The Maoists have promised to "rehabilitate" and resettle all Special Police Officers (SPOs) in Chhattisgarh who sever all connections with the State machinery and return to their villages, according to a signed press release dated July 7 this year.

The Communist Party of India (Maoist) press release was issued in the backdrop of a July 5 Supreme Court judgement ruling that the use of armed SPOs in anti-Maoist operations was unconstitutional and must cease immediately.

SPOs are individuals employed on a temporary basis to assist regular police units in various operations.

In Chhattisgarh, the term refers to about 5,000 young, tribal men who were armed with high-powered assault rifles in the mid-2000s and deployed at the forefront of the State government’s counterinsurgency operations directed at the tribal militias of the banned CPI (Maoist).

The men were recruited from former Maoist cadres and village populations living in police camps in the aftermath of the Salwa Judum — a 2005 programme described as either a spontaneous tribal uprising against the Maoists, or a State-backed policy of 'strategic-hamletting' aimed at creating schisms in tribal society. A petition filed in the Supreme Court in 2007 describes the Salwa Judum as an unaccountable vigilante force responsible for over 500 murders, 99 rapes and 103 acts of arson.

In the press release, signed by Maoist spokesperson Gudsa Usendi, the rebels sought, "to make it clear to all the SPOs that this war is not between them and us. This war is being fought between a small minority of exploiters and the entire toiling masses of this country."

The Maoists also stated that many SPOs were coerced into joining the Salwa Judum and assisting the police, and offered "to rehabilitate all those SPOs who come back to their villages, accept all the crimes they have committed and seek the mercy of the people while severing all kinds of connections with the government machinery." The party says it is ready to provide SPOs with lands, implements and guaranteed livelihoods.

The Maoist release appears to be at odds with posters pronouncing death sentences against 12 SPOs and district constables in Dantewada district. As reported in The Hindu, the provenance of the posters could not be established. This press release however was delivered to this correspondent through established channels.

A police constable who was once an SPO and a former Maoist commander, contacted by this correspondent said he did not trust the press release. "I will be killed if I return to my village," he said — seeking anonymity for his personal protection.

The Supreme Court cited the Chhattisgarh government's information that 173 SPOs have been killed in anti-Maoist operations in the past six years as evidence that they were being used as "cannon fodder in the killing fields of Dantewada". The court noted that the ratio of fatalities to deployed strength among the SPOs was nearly five times the ratio for formal security personnel.

Keywords: Salwa JudumMaoistsSPOs