Illegal militias

Illegal militias

The Supreme Court’s declaration as illegal the recruiting of tribals into anti-Maoist militias in Chhattisgarh will have ramifications not only for anti-Maoist operations in the state but for India’s counter-insurgency operations in other parts of the country. The apex court ruling is a slap on the face of the BJP government. Since 2005, the Chhattisgarh government has been raising the Salwa Judum, an anti-Maoist militia which it claimed was a volunteer force.  Unskilled and illiterate tribal youth were armed to take on the vastly superior Maoists for a small sum. In the process the conflict in Chhattisgarh turned into a civil war, pitting tribals against each other. It raised violence to unprecedented levels. Human rights violations were rampant. The Supreme Court ruling should put an end to this ill-conceived strategy. The court has also rapped the Centre on the knuckles for providing the funding of this illegal militia. It has done well to insist that the SPOs should be used for routine police work alone.

Security analysts have described the Supreme Court ruling as a setback to counter-insurgency operations in Chhattisgarh. Nothing is further from the truth. Tackling an insurgency must be done using legal and constitutional methods. Adopting measures like the Salwa Judum that subvert the constitution and raise violence levels are counter-productive as they result in the forming of illegal militias that over time run amok and cannot be controlled by the state. The creation of illegal militias by the state to fight insurgents is not unique to Chhattisgarh alone and this strategy has used in other insurgency-wracked areas like Jammu and Kashmir or the Northeast. Surrendered militants are armed and sent out to fight alongside the security forces.

With the disbanding of the Salwa Judum and the disarming of the militias, their members will now return to the villages where it is more than likely that they will be targeted by the Maoists. It is the duty of the state to protect them. It used and abused them. It must now undo the mess. It cannot wash its hands off them now. The court has done well to call a halt to the Salwa Judum strategy. It must take this excellent ruling to its logical conclusion. It must call on the government to protect the former SPOs.

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