The court’s order to the government of Chhattisgarh on Tuesday said the arming of mostly poor tribesmen was unconstitutional.
“It’s really a significant judgment. The judgment upholds constitutional principles,” said Nandini Sundar, a sociologist and rights activist who was one of the people who petitioned the court.
State officials were not immediately available for comment Wednesday.
They have previously denied supporting the Salwa Judum militia and called it an independent movement that sprang up in response to atrocities committed by Maoist rebels. Rights groups deny that claim and say the vigilante group has, with the help of government forces, carried out brutal attacks that have displaced tens of thousands of people in the region in an attempt to crush the communist uprising.The Supreme Court also ordered the state government to stop recruiting and arming tribes people as special police officers.
Sundar said the court’s decision would have major repercussions across India and force other states battling Maoist rebels to reassess their strategies.
“You cannot be expedient and opportunistic in fighting an insurgency,” she said.
Federal Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram said the government would study the court order to assess its impact on anti-Maoist operations in the country.
The rebels, known as Naxalites, have been fighting to create a communist state since 1967 and are active in several states. But Chhattisgarh, one of India’s poorest states, is the heartland of their struggle.
The rebels’ rallying cry of land and jobs for the poor resonates deeply with the population, many of them from India’s impoverished indigenous peoples and resentful of authorities who mine the region’s rich natural resources with little benefit to local residents.
The government has called the Maoists the country’s most serious internal security threat and in 2010 announced “Operation Green Hunt,” a push to flush out the rebels from their forest hide-outs.
In recent years about 2,000 people — including police, militants and civilians — have been killed in the violence.