Friday, November 18, 2016

CHITRANGADA CHOUDHURY - In Bastar, Impunity for Rapists in Uniform, Non-Bailable Warrants for Adivasi Survivors //Rohini Chatterji - NHRC Says FIR Against Nandini Sundar And Others May Be Malafide

A year after several Adivasi women accused men from the police and security forces of sexual assault, the investigation has stalled due to governmental inaction.

If the cogs of justice grind slowly in much of India, they move backward in the war zone of Bastar. Last November, police in Bastar’s Bijapur district registered a FIR against the suraksha bal (security forces) after several hardscrabble Adivasi women and a teenage girl from five remote, forested villages, narrated chilling accounts of being assaulted by armed members of the security forces. The contingent of the accused comprised police and paramilitary troops who came to these villages after being deployed on an anti-Maoist operation in October 2015. The FIR marked the first time a new section of the IPC – introduced to prosecute sexual assault crimes by deployed members of the security forces – was invoked in Chhattisgarh.  

A year on, none of the alleged perpetrators – accused of gangraping a teen, a pregnant young woman and her mother-in-law, stripping and molesting several other women in the village and attacking and looting several homes – have been booked. This week, when I asked H.K. Rathore, the Inspector General of Police heading Chhattisgarh’s C.I.D and the department in charge of the case, why the police have made no arrests in the year since the women reported the violence, he said, “The investigation is still on.”

In contrast, weeks ago, Bijapur’s district court issued non-bailable warrants against the women – all subsistence farmers and labourers – for missing court dates to come and record their testimony. The warrants were issued despite the fact that the concerned villages are located 18-25 kilometres away from the nearest pucca road and paramilitary camp, and a further 50 kilometres from the district court. The villages these women belong to consist of multiple hamlets, situated in the forests and scattered across large distances, whose residents have little to no access to telecommunication or public facilities.

Additionally, the villages in question are served by a sarpanch in absentia who lives in another district and thus is hardly around to communicate official information from the court to the women. All the complainants, formally illiterate, are Gondi speakers, whereas the court operates in Hindi. A Bijapur court official said that the warrants issued against the women were part of court procedure, and that apart from the recording of the women’s statements (the only activity undertaken in the past year), “nobody was paying too much attention to the case.”.. Read more:

NHRC Says FIR Against Nandini Sundar And Others May Be Malafide
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has summoned the IGP of Bastar Range SRP Kalluri and Chhattisgarh Chief Secretary Vivek Dhand, taking suo motu cognisance of "the nationwide outcry and protest" over filing of murder charges against Delhi University professor Nandini Sundar, Jawaharlal Nehru University professor Archana Prasad, Vineet Tiwari, Sanjay Parate of CPI(M) and Manju Kawasi.

The Bastar police had charged Sundar, Prasad and others for the murder of a tribal man Samnath Baghel in the Sukma district on 4 November. Baghel was said to be killed by Maoists because he had been leading a campaign against them. In a statement, the NHRC said, "It has been alleged that these professors had visited Bastar in May, 2016, while this murder has taken place in November, 2016. There is no apparent connection between murder and visit of these human rights activists and, therefore, it has been alleged that they have been framed in mala fide manner by police to settle scores. It has been stated that FIR has been registered in the name of the wife of killed Baghel."

Kalluri had also alleged that Baghel's wife, Vimla, had accused Sundar and the others of being responsible for her husband's murder. These allegations made by Kalluri were denied by Baghel's wife when she told NDTV that she had not named Sundar, Prasad or any others at all.

The NHRC, taking note of petitions file by Sundar and others in the Supreme Court against police atrocities and burning of tribal homes, said, "The Hon'ble Supreme Court ordered investigation by CBI. The CBI found S.R.P. Kalluri, IG of Police, Bastar Range responsible for the burning of homes." The NHRC said, "She with other lawyers and journalists has in the past brought to the notice of the Commission mass rape of women, murders and other crimes by security officers under the umbrella of police."

Calling the allegations against Sundar seemingly malafide and "coloured with hostility", the NHRC said that the FIR seemed to be a police ploy to stop activists from entering the Bastar area and exposing their brutalities. The NHRC also said, "Naming of these human rights activists in the FIR in the backdrop and circumstances mentioned above lends credence of the observation of People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) that all this was part of the State Police vendetta against the lawyers, journalists and human rights activists who have been critical of fake encounters, mass rapes, arson, etc. by security forces.".. read more