Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Rape of minors-Will NHRC or Supreme Court Wake Up.....

The Chairperson
National Human Rights Commission
Sardar Patel Bhawan
Sansad Marg
New Delhi

28 March 2007

Subject: Police atrocities on Madia (Gondi) adivasi women in Lohandiguda, Bastar

Dear Sir,

We would like to draw your attention to the following cases of rape, molestation, outraging modesty and harassment by the police in the Lohandiguda block of Bastar district in south Chhattisgarh. These instances occurred in two villages: Takraguda and Sirisguda between 21-27 February 2007. Even though information regarding these instances was reported in the local media as well as taken up by the district branch of the Communist Party of India (CPI) no action has been taken by the government yet. Before we proceed to share with you the statements of these women, we would like to outline the context in brief.

There is an ongoing conflict between the tribal residents of 10 panchayats of Lohandiguda block and the district government; the villages where these instances have occurred are part of these panchayats. Roughly 6000 hectares of land of these panchayats are slated to be acquired by the government to set up the Tata Steel Company. The government is all set to push the Tata Steel Company project at all costs even though the people are unwilling. Resistance thus has been brewing as is repression which is becoming more direct by the day – the conflict is thus taking on a sharper edge.

So far among the grievances of the affected people is the fact that they have not even been provided basic information regarding the project. For instance, the MoU (Memorandum of Understanding) signed between the state government and the Tatas nor the revised compensation package has been made public. In fact, even the MLA of the area – a member of the ruling BJP – admits that he has not seen these documents. Likewise, even though Bastar is under the Vth Schedule of the Indian Constitution and the PESA Act, 1996, in its very spirit underlines the centrality of the Gram Sabha and its consent as a pre-requisite for any land acquisition in the area, the district government has trampled upon these measures aimed to protect the interests of the tribals. The Gram Sabhas held in 8 panchayats on 20 July and in 2 panchayats on 3 August last year were held in an atmosphere that was far from being free and fearless. In fact, these Sabhas were held under duress in the coercive presence of a large number of police personnel as well as administrative staff including the District Collector, Sub-Divisional Magistrate and the Superintendent of Police. In spite of the coercion, the people in these panchayats put forward 13 demands on which they wanted further discussion with the government before taking a final decision. However, the government did nothing on these lines in the following seven months which made the sarpanchs of 6 panchayats declare that they would reconvene the Gram Sabhas on 24 February 2007.

Police action in these villages is escalating. It is becoming more frequent, lawless, and violent. Even before the Gram Sabhas held last year, 60 or so of the most vocal leaders of these panchayats were arrested. Some of them stayed up to 60 days in prison. False charges were clamped on some leaders as well as their property destroyed. A police camp was also set up in Sirisguda, which is regarded as a 'rebel' village. As a result, most of the men were forced to flee their homes and stayed away during the last three months in order to evade arrests and harassment for 'crimes' they had not committed. As it is, with their men absent, women had to manage their homes, children, cattle, as well as the fields on their own. In fact, the winter harvest in Sirisguda was done single-handedly by women. And now, the women have been targeted in a pre-planned manner clearly to punish them, their men, and their communities for daring to exercise a right – a right to say 'No' – given to them by the laws of the land.

The instances of police excesses mentioned below can be categorized under three heads: (i) rape (ii) pre-planned molestations and outraging modesty (iii) everyday harassment. In the first category is the case of Kari who was raped by a policeman who may have come with the full knowledge of others in his group or without their knowledge. In the second category, are the 10 cases of molestation of women: 6 of these women are less than 16 years old, the youngest being only 12. There is a certain similarity in the statements suggesting that what happened was a result of a pre-mediated plan. In contrast, the third instance, of Galle, depicts everyday harassment with possible intention of sexual abuse. It is quite possible that there may be other instances of this kind which have not come to light yet.

Following statements are available in both English and Hindi:

TAKRAGUDA village and panchayat, Marigudapara
27 February 2007, 6 pm: An instance of rape
Kari, wife of Lachuram, 20 years, illiterate, mother of one child:
"In the evening light I had been watching the 15 or so policemen in the field on the right side of my house from my courtyard. Having directed the para (hamlet) people to assemble near the mango tree in the start of the para earlier, they seemed to be now heading towards it themselves. My husband and mother-in-law had already gone and I was alone in the house with my one-year-old son who was sleeping inside. I heard somebody say: 'Get me some water.' I turned to find a police man who had entered the courtyard from the left side of the house. I went inside and returned with a tumbler of water. However, when I stretched my hand to give it to him, he caught my hand instead and pushed me inside the house. The tumbler fell on the ground."

SIRISGUDA village and panchayat; Kandkipara
26 February 2007, 5-6 am: Multiple instances of molestation
Batti, daughter of Paklu, 15 years, illiterate, unmarried:
"It was around 5 am. I was washing utensils in the courtyard of our house when three policemen entered. Two went into the neighbouring house which belongs to my father's elder brother. The other policeman caught hold of me from behind and started pushing me inside the house and on the bed. He was forcing himself on me and molesting me. My left eye got hurt in the scuffle. My younger brother and sister were sleeping and awoke as a result and started crying. Their cries accompanied by my wails and resistance drove him away. During this whole episode this policeman kept asking me about the whereabouts of my father. My father and my uncle had runaway with the other men of our para to the hill when they saw the arrival of this large contingent of police.
No sooner had he gone that the other two policemen reappeared and asked me to open the locked door of my uncle's house. I said that I did not have the key. However, they were unrelenting and continued to pursue me and also molested me."

