A team of activists from Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS) and independent women activists and reporters visited villages in Bijapur following a series of recent reports of mass sexual violence and assault on adivasi women by security forces and police in the area.
The team visited a few villages in the Gangalur thana area, following reports of violence during a search and combing operation carried out by police and security forces. The team met with survivors of physical and sexual violence, including one rape survivor. Over a hundred villagers came out to register their complaints. Around 70 traveled to the district headquarters of Bijapur and testified in front of a high-level fact-finding team that was visiting Bastar. The team that was present in Bijapur included Mr. Ram Mohan, ex-DG Border Security Force and Director of TISS (Guwahati) Dr. Virginius Xaxa.
The team found that there has been a history of rampant looting and violence in these villages. Villagers reported several instances of loot, plunder, arrests and violence over the last couple of years. In two recent such operations, one young man was shot dead and then falsely declared a Naxal. Two young women were stripped and abducted, and a young mother was raped. Details of these instances are given below.
Abduction and sexual assault: In late November 2015, a large search and combing operation was carried out in the area. A few hundred troops entered village Itaavar from the surrounding hills where they camped at the house of Sukku Kunjam. They took the fish and chickens and 1 quintal of rice stored at the house and started cooking there. On the 23rd of November the forces picked Sukki Kunjam, one of Sukku’s sisters, and dragged her away. Her sister Jamli followed to save her, and was taken by the forces as well. The women were dragged into the surrounding forests – they were stripped and beaten. For two days, they were kept in the jungle and later dropped off at the neighbouring village of Dowal Nendra.
Fake encounter: Sukku Kunjam was also forcibly picked up by the forces as a guide. He was taken to Korcholi from where he tried to flee along with other men of the village. However he was shot and killed. His body was wrapped and taken to Bijapur Thana where he was falsely declared a Naxal. Women of Itaavar traveled to Bijapur to recover his body. They were accompanied by Sukku’s 13-year old nephew Lakku Kunjam who was beaten badly at the thana when they demanded Sukkus’s body. Sukku’s body was finally released and his funeral was held on the 27th of November, 2015.
While in Korcholi, some of the troops tried to seize Mangli Pottam of Gaytapara while she was coming down the hill. Other women from the village intervened till they had to let her go.
In a separate incident in Korcholi, the police came to the house of Roni Pottam, smashed the utensils, burnt her school books and her new clothes which had been bought for an upcoming wedding. Her sister Muni, was then visiting their grandmother. Accusing her of being a Naxal, the police and security forces picked up a photo of Muni and left with it.
Sexual Assault and Rape: In January 2016, another search and combing operation was carried out in the area. The same young girl, Mangli Pottam, who was out grazing cattle with her sister and friend, was attacked once again. Mangli’s clothes were torn and they threatened to kill her. They also threatened to kill Tulsi, her friend. Mangli’s sister, Somli’s blouse was ripped off. She was dragged by the hair and flung to the ground. They hit her on the stomach with a rifle butt. While they were dragging her away, an older woman, also Mangli Pottam by name, came to her rescue and prevented the troops from assaulting her further.
During the same operation, the troops also attacked a young mother from Korcholi while she was on her way to fetch fire wood. They dragged her into a forested patch and hurled her to the ground. She repeatedly asked them to let go of her since her young child was crying. Instead, one member of the police and security forces dragged her. She was held down and raped by two men in uniform.
Apart from these incidents, there was much looting and plunder – rations, poultry, money were taken. New clothes were torn and burnt, property such as vessels were broken and destroyed.
The fact-finding team met with the survivors of physical and sexual violence and recorded several of their testimonies. We also recorded statements about incidents in villages surrounding Korcholi.
On the 7th of May, 2016, over a hundred villagers from Korcholi, Doval Nendra and Saonar traveled to testify. While some had to return, around 70 villagers made their way to the district headquaters of Bijapur. They testified in front of a three-member team comprising of former D.G, Border Security Force (BSF) Mr. Ram Mohan, Director of Tata Institute of Social Sciences Guwahati, Dr. Virginius Xaxa and Sunil Kuksal of HRD Alert. They also held a press conference. Following this, villagers went to Kotwali thana, Bijapur to register an FIR. The
three-member team accompanied them to the thana and were assured that an FIR would be registered. However, despite this assurance, after a complaint was drafted, Mr. Nitin Upadhyay, thana-in-charge at Kotwali thana, Bijapur finally refused to lodge an FIR, saying that since the incidents were from November 2015 and January 2016, the matter seemed suspect and they would therefore need to investigate the claims before registering and FIR. Section 154 of the CrPC, however, makes it mandatory for a police officer to file an FIR on receipt of any information of a cognizable offense such as rape, molestation, or disrobing. Further, no preliminary inquiry is permissible in such a case. By refusing to file an FIR, any public servant, is himself culpable under the IPC.
Despite citing the law to the police, an FIR was not registered. Mr. Upadhyay finally admitted that he himself was in a difficult position as the order to refuse an FIR had come from his superiors. Finally, a complaint letter was submitted which was accepted as received by the police, but there was no FIR.
Together with this pattern of loot and sexual violence that seems to recur in search and combing operations carried out by the police and security forces in South Chhattisgarh, the police also continues to blatantly violate the law by repeatedly refusing to file FIRs. The villagers for Korcholi and around strongly argued with the police and are determined to fight for justice.
As Mr. Ram Mohan stated in their press conference held in Raipur on the 8th of May, 2016, the State is comlicit in this blatant disregard for the law and the consistent violations of the rights of its citizens. We demand an end to this impunity – the State must be accountable to its own people. In addition, we also demand the following:
Villagers from Korcholi, Itaavar, Doval Nendra and surrounding villages be adequately compensated for the loss they suffered by the loot and plunder carried out by the police and security forces.
An independent inquiry into the fake encounter of Sukku Kunjam
A swift and independent inquiry into the rape of the young woman at Korcholi with stringent action to be taken immediately
Immediate action to be taken on those who sexually assaulted the three young girls in Korcholi.
Swift and immediate action on members of the police and security forces in all such cases that have been reported and filed before this – including the case of Peddagellur and surrounding villages and Bellam Nendra.
A withdrawal of security forces in South Chhattisgarh and the repeal of the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act (CSPSA)
Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS) is a non funded network of women’s rights, dalit rights, human rights and civil liberties organizations and individuals across India.
For more information visit wssnet.org