Sunday, January 24, 2016

Aarefa Johari - Chhattisgarh's security forces accused of large-scale sexual violence yet again

In an alarming repeat of the large-scale sexual violence and looting reported from Chhattisgarh’s Bijapur district three months ago, villagers from the same region have alleged that they were raped, beaten, threatened and robbed by state security forces for four days last week.

According to the testimonies of 16 women from Nendra, a village in Bijapur’s Basaguda block, large numbers of police and security personnel entered their village on January 11 and forcibly stayed in their homes up till January 14. During this time, the personnel allegedly raped and gang-raped more than a dozen women, stripped, molested and assaulted several more and also looted their food, money and other belongings.


For almost a week after the alleged atrocities, no First Information Report was filed at the local police station despite the women giving detailed testimonies to the sub-divisional magistrate on January 18 and 19. An FIR was finally lodged against the state security forces on Thursday night, after women’s rights groups appealed to the district collector and the local media began to carry reports of the allegations.

“The pattern of violence at Nendra is almost the same as the kind recorded at Pedagellur just three months ago,” said Shivani Taneja, a member of Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression, a civil society group that conducted a fact-finding investigation into the Nendra incidents along with the Coordination of Democratic Rights Organisation and other researchers.

From October 19-24, 2015, security personnel had allegedly occupied Pedagellur – a village in the same Basaguda block – and raped three women, molested several and looted people’s homes. The severity of the allegations and the pressure from activists eventually forced the district collector to file and FIR and order a rare investigation of security forces in Chhattisgarh. Now, with the fresh testimonies of the women of Nendra, women’s rights groups have been left wondering if uniformed personnel in the Naxal-affected region are getting away with many more abuses of power than those that are reported.

‘Many were beaten, many were raped’
On January 18, a group of 16 affected women from Nendra travelled to the police station in the district headquarters to record their statements, but, says Taneja, the police refused to file an FIR. The women – some accompanied by young children – spent four days at the police station offering detailed oral testimonies, but were told that official complaints could not be filed in the absence of the superintendent of police.

The women also submitted several letters to the police station, appealing for an FIR to be filed. The letters, written in Hindi, describe the sexual violence faced by the villagers in words chillingly similar to those used by the survivors of the Pedagellur atrocities:

“The police and security forces came to our village on January 11 and till January 14, stayed in different parts of the village. During this time, many women were beaten, many were raped, their breasts were pressed, different parts of their bodies were touched, their clothes were torn, they were stripped and vulgar comments were made about their bodies, like ‘Tumhari gaand mein mirchi daalenge, usey chaaku se kaat denge’ (We will stuff chillies up your anus and cut it with a knife).... They forced themselves in many people’s homes and cooked there, ate there, slept there and even told women to sleep with them.”

The letters provide the names of at least 12 women who were raped and seven who were beaten, but add that there were more women not on the list who also faced various forms of sexual assault at the hands of the police and “force wale” (a reference to the Central Reserve Police Force and other security forces posted across Chhattisgarh). The sexual abuse was accompanied by rampant looting of all kinds of food rations, poultry and goats and hard-earned savings from people’s homes, allege the women:

“From Karam Ayati’s house they took Rs 10,000 and a gold chain; from Kavasi Unga’s house they took Rs 5,000; from other houses too, they took money. During this month we usually go to Andhra to pluck chilli so we keep a lot of ration, chicken, goats, etc at home to take with us, but the forces and the police have either taken away or eaten a lot of our rations which has been a huge loss for us.”

The women claimed they were chased and beaten with sticks if they tried to protest against any of this, and were repeatedly threatened with death. They also allegedly blamed the village men – most of whom were not in the village at the time – of being Naxalites. “When the police and force arrived, the men in the village got frightened at the sound of the firing and ran out of the village,” says one of the letters Nendra’s women submitted to the police. “They returned after the forces left, but around nine of them have still not returned. We are very worried about them.”

Despite several attempts, Scroll.in was unable to reach the superintendent of police or any other police official in the area.

Independent authority
On January 20, after almost a week of being rebuffed by the police station, the 16 women and various activists supporting them wrote an appeal to district collector. The letter emphasised that the allegations made by the women were of cognizable offences, making it mandatory by law to file an FIR in such cases.

Now that the FIR has finally been filed, activists like Taneja will focus on ensuring that necessary investigations are carried out in the case. “We need investigation in a way where women feel secure,” said Taneja, who believes the investigation must be conducted by an independent authority, given that the accused are part of the police and security forces. “We are also struck by the frequency and scale of sexual and physical violence and loot by state actors in these areas. The government needs to take strong steps to stop this from recurring while ensuring justice for the affected.”