By Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression




Ten years ago, in the early hours of 11th July 2004, the bullet riddled body of 32- year old Thangjam Manorama Devi was found in Laipharok Maring of Imphal East district of Manipur. She had been picked up by the paramilitary Assam Rifles from her home in Bamon Kampu Mayai Leikai and was raped and killed. Manorama was suspected of links to an underground separatist group. Soldiers raided her home around midnight, asking the family to wait outside while they questioned her. They signed an “arrest memo”, an official acknowledgement of detention, put in place to prevent “disappearances”, and took her away. Later that day her semi clad body was found in a nearby village. She had been fired with several bullets. There were gunshot wounds to the genitals and semen on her skirt suggesting she was raped before being tortured and killed. Mass protests in Manipur broke out as people demanded an immediate investigation and prosecution of the guilty.

Collective anger and shock over Manorama’s rape and murder gripped the world only as media reports poured in of the most spectacular and militant protest of our times. On July 15, women from the MeiraPaibi stripped themselves naked outside the 17 th Assam Rifles headquarters holding up the banner “ Indian Army Rape Us ”! Known as the Mother’s Front, Meira Paibi had started as a support group for women family members of the disappeared and arrested, but had eventually also become involved in fighting against human rights abuses. They had soon joined the campaign to repeal the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act more popularly known as the AFSPA.The case pertaining to the rape and murder of Manorama is pending before the Supreme Court. The army and central government have gone all the way to the Supreme Court to dodge prosecution, even though a judicial enquiry appointed by the state of Manipur has found the army personnel guilty. Meanwhile the people of Manipur still await justice even after 10 years.

It was for the repeal of the same AFSPA that Irom Sharmila started a fast, a fast that continues to date to demand with no response from the Indian state.

The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), 1958 gives the army special powers and liberties, such as:

•  Arrest and search warrants are not required for any operation.

•  Army officers can fire upon and use lethal force on an unlawful assembly of five or more people and for the illegal possession of firearms, if they feel the need.

•  No criminal prosecution is possible against army personnel who have taken action under this act, unless sanctioned by the central government.

Friends, acts such as the AFSPA are known to be draconian precisely because of the power they invest the army with in areas of armed conflict. First, the impunity enjoyed by army personnel protects them from the crimes they commit on civilians and the injurious consequences of the crimes. Secondly, the impunity given to the army implies that women in these areas are being denied of any legal redress that might have been available to them under the Indian legal system, however uphill it might be to access those legal remedies and legal protection. Sometimes, proving a case of sexual assault itself becomes the toughest struggle waged by a community.

On May 30, 2009, two young women – Neelofar and Asiya – went missing in Shopian in Kashmir and were found early next morning in a stream that no one had ever drowned in, in the midst of a high security and heavily guarded area; spontaneous protests broke out as the women appeared to have been raped and murdered. Almost the entire town was on the roads demanding an enquiry and it was a tough proposition for the administration to even get the post mortem done. After two post mortems and an exhumation of the bodies 5 months later an entirely manipulated CBI enquiry concluded that death had happened due to drowning. Long years of militarization and the continuing imposition of AFSPA since 1989 in the Kashmir Valley have provided impunity to security personnel in countless cases of rape, murder, disappearances and fake encounters. The methods of torture used by the army in interrogation procedures during detention involve brutal sexual violence on men as well. It would be hard to estimate how many women have been raped and killed in the valley. Even the notorious incident in Kunan Poshpura, where the 4th Rajputana Rifles during its search and combing operations on 23 February, 1991, had gang-raped a large number of women in these two small villages of District Kupwara have only started coming to light.  Early this year, the Kupwara deputy commissioner broke his silence and disclosed publicly that he had been threatened and offered promotions to change his report on the alleged mass rapes in Kunan Poshpura in February 1991. Justice still awaits the women from Kashmir.

While on one hand, the armed forces deployed in different parts of India act with complete impunity terrorizing local residents in the name of national security, the Indian state is also unleashing terrible repression on people’s right to dissent in its frenzied pursuit of neo-liberal policies in the name of development. In addition to AFSPA, e xtra-juridical violence of the state continues to be supported by draconian laws such as Disturbed Areas Act (DSA), Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act (CSPSA), Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), National Security Act (NSA) and National Investigative Agency Act (NIA). The pursuit of “development” that has meant the plunder of natural resources by corporations – national and international – has brought in its wake untold misery and human suffering through state repression on dalits, adivasis, OBCs and other poorer sections across the country, especially in the mineral-rich states of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Odisha. The p erpetrators and state actors continue to be immune from any legal action whatsoever. They all enjoy de facto immunity from criminal liability. Capitalist advancement is thus clearly characterized by the use of sexual violence as part of state repression on one hand and violation of all environmental laws and other mandatory provisions that the Constitution decrees on the other. This continuum of violence is evident as we go from areas of armed conflict to other states in India. Custodial rape and sexual violence at the hands of paramilitary and within police stations continues unabated.

The 36-year old school teacher Soni Sori from Dantewada district in Chhattisgarh, who is today acquitted completely of six of the seven cases against her alleging links with Naxalites, stayed in prison for almost two and a half years. She was tortured so brutally that accounts of the sexual violence inflicted on Soni Sori sent a chill down the spine of people across the country. During interrogation, the police had shoved stones deep inside her private parts causing immense abdominal pain and discomfort in walking. She also sustained annular tears on her spine. Women’s groups demanded severe punishment for SP Ankit Garg who was responsible for the repressive tactics used. Far from investigating his role in the custodial violence suffered by Soni Sori, the Union of India awarded him the Police Medal of Gallantry on the 63 rd Republic Day of the nation, on the recommendation of the Chhattisgarh government. The open rewarding of the perpetrators of sexual violence speaks volumes of the patriarchal state that endorses sexual violence and does not hesitate to use it as a weapon of war.