Paislo, daughter of Madda, 12 years, illiterate, unmarried:
"It was early morning. After drinking pech (a drink made from rice and other locally grown millets) I was making preparations to go to work when two policemen came. One stood by the door and the other pulled me inside the house forcibly. He held me from the back and molested me. The one by the door stood watching. One of them also held my head from both sides and hit it against the wall a few times. I was crying when my mother returned (she had gone to fill water). She questioned them and they fled."

Mitko, daughter of Juima, 15 years, student of 10th class, unmarried:
"That day (26 February 2007) around 5 am I was brushing my teeth in the courtyard of my house when two policemen came and forced me inside the house. They tried to force themselves on me. Somehow I escaped and ran. I continued to run for around 20 – 30 minutes towards the foot of the hill on the path which is also quite stony. I fell down and was overcome by one of them who caught me. He held me while the other lay on top of me and molested me (tan tabayen). The one who was holding me was addressing him as "Sahu." In the process, my clothes also got torn and I lost consciousness. Meanwhile, my mother who had been trying to find me also came. Seeing my mother they ran away. Since that day I feel very scared and I was not able to give my exams. After leaving me, the two policemen went to the house opposite mine (Labho's house). From what Labho has told me about them it seems they were the same policemen."

Labho, daughter of Bhonjo, 15 years, 5th class pass, unmarried:
"That day (26 February 2007) around 5.30-6.00 am I was lighting the chullah when three policemen entered the courtyard of our house. My mother had gone to fill water that is why I was alone. One policeman remained at the door and the other two made me open the locked door of the granary. After forcing me inside they repeatedly asked me to lie down. I started crying and when they began molesting me I started to scream. Then they went away."

Jabo, daughter of Paklu, 16 years, illiterate, unmarried. The statement has been provided by her uncle, Deva:
"At around 5 am that day two-three policemen entered Jabo's house. Once inside they caught her hand and started molesting her. She shouted and somehow made her escape. She has not returned since that day. She told a child that she was going to her elder sister's house. Her elder sister lives in Gidavara. For going there one has to climb the hill that is close to our village and reach Raikota ( 5 km away) and then catch a bus from there. Gidavara is at a distance of 35 km.
I am her uncle."

Riko, wife of Somaro, 16 years, illiterate, mother of one infant:
"I was collecting the tamarind early in the morning when two policemen entered the courtyard of my house and catching hold of me one of them said, 'Where do you sleep? Let's go inside and see.' I did not go inside but freeing myself from his hold ran towards the back of the house. They ran after me and caught me again. My mother-in-law, Lakmi, came just then and shouted at them and tried to free me from their hold. My mother-in-law also threw stones at them. Only then did they go. Before catching hold of me they had also tried to catch our hen. For this also we had to shout at them and only then did they let go."

Galbo, wife of Sibo, 30 years, illiterate, mother of three children:
"I am a mother of three children. That day at 4.30 am a lot of police came to our para (hamlet). Around half went towards the hill and the other half were standing near my house. Three of them entered the courtyard of my house and catching hold of my hand started dragging me inside the house. We were replacing the roof of our house and so all household items were out in the courtyard and the house was empty. So I asked: "There is nothing inside, why should I go inside?" Freeing my hand, abusing them, I ran away."

Dulari, wife of Ganpath, 25 years, unmarried, illiterate, mother of three children:
"That day (26 February 2007) early morning, I was at home breaking open the tamarind when two policemen came. They stretched my hands on both sides, tore my blouse and molested me. Then they directed my nine-year-old son to open the locked granary room. He opened it. In the meanwhile, I freed myself and ran towards the house of an old woman who lives close to my house. After this they also went away."

Paiko, wife of Madda, 35 years, illiterate, mother of four children:
"I am a mother of four children. That morning many policemen came to our village. Out of fear my husband and children ran away to the nearby hill. I too was preparing to go there. I had locked the house and was in the courtyard when two policemen came. They asked me to unlock the door and go inside. Out of fear I obeyed them. One of them stood by the door while the other dragged me inside and was attempting to take off my sari. I gave him a jerk, freed myself from his hold, and escaped."

Sukmati, wife of Mahadev, 30 years, illiterate, mother of four children:
"I am a mother of four children. My daughter was born the day before the police came. I was plastering the floor near the door of my house when two policemen came. One stood at the door while the other started pressing me to go inside the house. He caught hold of me and started molesting me. I gave him a jerk, caught hold of child, and ran away."
21 February 2007, 4.30 pm: An instance of harassment with possible intention of molestation or rape

Galle, wife of Sukram, 30 years, illiterate:
"On the 21 February 2007 I had gone to the 'society' (Public Distribution System) to buy rice. After buying the rice, I was returning when three policemen who were sitting by the bridge made moves towards me. From their behaviour I felt that they were wanting to catch me so I ran towards the fields. They chased me and stopped only when I had reached the PDS shop again. It was 4.30 pm then and there were other people as well."
After this incident, there was so much fear amongst the women that they were afraid to give their complaint to the police. Also, since the police were the aggressors they could not approach them with any degree of trust. That is why we are making this complaint on their behalf.
We are enclosing with this letter a photocopy of the duly-signed statements in Hindi. If you may require the original, we would be glad to provide these to you. May we please request you to take appropriate action urgently and punish the guilty policemen? If they are not questioned, made accountable and punished for their reprehensible actions there is a risk that they may be repeated again.

In anticipation.
With many thanks and best wishes,

Ramuram Maurya Bela Bhatia (Dr.)

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