Kerala Government’s Salwa Judum Experiment

November 17, 2013

By S. Mohammed Irshad

Combating Maoism is still a law and order problem for the state. Government of India has already moved in that direction. Government of Kerala is planning to introduce a similar policy in the state. Kerala government is planning to appoint home guards from tribal community by paying Rs 500 per day to combat ‘Maoist threat’ in the tribal areas of Kerala. There are reports that, Maoists are started political activities in the tribal area, especially areas close to the forest. There are reports that, the mist started poster campaigns against the government. The media also report that they put up posters against the district secretary of CPI (M) Mr Shasheendran .

Kerala has a rich history of Naxalite movement and police actions on Naxalites are also well established in the state. Many people who were close to the ideology of Naxalites were murdered or missed during the emergency period. Naxal Vargas who was arrested and later killed by police , Rajan an engineering student who was dying during emergency and Angadipuram Balan another activist who burned himself while he was transporting to the police station. These are some of the known cases and obviously there were many unknown cases. So, Naxalite/Maoist movement is not completely new concept to the public of Kerala.

Compacting naxalism was state’s concern and not considered as a political problem which requires direct public involvement. The latest phase, have changed the existing public understanding of compacting Maoists. It has been termed as the responsibility of the Tribal community to save themselves from Maoists. This strategy yet to be legally ratified, however, any ruling party (congress) activists declare that this is an attempt to generate the spirit of nationalism among the tribal community. To them, Government of Kerala is facilitating an open fight with anti-national forces , and according to him it would develop nationalism among tribal. Such argument completely ignores the history of tribal led anti-colonial struggle in Kerala. Tribal fought for land and dignity against British colonial forces, even before the nationalist movement emerges to fight colonialism. Hence, the tribal areas of India had a history of struggle and that sense of struggle is the major impediment of expanding right over tribal resources.

State Vs Combating Maoist

There were reports that the Government of Kerala has spent Rs 11 crore to fight left wing extremism in the state. There is no authenticity of this information; a special force called Thunderbolt is formed in the state. Naxalite/Maoist presence is primarily pose challenge to the state and not to the general public. Any direct attack on state policy is seems to be anti-national/anti-people this is the reason why the Congress MLA argues this an opportunity for the tribe to show solidarity towards the state. Tribal and Dalit colonies and settlements are the most backward areas in Kerala and these areas are indeed question the success of Kerala Model of development. Land alienation among Tribal and Dalit community in Kerala also indicates the other side of the government approach. The land historically owned by the tribal community has not yet redistributed to them. In 1974 a committee headed by Madhva Menon found that about more than 50000 acres of forest land had to be redistributed, however no effective attempt have made by any political party in the state to implement it. The forest land resources are actually the focus of the latest government attempt.

Question of illegality

The Supreme Court judgment on Special Police Officers (SPO) and Salwa Judam in Chathisgrah has questioned the political power of the state to arm the ‘civilian’ to perform the duty which is suppose the state has to do. The very rationale of deploying such armed civilian was questioned and the government of Chatisgrah had no reasonable evidence to justify the SPOs. The verdict states that ‘expression of dissatisfaction is a positive feature of democracy, that unrest is often the only thing that actually puts pressure on the government to make things work and for the government to live up to its own promises. However, the right to protest, even peacefully, is often not recognized by the authorities, and even non-violent agitations are met with severe repression…. What is surprisingis not the fact of unrest, but the failure of the State to draw right conclusions from it.’.

SPOs like forces are legal only when Government of India moves to either privatization or introduce public-private-partnership in law and order maintenance. If the government of India had initiated such measures, the Supreme Court would not have issued such a judgment. SPOs, Salwa Judam and Ranvir Seen are in fact private armies. Unlike Ranvir Sena, SPOs and Salva Judam personals were given training by state police establishments. Upper caste/class had initiated Ranvir Sena against Dalit and it was essential for them to protect their caste/class interest.SPOs are not protected by any legal entitlements.

The judgment made it clear that ‘as we remarked earlier, the fight against Maoist/Naxalite violence cannot be conducted purely as a mere law and order problem to be confronted by whatever means the State can muster. The primordial problem lies deep within the socioeconomic policies pursued by the State on a society that was already endemically, and horrifically, suffering from gross inequalities’. Government of India has categorically rejected the court observation and now Kerala government is started following centre government’s foot step. The left front opposition parties have not made any substantial remarks on this issue. The CPI (M) district secretary of Wynad, Mr Shasheendran had expressed a very democratic view on this issue, he infact categorically made it clear that democracy offering such avenues for political movements to engage with the public. He also said that the tribal community’s standard of life is critically pathetic. The organized left parties and other political movements have not officially commented on the political issue of private armies. There is a consensus among all political parties to bring the tribal area under state control. The target is not a tribal community instead it is the resource of the tribal area

SPOs and Salwa Judam are primarily for protecting resources in the tribal area, especially for private mining companies. It also prevents exercising the constitutional (tribal self autonomy) right of Tribal over tribal area. Kerala government’s attempts indicate the dilemma of tribal development. State government knows how to prevent tribal community getting attracted to Maoist ideology; however, the state has no concrete plan for an effective developmental intervention for the tribal community.

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