Early this year, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) found that 16 women were “prima facie victims of rape, sexual and physical assault by state police personnel in Chhattisgarh” in Bijapur district in October 2015, and said it is of the view that “prima facie, human rights of the victims have been grossly violated, for which the state government is vicariously liable“.
NHRC made these observations in three cases of rape, sexual and physical assault reported from Chattisgarh. The first case dates back to October 2015, when Chattisgarh police personnel were reported to have sexually harassed and assaulted about 40 women and gangraped two across five villages in Bijapur district. The other two cases relate to similar crimes committed by security forces at Bellam Lendra (Nendra) village in Bijapur district and at Kunna village in the nearby Sukma district. 34 women in total have since then registered three FIRs with the police although that too reportedly wasn’t easy.
Chattisgarh government’s handling of the cases, especially those dealing with rape and sexual assault, is problematic at many levels, the most obvious of which is the state’s apathy towards the survivors and its collusion in providing impunity to its security personnel. For instance, the Chairperson of the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) had already recommended invoking the SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and payment of monetary relief in April 2016. Eight months later, these recommendations had not been followed and the NHRC had to again issue directions along similar lines. Statements of 19 survivors too were yet to be recorded by a magistrate, and the NHRC had to issue directions to the police again.
The slow pace at which investigations took place is another issue. It has been more than a year since the FIRs were registered, yet no arrests have been made or chargesheets filed. A Bijapur court, in fact, issued non-bailable warrants against some of the survivors themselves in October last year when they missed some court hearings.
This when the crimes have been recorded in detail by multiple groups. That violence in January 2016 took place even as the NHRC was enquiring into the incidents of October 2015 only suggests how brazen the forces have become, perhaps, because of tacit government support.
No part of this violence, however, is new. Over a decade since anti-Maoist operations were scaled up in the Bastar division of Chhattisgarh, human rights violations have become the norm in the area. From development to national security, the government has been citing several reasons for counter-insurgency operations in different parts of the country even when such violations come to light, although courts have admonished it for such operations. The Supreme Court recently termed such prolonged deployment of armed forces “indicative of the failure of the civil administration to take effective aid of the armed forces in restoring normalcy” while ordering a probe into alleged fake encounters in Manipur.
No government anywhere however can explain away rape and sexual assault during such operations. Yet rape and sexual assault have been very much part of such operations, whether it be in the “disturbed areas” on the borders or in the “Maoist-infested” mainland, without governments even taking cognisance of it. For the countless survivors and victims of such violence, this means that there has never been any kind of justice, except the occasional monetary compensation.
With tremendous grit, the survivors in Bastar have spoken about such brutalities yet again. After much persuasion, the police have registered FIRs. Those FIRs moreover have invoked, for the first time in Chhattisgarh, a clause that was brought into the Indian Penal Code after an amendment in the Indian Penal Code in 2013. Section 376 (2) (c) (invoked in two of the three FIRs) awards imprisonment of ten years or more to a member of the armed forces deployed in an area by the Central or a State governments for committing the crime of rape in the area of deployment. The new law is an acknowledgment that the state wants to prevent such crimes from happening in the future. If the prosecution is delayed in these three cases, it would be hard to convict the perpetrators, and we would be going back to the days when rape will be seen as a state policy and the state as a criminal.
Featured image for representation only. Image source: Wikimedia Commons