There is no outrage. No candlelight protest. Not even slightest condemnation by the political leadership in the wake of National Human Rights Commission’s (NHRC) report on the rape of 16 tribal women in Bastar district of Chhattisgarh.
In its report on January 7, 2017, The National Human Rights Commission has found 16 women, prima facie victims of rape, sexual and physical assault by the state police personnel in Chhattisgarh. The Commission has observed that prima-facie, human rights of the victims have been grossly violated by the security personnel of the government of Chhattisgarh for which the state government is vicariously liable. It has issued a notice to the Government of Chhattisgarh, to pay monetary compensation of ₹37 lakh to the victims.
It is interesting to note that NHRC has limited capacity to implement its order as it can only ‘recommend’ government and lacks legally binding power, thus, making NHRC a toothless paper tiger. In unofficial reports prepared by NGOs, more testimonies of rape and cruelty towards tribal women are emerging. Many women from Chinnagellur, Pedagellur, Gundam, Burgicheru and other villages have recorded their statements against security forces.
One victim, however, told the district collector that the sexual violence did not stop at the rapes. Several women were beaten on their thighs and buttocks, they alleged. Their lower clothing was lifted, their blouses torn and the security personnel threatened they would “push chillies up their vaginas”, claims several reports.
At least two women who were breastfeeding had their breasts pinched and squeezed for milk to prove they had breastfeeding infants. These events occurred over the five days between October 19-24, reported one of the witnesses.
These cases did not shake the nation as much as the Nirbhaya case. Reasons could be many. The victims, in this case, are helpless tribal women from remote Naxal-affected areas. In these regions, the involvement of security forces and connivance of government helps keep incidents under cover.
Apart from occasional reports, mainstream media skip these incidences. Most of the Indian intellectuals maintain a stoic silence on these issues as if nothing had happened (except few NGOs and academics who jeopardise their lives to document such cases in Naxal areas).
And for political leadership, these grave issues like the frequent rape of tribal women matters less. There is not condemnation. No demand to punish culprits. Also, human rights activist working to highlight these issues are harassed and intimidated by police. In fact, there is a long history of the police taking retaliatory action against others who have been raising issues of human rights violations by the police and security forces in the area of Bastar.
In the core of such rapes of tribal women is a prevalent culture of impunity, particularly among security forces.
In most cases, if the culprit is the member of the security forces, they are likely to go free. Even in above case, these FIR were filed. “But in many similar cases of atrocities and sexual assault by the security forces have gone unrecorded and unpunished in the last decade in Bastar,” Bela Bhatia, a human rights activist said.
Tribals are not aware of the human rights they are entitled to nor do they have access to file an FIR. The expensive legal fees and hostile police often discourage victims from pursuing their cases against the mighty state agents. Tribal areas are isolated and do not have access to modern communication; neither they are skilled to assert their rights, not they know how to fight for justice. Almost with no education and less economic resources, tribal victims are left to suffer in silence.
India has the second largest tribal concentration in the world. In India, Scheduled Tribes are spread across the country mainly in forest and hilly regions. These people, in India, are treated as low, despised and untouchable because of the adherence to outdated social norms and the caste system. Needless to say, such barbaric incidence of rape will isolate (if justice is not served timely) tribal population which is already living on the margins of the Indian society and further, will boost Naxalite movement.
The Indian Constitution provides social, cultural, educational and service safeguards for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (SC/STs), apart from specific and general legislations enacted to safeguard and protect the interest of SC/STs. Also, India government has International Human Rights legal obligation to protect the right and dignity of every person. In this context, the government of India is answerable to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) that examines the national situation of women’s rights. The CEDAW Committee is a UN body of independent experts in-charge of reviewing a country’s implementation of the Convention on Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, an international human rights treaty containing state’s responsibilities towards women’s human rights.
The rapes of women in Bastar show that neither the Indian government nor the security forces take their responsibility, to upkeep human right of its citizen, seriously.
The government has failed again and again to protect human rights of the marginalised groups in India. Unfortunately, neither the mainstream media nor the intellectuals feel outraged over such issues. I believe people should take offence on grave violations of Human Rights and pressurise the government to act.
This article was originally published in The Oslo Times.