|Dates of operation||2005–present|
|Active region(s)||Bastar and Dantewada districts of Chhattisgarh, India|
Salwa Judum (meaning "Peace March" or "Purification Hunt" in Gondi language) was a militia that was mobilised and deployed as part of anti-insurgency operations in Chhattisgarh, India, aimed at countering Naxalite violence in the region. The militia, consisting of local tribal youth, received support and training from the Chhattisgarh state government. It has been outlawed and banned by a Supreme Court court order, but continues to exist in the form of Armed Auxiliary Forces, District Reserve Group and other vigilante groups. 
On 5 July 2011, the Supreme Court of India in a case filed by Nandini Sundar and ors declared the militia to be illegal and unconstitutional, and ordered its disbanding. The Court directed the Chhattisgarh government to recover all the firearms, ammunition and accessories. The use of Salwa Judum by the government for anti-Naxal operations was criticised for its violations of human rights and poorly trained youth for counter-insurgency roles. It also ordered the government to investigate all instances of alleged criminal activities of Salwa Judum.
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, 400 km south of Raipur and 50 km from Jagdalpur.
Salwa Judum started in 2005 as a state sponsored vigilante movement against the Naxalites, a far-left movement with Maoist ideology in some states in rural India that is designated by India as a terrorist organisation on account of their violent activities. The movement later received bi-partisan support from both the ruling and opposition parties.
In 2008, Chhattisgarh along with neighbouring Jharkhand accounted for over 65% of the total Naxal violence in the country. Chhattisgarh state had trained a number of 'Special Police Officers' or SPOs (also commonly referred to as Koya commandos), from amongst the tribals who were part of Salwa Judum.
Bastar and Dantewada districts of Chhattisgarh have traditionally been sparsely populated and rich in natural resources but also with some of the poorest tribal regions. The (Naxalites) progressively increased their influence and control among local tribals through a combination of political mobilisation (around poor governance, land rights, livelihood and social inequity) and force.
The first movement against the Naxalites was the 'Jan Jagran Abhiyan', started in 1991 by Mahendra Karma, a local tribal leader. This was mostly led by local traders and businessmen. This collapsed, and the leaders had to seek police protection. However, the second time around, the state had signed the mining agreements with the Tata and Essar groups, and was eager to flush the region of the Naxalites in order let the mining companies smoothly operate there. This was the beginning of police and military support to the movement. Mahendra Karma, a Congress Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) and the leader of opposition in the State Legislative Assembly became the public front and took the Bijapur-based movement to Dantewada, Katreli and other parts of the region.
Salwa Judum herded villagers and tribals in makeshift camps, where human rights abuses were rife. Salwa Judum became increasingly violent and out of control. Salwa Judum is also accused of burning and evacuating out 644 or more villages, making 300,000 people flee their homes. As the situation further escalated in the coming years, Human Rights Watch reported atrocities at both ends, and reported large scale displacement of the civilian population caught in the conflict between the Naxalites and Salwa Judum activists with at least 100,000 people moving to various camps in southern Chhattisgarh or fleeing to neighbouring Andhra Pradesh as of early 2008. By mid-2008 the figure grew to 150,000 tribals being displaced. There was also widespread report of rape and other abuses on women by the Judum.
Since the inception of the movement in 2005, over 800 people, including some 300 security personnel, have been killed by the Naxalites and security forces, SPO deaths alone total 98 – one in 2005; 29 in 2006; 66 in 2007; and 20 in 2008, when the Maoists rebels continued their attacks, though now considerably more dramatic from the previous years, they were now splitting into smaller groups and specifically targeting Salwa Judum leaders and security personnel who were ambushed in weekly markets in remote areas, and their weapons stolen, also posters threatening Salwa Judum leaders continued to appear in villages across Dantewada and Bijapur. However by mid-2008, movement's frontliner, Mahendra Karma announced that it will soon cease to exist, and end 2008, saw Salwa Judum which had controlled the lives of tribal people in camps and its influenced villages for nearly three years losing its hold in the region; the number of people living in the camps dropped from earlier 50,000 to 13,000 and public support dwindled away. An NHRC report published in October 2008, said that Salwa Judum having lost its earlier momentum was only restricted to its 23 camps in the Dantewada and Bijapur districts of Chhattisgarh.
Development of Special Police Officers (SPOs)
The Chhattisgarh state Police employs tribal youths as SPOs (Special Police Officers), which are essentially 4,000 youth, both ex-Naxalites and those drawn from Salwa Judum camps in the Bastar region, who are paid an honorarium of Rs 1,500 (Rs 3000 in 2011)per month by the state government, were trained by with mostly .303 rifles. In Feb 2011, the Supreme Court in India declared such arming of civilians illegal, but the Chhattisgarh government continued to arm them under another name.
