Security personals sexually harassed and assaulted more that 40 women and gang-raped at least two during an anti-Maoists operation in the villages of Pegdapalli, Chinnagellur, Peddagellur, Burgicheru, and Gundam in Bijapur, South Chhattisgarh between October 20 and October 24, 2015.
THE GANGRAPE TEEN SURVIVOR WITH HER AUNT (RIGHT), IN THE COURTYARD OF THEIR HOME IN PEDDAGELLUR VILLAGE. (CHITRANGADA CHOUDHURY/HT PHOTO)
A fact finding team from Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS) visited the villages and submitted its report (Click to read complete fact finding report).
Some of the important facts of the situations based on the testimonies of the survivors and observations of fact finding team:
Rape: We are able to confirm rapes of two women of Peddagulur village. One was a fourteen year old girl and the other a pregnant woman. Both of them have been gang-raped. The young girl was grazing cattle with other women when she was chased by the security forces. Overpowered and blindfolded, she was raped by at least three people before she became unconscious. The four-months-pregnant woman was stripped by the security forces on the October 21, 2015 and repeatedly dunked in the stream, and then gang-raped. The security forces had also removed their clothing and gotten into the stream while raping her.
To add to these, there were some other incidents of rape as well which were being recounted but due to the paucity of time these could not be investigated further and they are pending further examination.
Sexual Assault : Many women, at least 15 in Chinnagelur and Pedagelur alone, and many others from the other neighbouring villages (Gundam, Burgichheru etc) reported being stripped, beaten on their thighs and buttocks, their lower clothing was lifted up and they were threatened with further sexual violence (e.g. pushing chillies up their vaginas). Their blouses were torn. At least two women who were breast feeding said that their breasts were pinched and squeezed for milk. Other women also mentioned that their breasts were grabbed, pulled and squeezed.
Sexual Harassment: Women were chased out of their homes which were then occupied by the forces for their stay. In some cases, the policemen removed their clothing and invited the women to come and sleep with them if they wanted to sleep in their own homes, as the village men had run away into the jungles.
Physical Assault: Severe beatings were reported by many women. In some cases they were holding their infants when they were hit at from behind. Their hair was pulled out, they were dragged, their heads were banged on the ground, and they were poked at with guns and batons (dande). The bruises of this violence were still evident on many women when we met them. Many of them were still unable to walk. They mentioned that they had used hot compresses to relieve the pain in the absence of any medical service in the area.
Infants and small children were also brutally beaten by the security forces. While trying to save them, the women got further beaten.
Looting of Property: Food items like rice, oil, salt, masala, chilly etc; life stock such as chicken, pigs; clothes, torches, soap were looted from the houses by the security forces. They cooked and ate many of the food items, took some with them and destroyed the rest. They also took away money wherever they could find it in the houses. Much of these were the life savings of the people which they have collected over time. Some of these are in notes, most are in coins. They keep these with them since they have no other place to deposit these. Some of the bigger amounts that people mentioned ranged from Rs 2800/- to a maximum of Rs. 10000/-. Several of the women indicated their amounts by showing the size of the coin pouch they had.
Destruction of Property: One house in Burgicheru was destroyed and burnt by the security forces. They entered the house and broke all the vessels. The rice was also taken.
Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS) demanded
We demand that strict action be taken against these individuals and they be booked for the crimes committed by them directly and for those who may not have been directly a part of the crimes, action taken against them as abettors to the same.
We demand that a free and independent enquiry be conducted into these incidents. To ensure that there is no bias and the local police or officer who has been part of or responsible for the operations in any way should not be a part of this investigation.
We also demand that the state ensures the safety and security of the women who have come forward to speak out and the people of their village. It should be ensured that no further intimidation or violence is inflicted on them.
Chitrangada Choudhury wrote a series of articles (1,2,3) in Hindustan Times and few other national media took this up (1, 2), still not a single person has been arrested in this case more that 50 days after the FIR was registered by the Bijapur police against ‘suraksha bal’ on November 1. NHRC have asked government to submit report in 4 weeks. Official investigators are yet to visit incident site to collect evidences forget about protection and fate of the people living there.
This is how Indian democracy is working in deep forests in the heart of the country quite similar to Kashmir and NE India where security personals are empowered to commit such crimes under impunity of AFSPA. (1, 2). State has declared war against its own most underprivileged population (1).