The Gadchiroli couple who had alleged that two women from Chattisgarh had been detained and assaulted by Maharashtra’s C-60 commandos has now been arrested.
Mumbai: Confusion continues to prevail about the claims made by protestors in Gadchiroli that two adivasi women had been sexually assaulted by a group of commandos. On Monday, the women, both from Chhattisgarh, told the Nagpur bench of the Bombay high court that they were not assaulted by Maharashtra’s Gadchiroli police and claimed they had been forced to make false accusations.
A local sarpanch, Sheela Gota, and her husband Sainu Gota had alleged that the women, who had been picked up by the police, had been sexually assaulted by C-60 commandos and were since being subjected to pressure and threats.
A division bench of Justices B.R. Gavai and Indira Jain met the women in the judge’s chamber and noted in its order, “To a pertinent query made with the two women as to whether the allegations made… that they were physically molested by police persons is correct or not, both the women emphatically denied any such act on the part of the police. On the contrary, they state that they were compelled by Sheela Gota i.e. sarpanch of Gatta (Jambia), taluka Etapalli, Gadchiroli district, to inform… about an incident which never took place.”
On Sunday, the court had moved the women to a correction centre in Nagpur. A probationary officer at the facility told the court that she did not find the women to be under pressure. “Our observation of their facial expressions also does not show that they are speaking under coercion or threat,” the bench observed.
The women hail from Jonawara village in Kanker district of Chhattisgarh.
According to Nagpur-based lawyer Nihalsingh Rathod, Sheela and Sainu had approached him with the brother of one of the women because they wanted to file a habeas corpus petition. They alleged that the two women were missing. Later, when it was learnt that the women had reached the village, they alleged they were abducted and raped.
The Gota couple is currently under arrest.
As per Rathod’s account, the Gotas told him that the women were visiting their relatives in Gadchiroli on January 20. En route, C-60 commandoes of the Gadchiroli police stopped them after which the women were detained and sexually assaulted. They then sought help from Sheela. When they went to the police station to demand action, the police took the women for a medical examination and since no one was allowed to meet the women at Gadchiroli hospital, a group of activists protested and surrounded the Gatta police station on January 22.
Further efforts by activists to meet the women were thwarted by the police. On January 25, it was learnt that the women had returned to their village in Chhattisgarh.
Following these developments, Rathod told everyone to come to his office to update the habeas corpus petition. When the Gota couple came to his office with the two women and the brother on January 28, the police arrested the couple. The women were also taken away and subsequently sent to a correction home on the directions of the court.
Police claim vindication
The court’s order vindicated the police, who have been refuting the allegations. “Nowhere in their statement, either to the police or before the executive judicial magistrate or in the medical examination, have the women spoken of any assault. Medical reports are negative. The women were given food and sleeping bags in the forest as per the anti-Naxal operations. Sainu Gota is the head of 50 villages and he is part of a Naxal front organisation Bharat Jan Andolan,” Gadchiroli SP Abhinav Deshmukh alleged in remarks to The Wire.
According to the police, the commando team was conducting anti-Naxal operations on January 20 and encountered an ambush. During this, they spotted two “suspicious looking” women.
“Since it was night and the operations were underway, the women, and one other passerby, were advised to stay with the police for the night in the forest,” an official press release said.
The police also pointed out that the two women had filed an FIR against Sainu alleging that he forcibly brought them to Nagpur.
The Gota couple was arrested on January 28 under charges of unlawful assembly, rioting, disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant, assaulting public servants, causing fear and alarm in public. A few days earlier, a case under Section 110 (security for good behaviour from habitual offenders) of the Code for Criminal Procedure was registered against Sainu and others.
The arrested couple could not be reached for their version of events.