Tribal families that fled Baster during Salwa Judum years return

24 families return to their roots after spending 13 years in Andhra as agricultural labourers

By Ishan Kukreti
Published: Saturday 27 April 2019
Representational photo of Salwa Judum participants: Wikimedia Commons
Representational photo of Salwa Judum participants: Wikimedia Commons Representational photo of Salwa Judum participants: Wikimedia Commons

Maraiguda village in Chhattisgarh’s Sukma district is witnessing a homecoming, the like of which the state has never seen. On April 25, 2019, 24 families that fled the village more than a decade ago, returned.

They left the state, fearing the police as well as the Maoists. Their fleeing was at a time when the nascent Chhattisgarh, bore the brunt of the infamous Salwa Judum vigilantes. For the last 13 odd years, they lived in East Godavari district of neighbouring Andhra Pradesh and worked as agricultural labourers at chilly fields.

“The families decided to return as they were unable to start afresh in Andhra, where they weren’t recognised as from scheduled tribes. Before fleeing, they owned land in their village; there they were landless and did not have identity cards,” said Shubhranshu Chaudhray, chief coordinator of the 'Peace Process of Bastar Dialogue 1-3’.

News of frequent Maoist attacks scared the families, but took the risk. “They wanted to return before June so that they could till their lands,” said Chaudhary, who has worked to bring back ‘internally displaced people’. 

There was no administrative intervention in the return of the families, but the local police have been alerted, Sukma Collector Chandan Kumar reportedly said.

“I was informed … the administration has asked the village heads to hold gram sabhas so that the community in mutual agreement with the displaced people can decide on their resettlement. We will intervene once they pass resolutions for letting the families stay,” he added.

Salwa Judum traces back its origin to Congress legislator Mahendra Karma mobilising people against the Communist Party of India (Maoist) soon after its formation in 2005. It soon gained the support of the then chief minister Raman Singh and became a crucial part of counter-insurgency strategies.

Chhattisgarh, carved off Madhya Pradesh, recruited several tribals as special police officers, who became part of Salwa Judum. Conflict between the two sides is believed to have led to numerous killings and sexual abuse in Dantewada and Bijapur districts.

Some 70,000 tribals shifted to temporary camps. Chaudhary pegs the number of families who fled Baster due to Salwa Judum at around 5,000.

The Supreme Court deemed Salwa Judum illegal in 2011.

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