In 2008, there were 23 Salwa Judum camps in Bijapur and Dantewara districts of Bastar region where almost 50,000 tribals from over 600 villages had settled. The government has now discredited the Salwa Judum movement. Union Minister of Home Affairs, P. Chidambaram has praised the role of special police officers (SPOs) in fighting Naxalism and called for their appointment "wherever required", while the Chhattisgarh Chief Minister, Raman Singh has stated that "Salwa Judum is the answer to get rid of the Naxal menace in the state..". On 5 July 2011, the Supreme Court of India ordered the Indian state of Chhattisgarh to disband a militia force founded to combat Maoist guerrillas who control large areas of the country. As reported in The Hindu, the Supreme Court directed the Chhattisgarh police to "immediately cease and desist from using SPOs in any manner or form in any activities, directly or indirectly, aimed at controlling, countering, mitigating or otherwise eliminating Maoist/Naxalite activities" and directed the police to recall all firearms issued to these men. On 6 July 2011 supreme court declared Salwa Judum as illegal.
There have been numerous reports that the Salwa Judum had recruited minors for its armed forces. A primary survey evaluated by the Forum for Fact-finding Documentation and Advocacy (FFDA) determined 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". The Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) also found that the Salwa Judum had engaged in the recruitment of child soldiers. Similar recruitment findings were also reported in the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers's "Child Soldiers Global Report 2008 – India".
Human Rights Violations
Some human rights organisations such as the People's Union for Civil Liberties has raised allegations against Salwa Judum. 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." The report was submitted to honourable Supreme Court of India which, on the contrary, declared Salwa Judum to be illegal and unconstitutional, and ordered its disbanding. This clearly raises doubts against the neutrality of the NHRC commission whose report stood in strong support of Salwa Judum.
State Sponsoring of Militias
In April 2008, a Supreme Court bench directed the state Government to refrain from allegedly supporting and encouraging the Salwa Judum: "It is a question of law and order. You cannot give arms to somebody (a civilian) and allow him to kill. You will be an abettor of the offence under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code."; the state government had earlier denied, Salwa Judum being a state-sponsored movement, later it directed the state government to take up the remedial measures suggested in the NHRC earlier report The Human Rights Commission alleged that Security forces collaborated with Salwa Judum in their fight against the Maoists.
In an order, the Supreme Court mentioned that people take arms for survival and against inhuman implementation of law depriving the weak, and not senselessly. The court pointed out the importance of formalised state police actions, in ways that do not ignore Constitutional values:
"Given humanity's collective experience with unchecked power, which becomes its own principle and its practice its own raison d'etre, resulting in the eventual dehumanisation of all the people, the scouring of the earth by the unquenchable thirst for natural resources by imperialist powers, and the horrors of two World Wars, modern Constitutionalism posits that no wielder of power should be allowed to claim the right to perpetrate the state's violence against any one, much less its own citizens, unchecked by law, and notions of innate human dignity of every individual."
Encouraged by the alleged highly "positive" results of the movement in the region, the government was planning to launch a people's movement in insurgency hit state of Manipur on similar lines. In 2006, Karnataka raised a similar force employing tribals youths to fight Naxalism in the state, as did Andhra Pradesh prior to it Jharkhand is another state that has been successfully using SPOs to counter Leftwing terrorists.
However, the Salwa Judum appears to have been abandoned in Chhattisgarh state, with Chief Minister Raman Singh describing the movement as "over", because it was counterproductive and "innocent people were being killed" Singh, however, said that a "peaceful campaign" to wean locals away from supporting Maoists would continue.
- Channel 4's Unreported World telecast a program titled "India's Hidden War" in October 2006, on the Maoist war against the state of India.
Darbha Ghat Massacre
On 25 May 2013, members of the Congress party running the Parivartan Yatra (Change Campaign), projected as preparatory campaigning for the forthcoming state elections, travelling in a convoy of vehicles after addressing rallies in Sukma, were ambushed and killed by Naxalites. Deceased includes Mahendra Karma, founder and leader of the outlawed and disbanded Salwa Judum, Vidya Charan Shukla a prominent Congress state and ex-central minister, scion of a prominent political family, Nand Kumar Patel, President of the Chhattisgarh Pradesh Congress Committee, his son Dinesh Patel, ex-MLA Uday Mudaliyar, and others, while several others were injured, including ex-MLA Phulo Devi Netam. Shukla survived the attack and was airlifted to several hospitals before succumbing 11 June 2013. In a public statement, the Naxalites claimed that they had specifically targeted Karma; he had been stabbed multiple times by a group of women Naxalites.
- The Burning Forest: India's War in Bastar, by Nandini Sundar, Juggernaut Press, 2016
The Adivasis of Chhattisgarh: Victims of the Naxalite Movement and Salwa Judum Campaign, by Asian Centre for Human Rights. Published by Asian Centre for Human Rights, 2006.
- Compact Revolutionary Zone
- Naxalite-Maoist insurgency
- Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist)
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- Salwa Judum may stay in Bastar after polls NDTV, 13 November 2008.
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