Harsha Vadlamani At Tellarayigudem, men return from working for a contractor in the forest, India.
Harsha Vadlamani A maize farm abutting a house in a Muria settlement in Khammam district, Telangana, India.
Harsha Vadlamani Khammam district has 16,000 internally displaced Murias living in 203 settlements, India.
Harsha Vadlamani Vanjam Aitamma leads her cattle for grazing in the forest at Lankapalli, India.
Harsha Vadlamani A recently felled tree inside the forest. The Murias clear parts of the forest to farm, India.
Harsha Vadlamani A Muria man carries water past a church in Ramachandrapuram, an early settlement in India.
Harsha Vadlamani A stream flows over the road that leads to Thatigonde, India.
Harsha Vadlamani A woman carries paddy seedlings to a field at the foot of a hill in Thatigonde, India.
Harsha Vadlamani Taati Rudriah at his farm in Kondapuram, India.
Harsha Vadlamani Women and children relax before lunch under a huge banyan tree, India.
Harsha Vadlamani A sick man rests during the day at Tellarayigudem, India.
Harsha Vadlamani In Lankapalli, all men between 16-40 years must report to the police outpost every week, India.
Harsha Vadlamani Tellarayigudem has electricity so the Murias do not have to walk far to fetch water, India.
Harsha Vadlamani Soyam Chilakamma stands in front of her hut, which was destroyed by forest officials, India.
Harsha Vadlamani A family fishes in a small stream around lunchtime near Balimera, India.
Harsha Vadlamani Central Reserve Police arrested Madvi Parvathi, 22, and Kovasi Somidi, 16, in 2012, India.
Harsha Vadlamani Muchakki Ungi (left) threshes paddy in her house in Tellarayigudem, India.
Harsha Vadlamani Madakam Lachmi's brother and three others were killed by Salwa Judum assailants, India.
Harsha Vadlamani Soyam Lachimi lives in a temporary structure after forest officials destroyed her hut, India.
Harsha Vadlamani A young man in Thatigonde, India.

No Peace for India's "Peace Marchers"

By Harsha Vadlamani

In 2005, the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh inaugurated a special counterinsurgency group made up of members of a tribal group known as the Muria. The force was called Salwa Judum, which translates as “Peace March” or “Purification Hunt” in Gondi, and was meant to help the state fight the Maoist insurgency.

The Salwa Judum had important advantages over other security forces: knowledge of Gondi (the language spoken by the Muria people), intimate knowledge of local conditions, familiarity with jungle tracks, and the ability to discern who was a Maoist sympathizer. Conferred with almost unlimited powers, Salwa Judum soon outgrew its mandate, becoming a much-feared force in the jungles of Chhattisgarh.

As the fighting wore on, many Muria sought new homeland. They walked through the thick jungles for days and crossed into the Khammam district of Telangana State. Once in Khammam, the Muria cleared large patches of reserve forest to settle and grow crops. This did not go over well with the local government, which began destroying their settlements by setting them on fire and using brute force to drive the Muria away.

In 2011, the Supreme Court of India disbanded the Salwa Judum, deeming it an illegal and unconstitutional force. Several NGOs have since facilitated the Muria’s transition back to their original villages, but most of them opted to remain in limbo in Khamman. The memories of home were too painful and the conflict there is still raging on.

HARSHA VADLAMANI is an independent documentary photographer based out of Hyderabad, India.

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