Villagers crave for peace in Maoist-hit Bastar

50-year old Aitu Solam sitting in front of his shop at his house in Salwa Judum camp, Dornapal, Sukma.

After the Maoists brutally beat him up and gutted his house in Sukma's Dubatota village in 2006 for “a small mistake,” Aitu Solam, head of this village of 100 families, vowed to fight them and end their regime of terror in the forests of Bastar.

Congress leader Mahendra Karma, who was killed along with 26 other leaders of his party in an ambush by Maoists in Sukma in 2013, was then spearheading an anti-Maoist movement of tribals Salwa Judum—Gondi language words which mean peace march.

Aitu along with his family members and villagers left his village and joined Salwa Judum, an anti-Maoist movement, to take the deadly battle with Maoists head-on, leaving everything behind that they owned in Dubatota.

They took up arms, lived in makeshift camps and participated in a series of anti-Maoist operations carried out by thousands of tribals in the region as part of the Salwa Judum with the active support of the police and the government until the Supreme Court banned it and its activities in 2011.

Eight years down the line, Aitu, who is now 50 and lives with his family as well as co-villagers at a Salwa Judum camp in Dornapal, located about 19 kilometers from his village, finds himself and thousands of others to have achieved nothing by joining the Salwa Judum as it only made them a permanent enemy of the Maoists in the region with no guarantee for safety from the rebels.

Caught in the crossfire between the Maoists and the security forces, Salwa Judum volunteers now want a government in place which can bring “peace and prosperity” in the region with “multi-pronged and effective strategy” as they continue to live in the camps as refugees under the shadow of death each day.

'Government deserted us'

“After court's verdict, the government left us. We are completely on our own today for everything. We want a government which can bring peace and prosperity here taking various measures for the welfare of tribals. Bullets for bullets will never end the Naxal menace,” Aitu told DH.

When the Salwa Judum was launched in 2005 from Bijpur in Chhatisgarh, it was touted as the ultimate way to end the Maoist menace in the tribal hinterland of the Bastar.

“But, the movement made the situation rather worse here, particularly for all of us who joined Salwa Judum,” said another villager in the camp.

Distribution of arms to villagers by the government to take on the Maoists "completely changed" the face of the movement.

“The movement took an ugly turn. They too began committing various kinds of atrocities on the people in the name of the fight against Maoists,” Aitu added.

Salwa Judum volunteers, settled in camps in other areas, conceded requesting anonymity that they have now “given in” to Maoists and follow their diktats “to survive.”

“But, we still cannot go back to our villages and live a normal life,” they say.

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