In the aftermath of the Bangalore mass assault, we saw countrywide protests, not just on media, but also on the streets, when, in an awe inspiring movement, women in various cities took to streets, reclaiming their right to go out. Around the same time, another piece of news was highlighted in Chhattisgarh, which sadly did not garner as much of the country’s attention. Importantly, the appalling incident did not go unnoticed by the human rights defenders and activists of the area, and they continued to fight for the cause against all resistance from the police.
Police personnel were found to have raped and assaulted a group of 40 women from five Chhattisgarh villages in 2015. Two of them were gang raped. It not just the scale and audacity of this grave violation of basic human rights that makes it deeply disturbing but also what happened afterwards. The police made it their mission to target both human rights activists and lawyers who were seeking justice for this wrong. In fact, Sri Kalluri, Inspector General Bastar, publicly announced “Mission 2017”, a drive by the state against Adivasi leaders, activists, lawyers, academics, journalists and any others who were calling for the state to account for the monstrosities. Individuals were targeted and threatened by the police in an attempt to ensure that there were no witnesses to the gross violations of the human rights that were being perpetrated against Adivasi citizens in Bastar. Activist, Bela Bhatia, who took up the case of the victims, facilitated registration of First Information Reports and brought the issue to public attention, was threatened and forced to leave the area by a group called AGNI, a vigilante group sponsored by the police, and was even forced to take an undertaking that she would vacate the house within a day. It was not long ago that some uniformed personnel burnt effigies of six human rights activists in public, and no action was taken against them.
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) initiated proceedings based on a 2015 news report that stated that women from five villages had accused the state police of sexually harassing and assaulting more than 40 of them and gang-raping at least two in Bijapur district. The NHRC took a suo moto cognizance and sent an investigative team to the area.
The NHRC conducted its investigation in March 2016. Its investigation team recorded the statements of 16 women who had filed FIRs of rape, sexual assault and physical violence. The team also looked into the injustice against activists, lawyers and other professionals who tried to bring these incidents to light, by the police and vigilante groups under the patronage of Inspector General Sri Kalluri. In another investigation in January, 2017, the team recorded the statements of 20 more women also filed FIRs of sexual violence.
The NHRC called a press conference and made an announcement that there was evidence that 16 women were raped by the policemen. In a landmark order of January, 2017, NHRC held that the Chhattisgarh State government was vicariously liable for the gross violation of human rights. The strongly worded order also admonished the state government on its failure to provide compensation to the victims and registration of the cases under the Scheduled Castes/ Scheduled Tribes Prevention of Atrocities Act. The NHRC issued a show cause notice against Chhattisgarh Police and also demanded a compensation of Rs. 37 Lakh for the victims.
On January 30, NHRC summoned the state officials to answer to their apathy towards the gross violation of human rights and the vengeance against human rights defenders that is being perpetrated by the police.
What we ask is, what does justice look like for rape and sexual assault survivors? Is financial compensation really enough or what they need or want? In the interests of public safety, have any of the accused policemen been suspended? And, importantly, is the investigating authority for this case independent of Chhattisgarh Police? Is their investigation survivor-centred? What are their objectives and when should we expect to see any form of justice done in this case?
We, in SAHR, as advocates for human rights, would like to see
Restoration of Rule of Law in Bastar and specifically for security forces to act within the law at all times.
The police to stop sponsoring vigilante groups of any form.
Protection of human rights activists of the area and their unrestricted access to the area.
Swift action towards achieving justice for the incident of mass rape and assault.
It is time the atrocities of the Chhattisgarh Police were brought to light in popular media and the hardships of women caught between the stifle of security forces and the Maoist rebels were given the deserved attention. But the cup isn’t empty. Let us take pride in the fact that, amidst the chaos and against all the repression, there are lawyers and activists who are, slowly and gradually, making a difference in the land of disarray that is Chhattisgarh.