by him in Bastar region. His earlier association with Vedanta Company was also not a coincidence that multiple development projects were given green flags and military occupation intensified in the region. While ‘the state’ did not exist in reality for most people, yet it claimed its rights over land and natural resources. In 2006, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called Naxalism the single largest internal security threat to India during meeting with chief ministers of Naxal affected states. Then in another speech in 2007, he said he’d urge states to follow the Andhra Pradesh pattern of dealing with the Maoist issue. That was very clearly reflected in the centre and state policy in the ‘red corridor’.

Maoist violence has been used as an excuse to colonize and control the areas that come under the 5th schedule. ‘Salwa Judum’ was one of those successful attempts, a militia mobilized and deployed as part of anti-insurgency operations in Chhattisgarh that killed and destroyed thousands of lives. In order to counter Maoist violence, it was used as a strategy to militarize the region and henceforth create fear and political, social instability to fulfill state’s interests. The first movement against the Naxalites was the ‘Jan Jagran Abhiyan’, started in 1991 by Mahendra Karma. This was mostly led by local traders and businessmen. However it collapsed due to lack of mobilization and support. As a retaliation to this movement, On 25 May 2013, its founder Mahendra Karma, who had become a senior Indian National Congress party leader was killed in a Naxalite attack along with other party members in Darbha Valley of Chhattisgarh.

One finds, several different narratives about Salwa Judum’s uprising, like Ramchandra Guha wrote that Salwa Judum apparently arose spontaneously, the handiwork of villagers fed up with having the grain taken away to feed guerrillas wandering in the forest. However, Salwa Judum was soon adopted and reshaped by the leading politician of Dantewara, Mahendra Karma. As many as 3,000 Salwa Judum supporters were given the title of ‘special police officer’, paid a monthly salary of 1500/- by the state, and presented with a rifle each. They were asked to monitor the movements of civilians, and to assist the police and paramilitary in taking on the revolutionaries.

State government had a similar explanation that deemed it as a ‘spontaneous’, ‘self-initiated’,’ peaceful’, ‘people’s movement’. The district administration claimed that upset with the Maoist strike call on collecting tendu leaves and opposition to development works like road construction, people in some 200 villages began mobilizing against the Maoists, going on processions and holding meetings. On the other hand, a fact finding commission of National Human Rights Commission of India (NHRC), appointed by Supreme Court of India reported that Salwa Judum was a “spontaneous reaction by the tribals to defend themselves against the reign of terror unleashed by the Naxalites.”

Later, “Operation Green Hunt” was launched in November 2009, which deployed about 70,000 Central Reserve Police Forces (CRPF) personnel to reach a 2011 end-strength of 73 battalions across Maoist-affected states. The UN recommends a peacetime police-to-population ratio of 222 policemen per 100,000 members of the population, which India and especially its insurgency-affected areas falls far short of. In the Maoist heartland of Chhattisgarh, new figures show their police-to-population ratios at 226 in 2010, a dramatic improvement (at least on paper) from 2000, when the ratio was a mere 50.[i]

Findings of Independent Citizens Initiative asserted that it was not a spontaneous people’s movement as it is made out to be. It appears to be fully sponsored and supported by various government agencies. It also pointed out that leadership of the Salwa Judum appears to be drawn from the very section that has been responsible for exploiting the adivasis. The group came across several unrecorded instances of killing, gang rape and other violence against women, arson, looting and forced displacement of villagers committed by Salwa Judum workers and the para-military forces. It also raised question on Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act, 2005 which creates a wide scope for human rights violations.[ii]

Nandini Sundar noted that district administration proposed those living in camps needed to be resettled into permanent roadside settlements near to police stations so that Naxalites cannot influence them and can help police in search operations. The camps were in terrible condition, and a report by Medicin Sans Frontdisiers indicated that health problems were at crises levels. People had fled with whatever little they had, usually without anything at all – the open tarpaulin shelters often contained nothing beyond a fireplace and some vessels. The government has planned to convert the camps into long term strategic settlements, attached to police stations, with a permanent base of informers. As of January 2007, according to official figures, 47,238 people were living in 20 Salwa Judum ‘relief camps’, or base camps as they were popularly called. Out of the 1354 villages in Dantewara district, a total of 644 villages were affected by Salwa Judum.[iii]

To worsen the situation, in June 2013, government of Chhattisgarh directed the world’s renowned humanitarian organization “The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)” to suspend all its operations in the Naxalite affected Bijapur district where it was providing assistance to violence-hit people in improvised tribal Bastar region for the last two and a half years. The reason government gave was that they had suspicion that Red Cross is helping Maoists.

Nandini sundar in Trophies of Green Hunt wrote, “While rape is often described as a weapon of war, it is not uniformly practiced, and indeed nothing distinguishes the two parties in a guerrilla war more than their attitude to rape. Today, despite government claims that the Maoists sexually exploit young women, the distinction between insurgent and counter-insurgent is clear for the women of Dantewada.” Sundar recorded many testimonies and submitted to the NHRC, which was investigating the situation on behalf of the Supreme Court, and to the National Commission for Women, but till date, nothing has come out of it.

