Nandini Sundar: Disarming The Jungle Lords

Chhattisgarh's strategy of arming civilians to fight Naxalites will continue despite the Supreme Court's verdict, activist Nandini Sundar tells Forbes India

Published: Jul 18, 2011
Nandini Sundar: Disarming The Jungle Lords
Image: Amit Verma

An activist for the cause of Adivasis caught in the anti-naxal operations in Chhattisgarh; Head of the Department of Sociology, Delhi School of Economics; was previously Associate Professor, Centre for the Study of Law and Governance, Jawaharlal Nehru University
Education: M.A., M.Phil & Ph.D in Anthropology, Columbia University, New York. B.A. Philosophy, Politics and Economics, Oxford University
Interests: Reading, walking

What do you think would be the repercussions of the Supreme Court order which has banned the use of Special Police Officers in anti-naxal operations? How would it change things on ground in Chhattisgarh?
It will change things on ground only if the Chhattisgarh government is sincere about implementing it. But from the initial reactions, I don’t think they are serious about addressing the issue and in fact they are doing what they have always done, which is to refuse to follow the court’s orders. In 2008, the court directed them to compensate people affected by the (Salwa Judum orchestrated) violence, ensure that people can return home,  ensure that there is a list of missing people and file FIRs, but they have done nothing. If you read their affidavits over the years, their only defense has been that all these people are naxalite supporters. They have displayed complete contempt for the court. I am afraid that they will try and do that again. They now say they will file a review petition.

What sort of a role do you think the centre could play in the wake of the judgment?
There is a close overlap between the central government’s home ministry and the Chhattisgarh establishment. Sometimes I feel the home ministry in the centre is an extension of the BJP rather than being run by the Congress government in terms of the way in which it has consistently supported the Chhattisgarh government in all its violations, even when it has been to the detriment of the Congress in Chhattisgarh. The fact is that this whole policy of Salwa Judum was a joint policy of the centre and the state and so the home ministry has defended this policy. I think it is going to be difficult to admit that this is wrong. From my understanding, the judgment is being welcomed by the public and it is the security establishment which is upset about it.

How do you see the order being implemented?

They will have to implement the order; if not we will be filing contempt. They say they are going to file a review petition but that’s not going to be easy as they think. Right from the beginning, when matter was first heard, the courts have being saying that the government cannot arm civilians to fight insurgencies. It’s not just this judge; it is the view of the Supreme Court as a whole…They seem too understand instantly that you cannot arm one section of the society to fight another. This is exactly what they are doing in Chhatttisgarh, it is entirely up to the Station House Officer to appoint Special Police Officers. There are no regulations or background checks in these appointments.

How difficult would it be to disarm the Salwa Judum?

The process will not be easy because they have al these people who are used to lording over the areas, have become local contractors and have become used to the power of the gun. But they do have to be disarmed. When the collector and commissioner was trying to get relief to Tadimetla, Dimapur and Modpalli villages, after they came under attack, they were not allowed to go by the SPOs. Swami Agnivesh was also attacked by the SPOs. This is crazy because they have become complete law into themselves which cannot be allowed.

Will the recent rise of the civil rights movements, such as that of Anna Hazare, lead to activists taking up the cause of Adivasis also getting more elbow room with the government?
The problem is that the two constituencies are very different. The people behind Anna Hazare have been largely middle-class. This (the anti-corruption movement)  is something that is at least seen as legitimate by both the ruling parties and civil societies as an issue to be debated, but when it comes to the issue of the Adivasi community, they are completely marginalised. There are no Adivasi journalists in the mainstream media, and even in Chhattisgarh there are very few. There is such a huge disconnect between what people in Delhi think they know about the country and what is actually happening in the rest of the country. Everybody is hugely upset about Operation Green Hunt (the Government’s anti-naxalite offensive) in Adivasi areas.

The security personnel in the state say that they are not even able to build roads as they come under attack. Are these roads not necessary for development?

The way it is being put (now) is: Should we have security first or development first. The way it should be put is should we have justice first? Once you have provided justice, then you can get started on development and don’t need this kind of heavy handed approach. The judgment talks about the constitutional principles and how you cannot violate constitutional principles while fighting counter-insurgency.

What is the sense you get when you travel to Chhattisgarh?
I have not been able to go to Chhattisgarh for a while because I have been stopped by the SPOs. The last time I had gone, people had asked, “please do something about these peace talks”. I was amazed because some of these people were former Salwa Judum leaders, the Chambers of Commerce in Jagdalpur and the Central Reserve Police Force (personnel). There is a huge need for the peace talks right now. Instead of taking to the Sri Lanka Model, we need to look at a truth and reconciliation model and talks. That’s a much better model.
The recent move to appoint activist Binayak Sen to a committee in the Planning Commission is being seen as an attempt to reach out to the human rights activists by the government. Do you think such a gesture indicates that the situation could become better with the centre becoming more accommodative?
I think the situation has gotten worse. When operation Green Hunt started in 2009, there were people talking about peace talks. It was not serious but at least that kind of conversation was going on…. But now no one is talking about Green Hunt (or peace talks). In fact it was amazing that as soon as the Home Ministry said there was no need to talk of Green Hunt, the media also stopped talking about it. It has become so hard to raise the issue of peace talks now and they are just sending in the army for training and we do not know whether they will be deployed or not. So I think it’s kind of settling down into this long war. On the one hand they are sending more and more troops and on the other hand they have this integrated action plan, which is really a security plan and is not about development. They think they can win this war through military means and this integrated development plan is just a fig leaf for what they are doing.

(This story appears in the 29 July, 2011 issue of Forbes India. You can buy our tablet version from To visit our Archives, click here.)

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  • Mitali Dutta

    India is not rising. It has risen to the peak of corruption and immorality. We are visualizing the tip of the ice berg only.

    on Dec 7, 2011
  • T.k.dutta

    The nexus between corrupt politicians, terror corporate and hangdog media is the greatest menace before common Indians.

    on Nov 25, 2011
  • Zia Qureshi

    chhattisgarh says to u .thanks nadini ji

    on Jul 18, 2011
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