We haven’t given clean chit to Salwa Judum: NHRC chief

October 9th, 2008 - 12:42 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Oct 9 (IANS) Contrary to reports that the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) had approved the Chhattisgarh government’s rationale of arming activists of Salwa Judum to tackle Maoists, NHRC chief S. Rajendra Babu says the rights body has not given the civilian militia movement a clean chit.”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,” Babu told IANS in an interview.

Salwa Judum, an anti-Maoist movement, was started by the state government in 2005 to bring the area dominated by armed rebels back under government control.

“The NHRC report was based on a Supreme Court directive asking us to probe allegations of high-handedness on the part of Salwa Judum,” said Babu.

“Even before the court asked us to probe allegations that Salwa Judum activists had been indulging in rape and killing of tribals in the state, I had spoken to the chief minister of Chhattisgarh and told him the same and asked him to deal with the issue as a socio-economic problem,” he said.

The apex court’s order came during the hearing of a petition by academicians Ramachandra Guha and Nandni Sunder who alleged that in the name of fighting Maoists, the state was arming Salwa Judum activists and encouraging them to kill innocent tribals and villagers and that, sensing its new powers, Salwa Judum had become an extra-constitutional authority.

It was while hearing this petition that the apex court asked the NHRC to probe these allegations and submit its report within two months.

The NHRC report said: “Allegations levelled in the petition against Salwa Judum are prima facie true to the extent of burning of houses and looting. However, the allegations against Salwa Judum of killings are not true. During the enquiry of some specific allegations, the enquiry team also did not come across any case of rape which could be substantiated.

“On the other hand, the Naxalites (Maoists) have not only selectively killed Salwa Judum leaders and supporters, but they are also responsible for the indiscriminate killing of many tribals and security personnel,” the report said.

Some human rights activists are unhappy with the NHRC findings.

“I have been working with the violence hit tribals and internally displaced people (IDP) of Chhattisgarh for more than a year now and am familiar with the ground realities. The NHRC report on Salwa Judum has left me depressed,” P. Raghu, activist and programme manager working with ActionAid, an international NGO, told IANS.

“At the moment I am working with those displaced from Chhattisgarh and staying in Andhra Pradesh. And there are about 50,000 of them. The report I felt was in favour of the state,” he said.

Sashwati Das, another activist working with those displaced, told IANS: “Tribals in the Khammam district along the Andhra Pradesh-Chhattisgarh border have set up temporary shelters in the forests but live in constant fear that Salwa Judum activists would find them and attack or that the state police or forest officials would evict them from their settlements.

“There are consistent threats from the forest department, the police and the local people. The forest department considers them encroachers, police treat them as supporters of the Naxalites, and the local people see them as threats to their livelihood.”

(Azera Rahman can be contacted at azera.p@ians.in)

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