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The purification hunt: the Salwa Judum counterinsurgency in Chhattisgarh, India


Military counterinsurgencies can intensify wars by exacerbating the very violence and attacks upon civilian populations that they are meant to temper. In 2005, the state of Chhattisgarh, India responded to a long-simmering conflict against the Communist Party of India-Maoist (or Naxals) in this manner by secretly funding and arming a counterinsurgency group called Salwa Judum (meaning ‘purification hunt’). Salwa Judum was armed by the state in the hopes that it would fight the Naxals, make the mineral-rich area safer for industry, and allow for official deniability of violence against civilians and suspected Naxals in the name of reasserting control. Instead of quelling the rebellion, the conflict became exponentially deadlier, militarizing marginalized communities in the process. However, industry has thrived even as it sits in the heart of the conflict zone, surrounded by a human rights disaster from which the state has yet to recover.

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  1. ‘Counterinsurgency’ is defined here as a government-sponsored military force outside of traditional control designed to fight an internal insurgency. Even ardent military strategists admit that counterinsurgencies are difficult to control, often causing more problems than they solve. See Cline (2005).

  2. Official conflict figures underestimate casualties, as they include only official troops and confirmed Naxal kills by official troops. They do not include civilians, Salwa Judum, Naxals killed by Salwa Judum, killings unreported by officials, or killings of unofficial SPOs.

  3. CRPF mission statement, available at: (accessed May 15, 2008). The CRPF is a ‘paramilitary’ force, which in India means a supplementary, but still official, national police force.

  4. Author interview, Rahul Sharma, CRPF Battalion Commander, September 2007.

  5. Author interview, Sharma. Also, the Chhattisgarh state government is in negotiations to purchase 10–15 armed military helicopters to transport state ministers into Dantewara and conduct bombing raids of Naxal strongholds, using Israeli Ofeq 5 satellite imagery. Author interviews, senior CRPF personnel and helicopter salesman, Dantewara and Jugdalpur, September 2007.

  6. Sahni (2007). The all-India average is 42 police per 100 sq/km. The figure for Chhattisgarh is just 17/100 sq/km. The situation is worsened by lopsided distribution of this force. Bastar region officially employs 2,197 policemen but only 1,387 of the positions are filled, leaving only 3.55 policemen per 100 sq/km, less than 10% of the all-India average. Also, some Indian states have high police/civilian ratios; (Mizoram: 854/100,000; Sikkim: 609/100,000). By contrast, Chhattisgarh is 103/100,000.

  7. For example, on Vijay Agarwal’s (DSP Kirwandal) desk sits a macabre photo album with pictures of Maoists that his team has shot. He was excited to show it, noting that he starts a new photo album each year. CRPF leadership also claimed that Naxal men are forced to get vasectomies for fear that they would impregnate female fighters, thus incapacitating key soldiers. The only proof offered for this was the fact that condoms have been found in raids on Naxal camps. This was patently dismissed by a senior Maoist leader. Author interviews September 2007.

  8. The exact number is a matter of dispute, as official figures list anywhere from 17 to 31 camps. SPO pay was pegged at 1,500 Rupees per month at the time of interview, but this figure has reportedly since been raised to 2,000 Rs/month.

  9. Author interview, Sharma.

  10. “Common Man’s Awareness Raising Campaign Against Naxalites, Work Plan to Make the Campaign Successful; District South Bastar, Dantewada, Chhattisgarh,” 2005, Dantewara collector, pp. 10–11. This document was an internal memo from the Dantewara collector to his superiors, later released by the PUCL.

  11. Payment was erratic when the program began, but all SPOs interviewed asserted that timely monthly wages have resumed. Author interviews, September 2007.

  12. Author interview, September 2007. Name changed for protection.

  13. Ibid.

  14. Included here are approximately 200–300 female SPOs that serve in largely symbolic guard duties near refugee camps. Female SPOs do not lead raids or participate in combat operations and are shielded from journalists whenever possible. There are reports that some are being used as ‘comfort women’ by CRPF forces. Their actual duties are unclear, as they appear to be little more than window dressing.

  15. Author interviews, September 2007. Names changed for protection.

  16. Ibid.

  17. Ibid. The police-provided translator for this interview refused to translate this assertion, translating only that he joined to ‘kill Naxals’.

  18. Most SPO interviews held in the presence of CRPF commanders were characterized by heavily-coached stock answers to specific questions, with CRPF nodding and smiles as SPOs gave the ‘right’ answers.

