Interrogating the Maoists and the Indian State: A Study of Salwa Judum in Bastar

Published date01 June 2017
Date01 June 2017
AuthorHimanshu Roy
Subject MatterArticles
Indian Journal of Public
63(2) 284–301
© 2017 IIPA
SAGE Publications
DOI: 10.1177/0019556117699742
1 Associate Professor of Political Science, DDU College, University of Delhi, Second Floor, Kalu Sarai,
Hauz Khas, New Delhi, India.
Corresponding author:
Himanshu Roy, Associate Professor of Political Science, DDU College, University of Delhi, 22 A,
Second Floor, Kalu Sarai, Hauz Khas, New Delhi 110016, India.
Interrogating the Maoists
and the Indian State: A
Study of Salwa Judum in
Himanshu Roy1
Salwa Judum was a unique tribal-peasant movement that arose against the specific
agenda of the Communist Party of India (Maoist)1 (henceforth Maoists) in its full
intensity in 2005 in the sub-region of Bastar (baanstari, a Halbi word meaning
the bed of or the land of bamboos) in Chhattisgarh. The movement began since
January across different villages of non-Abujh Maad (the unknown hills of Madia/
Koya tribes) sub-region that initially galvanised approximately 20,000 tribals. It
was spontaneous and non-political (Prasad, 2012, p. 329). It was unique as the
movement was against a ‘revolutionary’ group of Maoists and not against the
state or against the zamindari system as most peasant movements in rural India
were in the past. Its build-up was the culmination of suppressed anger of the
tribals that had developed over decades against the Maoists also called ‘Naxalites’.
It was a new and different phenomenon.
Salwa Judum, Maoists, tribals, Bastar, state
The arrival of the British in Bastar in 1853 and the incipient onset of capitalist
development since then gradually began to impact the old ruling classes of Bastar
and the tribes in their everyday existence, both in their public and private domains.
The new ruling classes and their new colonial administration were different in
interests, in laws and in functioning. It expanded the capitalist framework of
Roy 285
economy in everyday relations, brought in new technology and intervention of the
state even in private domains which began to impact the old society, radically.
This continued in post-1947 Bastar. The state actively intervened in the devel-
opment of health, education and agriculture but left the other customary practices
of the tribals to them. Simultaneously, it also continued to permit the private busi-
ness which expanded with time and engaged ever larger sections of population in
its vortex. Since the late 1960s, however, the local administration in Bastar slowed
down the developmental plans and almost retreated from the interior territory. It
was initiated by B.D. Sharma, the District Collector of Bastar (1971–1972). The
idea was to let the tribes live in their natural habitat without suffering the perni-
cious impact of bourgeois development from outside. The creation of the new
state, Chhattisgarh, in the year 2000, the expansion of capitalism under economic
liberalisation since 1991 and the arrival and expansion of the Maoists since 1980
created a new contradictory situation for the tribals. The interplay of these con-
nected factors facilitated the emergence of Salwa Judum.
Contrary Interpretations
Salwa Judum, if interpreted as a Gondi term, generally spoken as one word by the
tribals, metaphor, or as one word, which it is, means rallying/bonding together.
But if it is broken into two words, Salwa and Judum,2 the meaning changes; it
becomes purification hunt, ghost busting (bhoot bhagana), etc. As, for example,
Jawaharlal is a name in Hindi; but usually, it is broken into two words, Jawahar
and Lal and then abbreviated separately as J.L. in English (Prasad, 2012, pp. 7–8).
This distorts the Hindi name. In a similar way, the meaning of Salwa Judum was
distorted deliberately to suit an ideological design.
The phenomenon of Salwa Judum has been interpreted differently by the civil
society which can be primarily categorised into two: ‘Bastar ke do chehre ho gaye
hain. Ek chehra jo unka hai aur doosra jis par ek Bastaria kahawat sahi baithti
haiKavra-Kolhaar (Kaak-Kolahal ) ’ (Salwa Judum has two interpretations, one
which is local, Bastari and the other, which has been foisted upon it by outsiders.)
(Prasad, 2012, pp. 328–329). The first, the unsaid voice is the local, vernacular
Chhattisgarhi opinion of the civil society which is feeble and non-assertive, and
which primarily blames the Maoists for its emergence ‘Salwa Judum swatah
asphoort ho athwa prayojit, iska pradurbhav Bhartiya Communist Party (Maoist)
ke gathan ke baad apne aadhar kshetra ko vistaar dene ke koshishon ke saath-
saath hua hai’.3 (The formation of the Maoist party and the design to expand its
base leads to its resistance by the local tribes.) The second is the English, urban,
non-Chhattisgarhi but vocal ideological formulation that asserts that the Salwa
Judum is ‘an anti-Naxalite counter-insurgency campaign . . . in which the state
has descended to private vigilantism to counter it’ (Sundar, 2007, p. vii). The first
argues that the atrocities have been committed by both the sides ‘nrishans hatya
aur balatkaar dono pakshon ki satyata thi’. (Killings and rapes were committed
by both sides.) (Prasad, 2012, p. 329). The second articulates that it is the state that
supported Salwa Judum, armed them and launched them against the local tribals

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