In 2012, Soni Sori wrote an open letter to chief justice of India. Her letter left many of us astonished and disturbed. It was infuriating to read her experience of rape, torture and brutality by police while she was in jail on false charges. It was a moment of helplessness, when on Republic Day of 2012, the accused IPS officer Ankit Garg was awarded the Police Medal for Gallantry for his role in the 2010 raid on Maoist supporters. It did not come as a surprise, when NHRC report brought to notice hundreds (actual number even higher) of rape victims in just one part of Chhattisgarh. The rape cases of three and more women in each incident…. in Jangla Camp 2005, Samsetti Dantewada 2006, Lingagiri 2006, Tatemargu 2009, gang rape of 11 women by greyhounds police in Vakapalli, Andhra Pradesh in 2007, rape of 3 women in Chintalnar, Chhattisgarh in 2010, and now rape of 40 women in Bijapur 2015.… the list goes on. One of the reasons behind these heinous atrocities in Bastar, Dantewada is the same tactic of ‘rape as a weapon of war’, that is being used to eliminate Adivasi resistance and occupy their lands for ‘development’ projects. Regardless of usual media’s apathy, Soni Sori found little space in news. She showed utmost bravery and courage when she came out and spoke against the atrocities of police, state and how Adivasis are constantly trapped into false charges. Soni Sori has now become an established leader in Adivasi movement of Bastar and central India, and has also given strength to other Adivasi women to speak up against these atrocities.

One of the main controversies surrounding Salwa Judum were the use of minor soilders, a survey evaluated by the Forum for Fact-finding Documentation and Advocacy (FFDA) found that over 12,000 minors were being used by the Salwa Judum in the southern district of Dantewada and that the Chhattisgarh Government had officially recruited 4200 Special Police Officers (SPOs); many of them being easily identifiable as minors.[iv]

Although on paper, but Salwa Judum ‘officially’ came to an end after a writ petition was filed in the Supreme Court against the grave Human Rights violations and finally SC in July 2011 declared Salwa Judum as unconstitutional and ordered the state government disband it and take away all the ammunition and accessories from the members. Later SC on 22 August 2013 asked the State Government of Chhattisgarh to answer the court that why a contempt proceeding should not be initiated against it, as the state government failed to carry on the directions of the court that banned Salwa Judum by its order in July 2011. The Court in its order asked the authorities to vacate the schools and ashrams, which were occupied by the Security Forces in the state.

While Salwa Judum ended, it left behind most unpleasant tales of Adivasi life that also question our reality as citizens of India. Below is a table representing total deaths due to Left Wing Extremism, depicting data of two most affected states.

Naxalite Incidents and Deaths 2008–2015

  2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
Chhattisgarh 242 290 343 204 109 111 111
Jharkhand 207 208 157 182 163 152 103
Total 721 908 1005 611 415 397 309

(Source: Ministry of Home Affairs Annual Reports)

The table reflects state’s policy and its consequences. The number has risen from 2008 to 2010 but are gradually reducing now. While these deaths are taken as mere numbers by policy makers and government officials, for Adivasis they depict a bitter reality of structural killing of Indigenous people by the State. Merely within 7 years, 1410 people have died just in Chhattisgarh according to government’s data. While in reality numbers would definitely be higher. Along with these deaths, the chart below shows disturbing reality of the extremes to which jails have been filled up with Adivasi prisoners on false charges, who further suffer rampant atrocities by the police.


These parallel events represent how on multiple levels using its institutions, state reinforces its dominance. Further substantiated by cultural colonization through growing presence of Hindu organizations in the region. While it is always easier to propagate an ‘ideal’, nonviolent- political means of countering state inflicted violence, by giving up arms, violence and fighting through protests and persuasion. For a community that doesn’t exist in the consciousness of nation, for whom there are no means of representation in politics and media, how are they to protect themselves and their homeland? Talking about decolonization and violence, Frantz Fanon had argued that decolonization cannot happen without violence, moreover the colonized man liberates himself through violence. Many narratives of Adivasis joining Maoists, for their own sake and not for ‘communist ideology’ explain similar understanding of violence and decolonization. While, Maoists influence over Adivasis is gradually decreasing, with the rumors of Salwa Judum 2 looming on us, it has made many anxious and insecure. It is hoped that Adivasi community would ensure there’d be no genocide of their people ever again.



[i] Counterinsurgency in India, Varun Vira,

[ii] Independent Citizens’ Initiative Report, 20th July 2006,

[iii] Pleading for justice, Nandini Sundar,

[iv] FFDA data cited from, UNESCO- Under Attack 2010, Brendan O’Malley


Thumbnail Picture: Young Adivasi Special Police Officers at a Salwa Judum training camp in Kasoli village of Dantewada district in Chattisgarh.

Akash Poyam

Founder and Editor of Adivasi Resurgence. Akash belongs to Koitur (Gond) tribe from Balrampur, Chhattisgarh. He is an independent researcher and has written on a range of Adivasi/Tribal issues. He can be reached at - आदिवासी रिसर्जेंस के संस्थापक और संपादक, आकाश, बलरामपुर छत्तीसगढ़ के कोइतुर (गोंड) समुदाय से हैं। वह एक स्वतंत्र शोधकर्ता हैं और उन्होंने विभिन्न आदिवासी विषयों और मुद्दों पर लिखा है। उन्हें इस ईमेल पर पहुँचा जा सकता है।

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