Why Samajik Ekta Manch can’t be the last vigilante group in Chhattisgarh
“The residents of Bastar had created the Samajik Ekta Manch (SEM) to support the central government, state government, district administration and police administration in their fight against Naxals. To this end, we had protested peacefully, and democratically against Naxalism. But it is now being felt that in the guise of the SEM, some people are trying to defame government, police and administration. In these circumstances, the members of the SEM have unanimously decided to disband the organisation with immediate effect.”
This statement by SEM came after the India Today Television aired a sting operation how the reincarnated version of the Salwa Judum, was a proxy of the state police created to fight those who spoke for Adivasi rights.
The police officers were found saying in the sting video how they facilitated the operation of SEM. What is interesting is that a police officer was saying that if the government is forced to ban the organisation, they have at their disposal various organisations for their war against the Maoists.
The police officer might have made this claim well knowing the practice of the State and its ability to circumvent an order, which some of the arms of the Establishment were forced to pronounce owing to public outcry or court intervention.
It was in July 5 , 2011 that the Supreme Court ruled that the Salwa Judum, the militia created by the state government to fight the Maoists, as unconstitutional. Many well meaning rights activists thought that State should seriously follow the apex court’s directions. The Supreme Court in its verdict at that time categorically stated that it is unconstitutional to arm the people in its fight against insurgency. The judges directed the state government to recover all arms and ammunition given to Judum. The point that is obvious is that both the BJP and Congress, the political parties which has dominated the electoral politics in Chhattisgarh supported the extra constitutional organisation for its fight against Maoism. The then home minister and Congress leader P Chidambaram was all praise for the BJP chief minister Raman Singh for recruiting special police officers to fight Maoists. The Supreme court came down heavily against this also.
Going by the history of Chattisagarh, unless the government thinks that the advasis has the right to life in the mineral rich area, the vigilante groups will continue to sprout and flourish. It is to be noted that Congress leader, Mahindra Karma intiated Jan Jagran Abhiyan in 1991 the year in which India started liberalising its economy. The Abhiyan was started at the behest of local traders and businessman who thought that adivasi resistance movement is impeding their growth prospects. However the vigilante group started by Karma failed to achieve its goals.
After big business conglomerates like Tata and Essar signed MoU with the government for mining the in the state, started helping the vigilante groups in its endeavor to flush out Marxist extremists who were organising tribals against evacuation from their land. Judum was an instant hit with all the major political parties. But right groups across the globe including the New York based Human Rights Watch in its reports brought to the fore the violence this group unleashed. According to an estimate the state supported extra constitutional group forcefully evacuated more than three lakh people. They “cleaned” 600 villages according to human rights organisations.
From Abhiyan to SEM all the groups were aided and armed by the government. They were doing what the police could not do. Because dealing with the adivasi resistance movement constitutionally is not easy. Since the GDP growth target set by the state and central government would not be achievable unless the locals are forced out of their land paving the way for the big industries to start their mining operations. So the economic logic of the State badly needs such vigilante groups because the policies that throw native people out of their land is at variance with the Indian Constitution.
Look at the way SEM attacked activists. Their main targets were not the Maoists, but journalists activists and lawyers who spoke about basic human rights. These vigilante groups seems rightly understand that not just Maoists but even those who stand for the basic human rights are a threat to economic ‘development’. So wait, SEM might have been disbanded, but a new avatar of the militia will soon be presented by the state.