On the morning of August 20, 2007, eleven Kondh women of Vakapalli village in Visakhapatnam district, Andhra Pradesh were raped by Greyhound personnel. A sustained agitation came up across the State seeking justice to the women by punishing the rapists. After four years on April 26, 2012, the AP High Court ordered in the women’s favour. The policemen moved the Supreme Court and obtained a stay. The role of the state administration and police was as complacent as it always is in such cases. The women still await justice in this long struggle to bring the perpetrators of sexual violence to book.

A PIL filed against the operations of Salwa Judum in Chhattisgarh had testimonies of 99 adivasi women alleged to have been raped by the members of Salwa Judum. Five women had bravely filed private complaints after their complaints were not acted on by the police, but conviction is a far cry in Chhattisgarh. After repeated adjournments over a period of six years, they have now finally been forced into withdrawing the cases. Such rampant sexual violence is an integral part of the offensive launched by the Government of India in the name of curbing “Maoism” and ushering in “development” involving not only the army and police personnel but also state protected vigilante groups and private armies.

In this culture of impunity and immunity where perpetrators of sexual violence go scot-free, the domination of the upper caste is often manifest in sexual violence. Sexual assault on minor dalit girls and women by the Jats and Yadavs is on the rise in parts of North India like Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh. The complicit role of the district administration and police is evident as WSS findings reveal. The rape and murder of two minor girls who were found hanging from a tree in Badayun district of UP is an open display of patriarchal and casteist power that is endorsed by a patriarchal state. It is a reminder of the brutality of medieval times that will not go unchallenged: resistance to such gruesome acts is growing every day. Evidently, perpetrators of sexual assault who are the upper caste enjoy the same immunity and the police and the administration work hard for their protection. Even the record or evidence of sexual violence gets completely erased out as seen in the casteist violence unleashed on 29 September, 2006 at Khairalanji of Maharashtra. Surekha Bhotmange was brutally assaulted and killed along with her two sons and daughter in Khairalanji village of Bhandara district by the dominant caste people of the village. They were dragged from their hut, strapped on to a bullock cart and paraded naked. This humiliation was followed by an orgy of violence, sexual assault and murder. The sexual assault of the mother and daughter went ignored as it was turned into a murder case alone. The administration and police failed to file charges of sexual assault or even invoke the Prevention of Atrocities Act as it sought to let the perpetrators go off on light charges. In the barbaric communal violence wreaked out on Muslims by sections of the Jat community on 6 – 7 September, 2013, in the villages of Muzaffarnagar district in UP, there was a huge exodus of Muslim dalit landless families living in those villages since hundreds of years. Several women have been reported to be sexually assaulted in these incidents. There is no desire to return back to the villages as the most palpable and outspoken fear is the safety and security of the women. These women and families continue demanding justice even as they are being evicted from the camps that were made for them in the aftermath of the violence.

You, I and each one of us have a role to play in ending such systemic violence against women. There is no other way but to intensify our struggle as women for dignity and liberation! We cannot leave it to the legal machinery alone as we see how some of the significant recommendations made by women’s organizations and all other democratic organizations and individuals to the Justice J.S. Verma Committee in 2013 were blatantly ignored. The government had constituted this Committee after the   Nirbhaya   case in Delhi in December 2012 and the widespread protests,  to look into the possible amendments in the criminal laws related to sexual violence against women.

The   Committee   (2013)   observed that   ‘impunity for systematic or isolated sexual violence in the process of internal security duties is being legitimised by the AFSPA’ and ‘women in conflict areas are entitled to all the security and dignity that is afforded to citizens in any other part of our country’.   The committee recommended that the requirement of sanction for prosecution of armed forces personnel should be specifically excluded when a sexual offence is alleged and they   should be tried under normal law,   and also suggested to ‘take special care for the safety of complainants and witnesses in cases of sexual assault by armed personnel’. However the Central government discarded these   important recommendations given by Justice   Verma   Committee.   The complete lack of political will of the state and its military and administrative apparatus has to be torn asunder to put an end to sexual violence on women. At the same time, let us also resolve to make people conscious that our bodies are no longer to be assaulted, lynched and mutilated in the deepening orgy of patriarchal violence.

Friends, let us seek to strengthen all democratic movements against state repression by drawing attention to the continuing sexual violence inflicted on women. Today, on July 11, as we remember Manorama in Manipur who was raped and killed ten years ago by the Indian Army, let us resolve to unite across all states and raise our voices against:

•  The increasing use of sexual assault by the state forces and other perpetrators as a means to intimidate the community and suppress struggling women, especially in areas and situations of conflict.

•  The daily atrocities and sexual violence faced by the dalit community at the hands of the upper caste and their protection in a caste-biased patriarchy.

•  The police who do little to secure justice for survivors of sexual assault and consistently undermine the struggle for justice by deliberately fouling upinvestigations.

•  The draconian laws that permit the presence and provide impunity to the armed forces amidst civilian populations, which have been responsible for the burgeoning of sexual crimes against women, torture and killings, and also the complete disruption of normal life throwing safety, security and even livelihood options to the wind.




About WSS

Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS) is a non-funded grassroots effort initiated in November 2009, to challenge and put an end to the violence being perpetuated upon women`s bodies and societies. We are a nationwide network of women from diverse political and social movements comprising women’s organizations, mass organizations, civil liberties, student and youth organizations, mass movements and individuals. We unequivocally condemn state repression and sexual violence on women and girls by any perpetrator(s).