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India: Reports of sexual violence by security forces from parts of Bastar, Chattissgarh by Chitrangada Choudhury / The unexorcised ghost of Salwa Judum by Asad Ashraf

26 January 2016

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Caravan Magazine

In Two Districts of Bastar, Adivasi Women Report Sexual Assaults by Security Forces During Military Operations; Police Delay and Resist Filing FIRs

by Chitrangada Choudhury | 24 January 2016

For over ten days, authorities in the Bijapur and Sukma districts of South Chhattisgarh delayed or have simply refused to file First Information Reports (FIR) in two separate cases of sexual assault. These include the alleged gang rapes of 13 adivasi women who are subsistence farmers by security forces earlier this month. The sexual violence and assaults are reported to have taken place when security forces conducted anti-Maoist military operations in Bijapur’s Nendra village between 11 and 14 January, and in Sukma’s Kunna village on 12 January. The police reluctance is despite a Supreme Court ruling and a 2013 amendment to India’s anti-rape laws, which makes it mandatory for the police to file a case as soon as a complaint of sexual violence is brought to them.

In Bijapur, the police finally relented and filed an FIR late on the night of 21 January, over a week after the alleged violence in Nendra village took place. By then, a group of women’s activists who had first brought attention to these instances had been urging the police to take action for three days. In Sukma, villagers reported the violence to a senior official in the administration on 15 January, but the police has not filed an FIR yet. The two heavily militarised districts are at the epicentre of the deadly, decade-long, state-Maoist military conflict, which has claimed close to 7,000 people already, a third of whom are civilians.
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The unexorcised ghost of Salwa Judum

There is no end to sexual violence and brutality on Adivasis in the Bastar region. Has nothing changed since the Supreme Court banned Salwa Judum?

by Asad Ashraf (6 Feb 2016)

How does urban India look at the strife-torn regions of Chhattisgarh? Many of us know of a ‘Maoist menace’. Physically far removed from the violence, we often see reports of the Maoist guerrillas in the state blowing up police vehicles and killing soldiers. And we form our opinions on the violence based on the news we consume. Some also know that the Maoists claim to fight for the people — the oppressed Adivasi population in south Chhattisgarh. However, in all, the part of the state where the country seems to be at war with itself constitutes the dark recesses of India’s consciousness. And it has its own demons that the State chooses not to confront. Therefore, we back ‘home’ did not get to hear of any reports of the alleged rape and molestation of nine tribal women during 11-13 January.

Soni Sori, Adivasi activist, Aam Aadmi Party member and alleged victim of torture in police custody (a charge levelled against the security forces repetitively in cases of arrests of Maoist ‘sympathisers’), went to village Bellam Lendra in Bijapur district as part of a fact finding team to probe the matter. The women of the village gave a first hand account to Sori: “Police forces had come to carry out a search operation in the village, because of which the men of the village went into hiding, fearing torture and arrests. In the absence of men, the police forced themselves upon at least nine women from the village.” They went on to describe the horror in graphic detail. “While some men from the forces tightly held the legs and hands of these women, others took their turns upon them, one by one.” The men also humiliated the women by sucking their breasts to see if they were lactating. This was done allegedly on account of the assumption of the police that those women who do not lactate are possible Naxals, as it apparently shows that they are not married.

Apart from the sexual abuse, the security forces are said to have destroyed property and livestock in order to make survival difficult for the victims. They have also been accused of repeatedly threatening the locals of burning down their houses with their children inside. The women have also alleged that the armed personnel were ‘surrendered extremists’, a reference to the State sponsored militia Salwa Judum, which also comprised of some ex-extremists (Maoists).

However, as far as the media is concerned, the traumatic account amounts to a ghost story, one of the many that make it to the consciousness of the local population in the Maoist belt, but not to a newspaper. The recent incidents found it difficult to even make it to the police records. Initially, the police refused to lodge an FIR citing the Superintendent of Police’s absence from Bijapur as the reason. “We were told that a case could only be filed when the SP came back to Bijapur,” says Sori. The aggrieved women from Bellam Lendra, along with some human rights activists, had reached Bijapur on 18 January. But, it took them four excruciating days to finally pressurise the police to file an fir. Only after this, did some national dailies carry news of the violence.

A team of the National Commission of Women (NCW), which happened to be in Bijapur at the time, also met the victims. However, prior to their meeting, an interesting turn of events took place: A mob claiming to be ‘victims’ of Maoist violence, entered the scene in what appeared to be police vehicles. They demanded that the women, who were waiting for the FIR, leave Bijapur immediately in a threatening tone. The group allegedly comprised of ex-Salwa Judum members.

This recent incident of violence echoes a similar one that took place in October in Peddagellur village not far from Bellam Lendra. Between 20-24 October 2015, another ‘combing operation’ by the security forces turned into another incident of large scale violence. About 15-20 police and security personnel entered Peddagellur and neighbouring villages and looted houses and molested several women, raping two, one of whom is a 14-year-old. KL Dhruv, SP Bijapur, admits that despite FIRs being registered, no arrests have been made in the case so far.

A Tehelka team went to Peddagellur and the neighbouring villages to meet the victims who continue to hopelessly wait for justice. Peddagellur is about 50 km from Bijapur. The region is not cold like Delhi. An early January dawn is without smog. People can be seen walking in T-shirts and shorts, others sipping tea at the roadside stalls in the small town of Bijapur surrounded by jungles and the Indravati river.

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Déjà vu: Chhattisgarh’s security forces accused of large-scale sexual violence yet again