Tuesday, December 22, 2015
The horrific sexual violence in Bijapur in October 2015 shows what a culture of impunity has developed in Chhattisgarh. Despite the Supreme Court’s directions in 2011 that the state must register FIRs on complaints against security forces, this is perhaps the first time in a decade that the police have registered an FIR on a complaint by a women’s fact-finding group. But this is only the beginning of a long and hopeless battle in which trying to get justice becomes a means to torture the victims.
The experience of earlier attacks in Chhattisgarh shows us what law and CBI enquiries mean in this area. On 14 March, 2011 the Chhattisgarh police announced that 36 Maoists, 3 Special Police Officers (SP0s) and 1 policeman had been killed near Chintalnar. And so the fiction might have rested, except for a villager with a cell phone who called journalists. On March 23rd, after visiting the area, two national dailies described how the security forces and SPOs, out on combing operations, had burnt 300 homes, raped 3 women, killed 3 men and looted and beaten villagers. On March 26, Swami Agnivesh and Art of Living representatives trying to deliver relief were assaulted by Salwa Judum leaders and SPOs; earlier the SPOs had also stopped journalists, Congressmen and a relief truck ordered by the Collector. The NHRC took up the case of police violence and questions were raised in the state assembly. All these matters were brought before the Supreme Court, which was already hearing a petition on egregious human rights violations by the Salwa Judum and SPOs. In July 2011, the Supreme Court ordered a CBI enquiry into the incidents of violence in the villages of Tadmetla, Timapuram and Morpalli, by which they were clearly referring to the “allegations made…of women raped and three men killed sometime in March, 2011”.
Enter here the CBI and the Chhattisgarh police. It was only after the media broke the story that the Chhattisgarh police bothered to register any FIRs. Amazingly, all the FIRs claim that Naxalites attacked the police, and then burnt the villages as they were fleeing. There is no mention of any rapes or killings by the security forces. It is a small mercy the police did not claim that Swami Agnivesh attacked the SPOs.
The CBI simply took over the police FIRs, making them the basis for the status reports they have been submitting to the Court. The CBI was supposed to submit a preliminary report within 6 weeks, but visited the villages only after six months. They wanted to carry out lie detector tests on the raped women, but showed no such desire to question the top police officials responsible, including the current IG SRP Kalluri, who, as SSP Dantewada then, was widely seen as complicit in the attacks.
After the CBI team was also attacked by SPOs in February 2012, they refused to visit the site again, instead summoning the villagers to Jagdalpur, 187 km away. Women carrying infants have come standing each way to depose. It is only this year after the petitioners flatly refused to bring villagers to Jagdalpur, that the CBI went to the site. This time again, they were intimidated by a drunk police escort and rumours of a planned Maoist ambush.
Given the bonhomie between a BJP controlled CBI at the Centre and a BJP ruled state, the CBI is reluctant to take on the Chhattisgarh police. Upon finding that rapes and murders had indeed taken place, the CBI should have clearly stated that the police FIRs were false. By failing to do so, the new Supreme Court bench hearing the case is being led to think that for four and a half years the victims of the police forces have been waging a legal battle to get justice for the police.