WSS welcomes the decisive intervention of the National Human Rights Commission in cases of sexual violence against Adivasi women by police and security forces engaged in anti-Maoist operations in Chhattisgarh. Validating our assertion that sexual violence is being used as a weapon of war in Bastar, the Commission has held the State government “vicariously liable” for gross violations of human rights.
Taking cognisance of press reports based on WSS fact-findings and successive complaints submitted by us, the NHRC conducted its own field investigation in March 2016, meeting and recording the statements of 16 women. In its strongly-worded note issued today, the Commission has prima facie validated their FIRs of rape, sexual assault and physical violence. Statements are awaited from 20 more women who have also filed FIRs of sexual violence ranging from mass rapes to sexual assault of minor girls and pregnant women.
These cases were brought to light as a result of first-hand investigations by WSS with allied groups in Peddagellur, Kunna and Bellam Lendra villages of Bastar Division between October 2015 and January 2016. Fact-finding teams recorded women’s testimonies and supported them in filing complaints in the face of systematic stonewalling and obstruction of the process by the police and district authorities. The cases where FIRs have been filed may be only the tip of the iceberg – reports of sexual violence by security forces continue to come in from other villages in the Bastar belt where search and combing operations were carried out during this period.
The NHRC order is an explicit acknowledgement of grievous rights abuses, and gives us reason to hope not only of justice for the violated women, but an end to the reign of terror created by the police and security forces in the name of anti-Maoist operations. While we welcome the NHRC directive to the State government for lodging of FIRs under the Prevention of Atrocities Act and the payment of interim compensation to the complainants, we are painfully aware that this is only a small step in the long road to justice. Many women have not yet been able to file complaints and are under pressure to remain silent. Where FIRs have been filed, investigations are delayed and hampered by the authorities. Efforts to provide legal and social support to women survivors have been met with extreme hostility.
In our latest submission to the NHRC (3 January 2017), we have highlighted the all-out vendetta launched by the Bastar police under the command of IG SRP Kalluri, against all those who are calling them to account. Adivasi leaders, human rights activists, lawyers, academics and journalists have been targeted, hounded and threatened by the police and police-sponsored vigilante groups. The intention is clearly to ensure that there are no witnesses to the gross violations of the human rights of Adivasi citizens in the war against Maoists in Bastar.
Defying strictures by the Supreme Court and the NHRC, IG Kalluri has publicly accused Adv Shalini Gera of the Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group of exchanging demonetised currency for Maoists, and celebrated the arrest and denial of bail to a fact-finding team of lawyers and human rights defenders from Telengana who have been jailed on similar charges. We call on the NHRC to act on our complaint in this regard, and intervene decisively to restore democratic functioning and the rule of law in Bastar.
The NHRC is continuing its investigations into the various complaints from WSS and others providing evidence of further incidents of rape, sexual assault, plunder and destruction of property and staged encounters in Bastar. We hope the NHRC will urgently pursue these investigations and ensure criminal prosecution for all those involved in committing, overseeing and condoning these violations.
WSS has consistently highlighted the futility of militarised approaches to the Maoist insurgency. Far from ending the violence, the militarisation of the Bastar region has only increased the vulnerablity of local communities and provided a cloak of impunity for the perpetration of gross volations of human rights by state actors. We hope that the NHRC will take note of the systematic pattern of offences against civilians and non-combatants in the course of anti-Maoist operations, and will lay down clear and unambiguous guidelines for the conduct of such operations.
We are humbled and inspired by the courage and determination of the Adivasi women who have come forward and spoken out about the brutalities they have endured and survived. They are steadfast in their demand of punishment for the perpetrators. WSS is committed to stand with them in their struggle for justice and in their quest for peace and an end to violence in their villages and communities.
Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS) is a non funded network of women’s rights, dalit rights, human rights and civil liberties organizations and individuals across India. For more information visit wssnet.org