Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently provided the media with another photo-op by helping an Adivasi woman in Bijapur wear her new slippers. But like much else in his government, the gesture is tokenistic – only one person per family of tendu leaf collectors gets the grand gift of slippers. In the meantime, not one person has been compensated for their houses and all their belongings – including slippers – being burnt during the time of the Salwa Judum.
Saying ‘Jai Bhim’ in Chhattisgarh counts for little if one cannot implement Babasaheb’s vision in practice. Would Ambedkar have been happy to see the constitution subverted by a government that cannot protect its young daughters, a party whose MLAs are accused of rape and whose ministers support rapists? The day the adivasis of Bastar who have been gangraped, whose relatives have been killed and whose houses have been burnt get justice is the day the government’s demand that the Maoists lay down arms will have some chance of being heard.
This is a story from exactly a year ago, April 2017, when security forces in Chintagufa village of Sukma district allegedly raped a minor girl. On April 2, at around 4 am, the girl and her mother were sleeping in the courtyard of their house when CRPF personnel came looking for her elder brother, who was supposedly a sangham member, or a village-level Maoist sympathiser. Her brother wasn’t there. Three men dragged her to a distance, and two of them took turns raping her, she said later. The other police/CRPF personnel stayed back, beat her mother and pushed her younger sisters inside the house and locked it. The victim was injured on the neck during the rape as photos taken at the time reveal. Due to the darkness, she could not identify the men who raped her.
The matter was first reported by a villager on April 3 last year and published in Nai Duniya on April 4 morning. That same article quoted the DIG, P. Sunder Raj, saying the allegations were false, mala fide and intended by ‘white-collar Naxals’ to tarnish the image of the police. All this before any police investigation, even though at first reporting, the reported rape clearly came under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offcences (POCSO) Act.. Instead, the journalist who reported the matter was questioned.
On April 5, a team from the National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW) visited the village and brought the girl and her mother to Sukma to meet the SP. The police immediately took the two women into custody, ostensibly for their own protection, and did not even allow them to talk to the NFIW women who had brought them. What kind of harm could they have suffered from the women who were trying to help them file a police case? Who was the victim here and who were the accused?
Inevitably, the girl retracted the charges of rape.
Discrepancies in the police version
Some kind of medical examination was carried out in Sukma and Jagdalpur. The Sukma report states (portions that are legible in the photocopy):
“Alleged to have been giving history by the patient (sic): patient was taken away by three persons at early morning around 4 am on 2.4.17. Two holding her near tamarind tree and one was beaten (sic) her by bamboo stick.. left side of neck and one among them pulled her down and sat on.. Immediately the patient kicked him.. then they ran away…Hymen not ruptured.. one superficial injury on side of neck 2x 1.5 inches. Blunt object – age of wound one week.”
The Maharani hospital Jagdalpur report says, “h/o beaten by 2 persons by bamboo stick”.
The police version, however, is that the girl fell during a scuffle while opening the door for them and injured herself on a pile of bamboo lying nearby.
As for her age, after the police sent them an X-ray determination which said she was between 20-22, the villagers unanimously changed their earlier estimation that she was 14-15. Statement after statement collected by the police confidently says that the girl was exactly 22 years old. Our police should be given a medal for adult education – villagers who normally track the time and date by the movement of the sun and the seasons are now, courtesy of the police, suddenly very precise.
NHRC’s complicity in impunity
I referred the case to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) on April 8, 2017, which then asked the police for their report. On August 1, 2017, the NHRC asked the police to send the girl their version for her comments. Some two and a half months later, the NHRC closed the case – without carrying out any investigation of their own, and despite evident discrepancies.
The commission said on October 25, 2017:
“No comments have been submitted by the alleged victim. It is presumed that she has nothing to say in the matter. …. Nonsubmission of the comments by the alleged victim shows that she is satisfied with the action taken and report submitted by the police. In these circumstances, no further intervention of the Commission in the matter is required and the case is closed.”
Does the NHRC really believe that a victim who is unlettered, who has already been terrified into retracting rape charges, who only speaks Gondi, is ‘satisfied’ with a lengthy police report in Hindi and a medical report in English? Do they really think the police even sent her the report?
I have been unable to go to Chintagufa in the last year to ask for myself because the authorities have made it impossible for me to visit. Anyway, what would it matter? Have we got justice for anyone in the years since the Salwa Judum began in 2005? Has anyone at all been punished for rape, for murder or arson? And this after knocking at every door in the country, the government, the Supreme Court, the NHRC, the National Commission for Women…
From Kathua to Unnao to Chintagufa, these are all young daughters of our country. This country will survive only if they do. And right now, the record is not looking good.
Nandini Sundar teaches sociology at Delhi University and is the author of The Burning Forest: India’s War in Bastar (Juggernaut, 2016), which details state impunity over a decade.