  19. Author interviews, September 2007.

  20. Ibid.

  21. Ibid.

  22. Author interview, Sharma.

  23. Author interview, Ranajan, September 2007.

  24. Author interview, Sharma.

  25. Land/timber resources are subject to many regulations that are often exploited for personal gain. The Protection of Scheduled Tribes (Interest in Trees) Act of 1956–1957 restricts the purchase of tribal land by non-tribals. Chhattisgarh is a favored scam area because of the high value of teakwood, low population density, and high tribal population. Because Karma himself is a Koya tribal, he has the right to engage in these transactions.

  26. India Central Bureau of Investigation report, 08.12.1998.

  27. Or beedi leaves-a major source of income in Dantewara, used to wrap paan, a tobacco-like substance.

  28. Common Man’s Campaign,” p. 15.


  30. Author observation, 2007.

  31. Both the ICI (2006) and PUCL (2006) reports give many specific examples.

  32. Personal blog of Siddharth Varadarajan, The Hindu.

  33. Author interview, Mahendra Karma, September 2007.

  34. April 2007—Hard News (Le Monde Diplomatique S Asia division): Maoist Mayhem

  35. Author interview, Karma.

  36. Ibid. Karma’s likely target is Kanker, also reserved for tribal politicians.

  37. Ibid.

  38. Ibid.

  39. Hindi, English, Telugu, Dormi, and one undefined tribal language. Pamphlets were shown to author at both Kiranpur and Dantewara city stations, but 2 days later were ‘no longer available’ to photograph. Author interviews, September 2007.

  40. SDE. Comrade Sonu (CPI-Maoist) states an increase of 2–3× in main (fighting) forces and 10× in base (logistical/support) forces since mid-2005 (People’s March July 2007).

  41. A sangham is a community-level power restructuring that expropriates resources from traditional tribal leadership to redistribute it in a ‘more equitable’ manner. Although this philosophy is Maoist-based, it often only serves to consolidate power in a different set of elite hands.

  42. Author interview, Senior Dantewara Expert, September 2007.

  43. Author interview, Karma.

  44. Author interview, Kushwah, September 2007.

  45. Ibid.

  46. Author interview, senior Dantewara expert. Although news reports state that Singh was murdered by Naxals, several sources assert he is very much alive and operating.

  47. Indian Express Sept 28, 2007. ‘Work on Naxal-hit NH stretch back on track’. These practices mirror those in other areas of protracted conflict, such as those by Hutu groups inflating numbers and preying upon refugees in Rwanda after the genocide.

  48. Author interviews, September 2007. Neither the Sahara reporter nor Vij would confirm or deny the report. However, this is only one of many similar stories.

  49. Author attempted to enter Dornapal SPO headquarters (across the street from Dornapal refugee camp) in September 2007 with previous permission from Sharma and Vij. The Thanedar ignored these permissions and asked Kushwah instead, who would not give access. The Thanedar heeded Kushwah’s wishes, despite the fact that Kushwah operates in no official capacity, and that both the Thanedar’s superior and his superior’s superior gave explicit instructions to grant access.

  50. Author interviews, Vij and Sharma.

  51. Author interview, Sharma.

  52. Author interviews, September 2007. Name, age, and village changed for protection.

  53. Neither woman could be located. ICI interviews have unearthed similar stories, however.

  54. ICI (2006). This practice continues at Dornapal camp. In 2008, some villagers started making their way home, but many remain in the camps.

  55. Author observed 3 people working in the compound. The rice was harvested long ago.

  56. The provision of food from the state comes and goes, and can usually be predicted by looking at the election schedule.

  57. Independent figures from Senior Dantewara expert, CPJC (2006), and ICI (2006).

  58. Campaign for Peace and Justice in Chhattisgarh. ‘Liberated’ means emptied. Figures may be overstated, particularly in the number of displaced, as Dantewara population is 715,000.

  59. PUCL (2006) and ICI (2006) detail villages that were attacked, burned, and/or evacuated.

  60. Author interview, Senior Dantewara Expert. The region between Dantewara City and Bijapur is one such area, consisting of over 200 villages.

  61. Author interview, Camp resident Bardela, September 2007. A popular rumor around Dornapal was that the Naxals & Salwa Judum will join forces in 5 years to fight the government.

  62. Channel 4 News (UK Television) Unreported World. India’s Hidden War (2006).

  63. Author interviews, November 2007.

  64. Although some estimates place the number of AP refugees in the tens of thousands, 5,000 is probably more accurate. Author observation and interview, Ahmed Ali, regional director-SARAD, November 2007.

  65. AP complaint number PP-170907-24607, filed 17 September, and author interviews, November 2007.

  66. Author interview, November 2007, AFP Regional head Upendra and Chandar Nayak, APO Range Official and Head of Department.

