UNI

New Delhi, May 30: The Independent Citizen’s Initiative, which visited various places in Chhattisgarh where the Salwa Judum programme is in progress, today observed that the movement could lead to a civil war as “violence was taking over sanity”.

The initiative panel, comprising writers, senior journalists and former civil servants, travelled across Dantewada district, met a cross-section of people including refugees in camps, police officers and other citizens. It found the situation extremely serious in the area with a fear-ridden atmosphere and heightened violence, which left ordinary villagers, particularly tribals, as the main sufferers.

“The Chhattisgarh administration appears to have ‘outsourced’ law and order to an unaccountable, undisciplined and amorphous group of criminals which calls itself Salwa Judum and which the government describes as spontaneous, self-initiated peace mission resulting in flocking of ordinary people against the Maoists’ onslaught,” said the panel’s study report released to mediapersons here.

The panel comprised Dr Ramachandra Guha (historian from Bangalore), Mr Harivansh (editor Prabhat Khabar, Ranchi), Ms Farah Naqvi (writer, social activist), Mr Eas Sarma (former secretary of Indian government), Dr Nandini Sundar (professor sociology, Delhi University) and Mr B G Verghese (former editor Hindustan Times, Indian Express).

The panel found “evidence of killings, burning of homes, attacks on women, including gang-rape… Only the killings by Maoists are recorded and killings by Salwa Judum recruits have been ignored… Arrests are arbitrary… Several people are missing”.

“The press is tightly controlled and intimidated, and feels unable to report the truth,” the report said.

The violence by Maoist guerillas continues, the report said adding it could not be countered by violence as “violence is no answer to violence”.

Under the Salwa Judum programme, thousands of villagers have been forced to come and live in camps… And the government appears to have no long-term plans for rehabilitation or safe return of the villagers, the report said.

Besides, under the programme, minors were used as special police officers armed with lathis and guns leaving the entire rural society criminalised and vulnerable to retaliatory attacks by the Maoists.

The panel members said though they were carrying the additional chief secretary’s letter informing the state officials about their visit, they were prevented from going to the villages seriously affected by human rights violations.

“We were physically attacked three times by Salwa Judum activists, manhandled and our possessions including camera stolen, with the police being a mute spectator,” Mr Verghese said.

The panel demanded immediate withdrawal of Salwa Judum, disarming of SPOs, besides restoration of law and order and facilitating return of villagers to thier homes.

It also demanded judicial inquiry into the salwa judum and large scale human and civil rights violations.

For this, the panel member said, “Both Maoists and the government must declare cease-fire.”

The panel also appealed to the Maoists to stop violence and help the affected villagers return to their homes.