  67. Author interviews, November 2007.

  68. Author observations and interview, Ali.

  69. Author interviews, Ranjan, Sharma, Vij.

  70. Author interview, Vij.

  71. Telegraph, 26 July. ‘Maoist Cloud sends House Under Cover’. By Sheena K and Rasheed Kidwai.

  72. From Internal unpublished CRPF document obtained by author (available upon request).

  73. May 26, 2007 Chhattisgarh Government Arrests Rights Leader

  74. “Common Man’s Campaign” Dantewara collector (need to be properly referenced).

  75. Author interview, Kumar, September 2007. Kumar’s wife was harassed twice by CRPF when Kumar was away.

  76. Official case from Chhattisgarh government, dispute case number Sl.No. 1828/07 dated 21/01/08.

  77. Event video: Accessed November 1, 2007.

  78. Author interview, Kindo, September 2007.

  79. Channel 4 News (UK Television) Unreported World. India’s Hidden War (2006) and Author interview, Senior Dantewara Expert.

  80. Diamonds, water, and forests are among other resources being privatized.

  81. On February 22, 2008, the Delhi High Court canceled Tata’s license in favor of the NMDC.

  82. Ibid.

  83. Ibid.

  84. Author interview, Senior Dantewara Expert.

  85. Author interview, Kindo. 527 armed CRSF/CISF security forces protect 1,700 workers and mine equipment.

  86. Author interview, Senior Dantewara Expert.

  87. Author interview, Karma.

  88. Author interview, Sharma.

  89. Author interview, Kindo.

  90. Ibid. Losses are estimated at 2 billion Rs. Sujeet Kumar. ‘Maoists Plan to Attack India’s Iron Ore Stocks.’ September 5, 2007, IANS.

  91. According to mine officials, over 2,000 Naxals and sympathetic villagers jointly carried the explosive material from the magazine on their backs, a weight of 20 lbs. each. A similar raid by the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist in 2001 is now viewed to have been the catalyst for the expansion of their war against the Nepal Army.

  92. Author Interview, David Kulka Sgt PF, Dantewara, and bomb expert Mr. Singh, September 2007. ‘tiffin bombs’ are simple devices with explosives, a detonator, and shrapnel in a small metal (tiffin) container.

  93. ‘Huge Arms Haul in Chhattisgarh’, October 3, 2007, NewsPost India.

  94. Author interviews, Ranjan and Vij.

  95. Author interview, Ranjan.

  96. See Sangh Parivar mouthpiece Organiser, February 17, 2008: BJP win in Chhattisgarh proves Salwa Judum is effective.

  97. Sendra is the name of a traditional regional adivasi hunting festival. The connotations of the name are remarkably similar to those of Salwa Judum.

  98. 11 April—Asian Center For Human Rights

  99. April 13, 2007—Times of India: Security forces aim to target Maoist leaders

  100. April 15, 2005, Prime Minister's speech at the Conference of Chief Ministers on Internal Security and Law & Order Available at: (Accessed May 15, 2008).

  101. Feb 4, 2007, Times of India, “No Involvement of Army in Anti-Naxal Operations: Govt.”.

  102. September 7, 2007 interview, available at:

  103. Author interview, Shatish Kumar, Khammam border police force, November 2007.

  104. April 14, 2007—Telegraph Calcutta: Onus on govt for Naxalite menace

  105. Channel 4 News (UK Television) Unreported World. India’s Hidden War (2006), and Karan Singh documentary ‘India’s Civil War’, available at: (accessed 15 May 2008).


  • Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR). 2007. Naxal conflict monitor, Jan–March 2007.

  • Campaign For Peace and Justice in Chhattisgarh. 2006. Where the state makes war on it’s own people. CPJC Report. Available at:

  • Cline, L. 2005. Pseudo operations and counterinsurgency: Lessons from other countries. Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College.

  • Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPIM). 2007. People’s March Newsletter, April.

  • Gill, K.P.S. 2007. My year-long stay in Chhattisgarh was a waste. Mumbai Mirror, 30 April.

  • Independent Citizens’ Initiative (ICI). 2006. War into the heart of India: An inquiry into the ground situation in Dantewara District, Chhattisgarh.

  • People’s Union of Civil Liberties. 2006. When the state makes war on its own people: A report on the violation of people’s rights during the Salwa Judum campaign in Dantewada, Chhattisgarh. New Delhi: People’s Union of Democratic Rights.

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Correspondence to Jason Miklian.

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Miklian, J. The purification hunt: the Salwa Judum counterinsurgency in Chhattisgarh, India. Dialect Anthropol 33, 441 (2009).

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  • Salwa Judum
  • Naxals
  • Maoists
  • Naxalites
  • Counterinsurgency
  • India
  • Insurgency
  • Chhattisgarh
  • Mining
  • CRPF
  • Benefits of violence
  • Political economy of conflict
  • Communist Party of India-Maoist