On September 21, 2007, the Adivasi gang rape victims of Vakapalli in Andhra Pradesh wrote a memorandum to the sub-collector of Paderu: ‘We, the Adivasi women of Vakapalli village who have been raped, wish to place before you the reasons why we have decided to go on an indefinite fast… On 20-08-2007, Greyhounds police (21 in number) raided our village and raped 11 women. We have brought this brutal and terrible act of the police to the notice of not just the government and the judiciary but everyone we could reach out to… When an incident like this takes place, the government should respond and take steps to ensure that the accused are punished… Over a month has passed since we were raped. A criminal case was registered but not a single accused has been arrested so far. On top of it, they are trying to make out that nothing has at all happened. … Will these laws and courts not do us justice? Will they only side with the police? In that case, at least take action under international laws if any. In case there are no such laws, then do us justice as per principles of natural justice.
‘If this system fails to give us justice and security, we, who are helpless, refuse to remain so. We are ready to even sacrifice our lives so that such brutality is not visited upon us and those like us ever again. We therefore humbly state that we have decided to sit on an indefinite fast.’
On May 22, 2010, three Adivasi women of Mukram village near Chintalnar, Chhattisgarh, said they were raped by members of the security forces. This was just over a month after the Maoists killed 76 jawans near Chintalnar. Reports said that 10 women were raped around Chintalnar but owing to a virtual police blockade, the reports couldn’t be verified.
These are not isolated cases. Four women claim to have been raped in Samsetti, Dantewada by Special Police Officers in 2006. Five women from Potenar said they were raped in the Jangla camp in 2005. Two women were raped by the Salwa Judum and SPOs in Lingagiri in 2006. Three women claimed to have been gang-raped at Tatemargu in November 2009 during a combing operation. The list is endless. And not even once were FIRs registered by police. Five girls from Potenaar testified to the NHRC’s enquiry team in June 10, 2008, but the team (comprising 15 police officials out of 16) inferred that the allegations could not be substantiated.
‘During the enquiry it was observed that there were many inconsistencies in the versions of alleged victims, in the petitions given by them, as well as in the statements of the alleged victims. These inconsistencies were with regard to the number of victims raped, number of SPOs who took them away from the camp, number of SPOs who actually committed the act and their identity, and the accompanying circumstances’, the report observed.
Yet nowhere did the NHRC report mention that rape didn’t take place. And it ‘recommended that a further enquiry may be conducted by an independent agency’. Nothing happened after that. The writ petitions in the Supreme Court that challenged the Salwa Judum had alleged of over 99 cases of rape. The NHRC enquiry team spoke to only five of the victims who were not even mentioned in the petition. Then, the team investigated only one other allegation of rape at the village of Pollampalli.
At Pollampalli, two women were allegedly raped and murdered but the NHRC report states, ‘The names of Bhusaki Bandi and Selam Bhima could not be identified as from this village. However, the villagers denied any incidence of rape in their village’. The NHRC team probably visited the wrong Pollampalli. There are two in Bastar, one in Usur Block and another in Konta Block.
Going by reports, rape is a part of everyday life for the Adivasi women of Bastar and, according to many, it is used as a weapon of war. Rape as a weapon of war was recognised by the UNSC in 2008. In the Red Corridor, the predominately non-tribal police force looks at the predominately tribal Maoists as an entity of its own. There is a definite tinge of racism and rape is a form of collective punishment. The three girls raped at Mukram on May 22 were accused of being ‘Maoist supporters’ and alleged to have helped in the Chintalnar attack.
The police have often claimed all these allegations of rape are baseless and that the Maoists motivate women to make such claims to undermine police morale and legitimacy. As it is owing to the stigma related to rape, as well as the further threat to their lives, the victim never comes forward. It took the women of Samsetti three years to come forward and even then the police didn’t lodge FIRs. They would eventually harass the women, detain them, and beat them after they lodged a case at the judicial magistrate’s court in Konta. The Maoists are not beyond rape either, even though they don’t use it as a weapon of war.
The Adivasis in Konta chuckle as I enquire about area commander Comrade Naveen. Naveen’s real name is Sodhi Gangaya and he hails from Curreygudem in Konta block, deep within the ‘liberated zones’. Comrade Naveen allegedly raped a girl in Curreygudem in 2008. When I asked if they had complained about it, they said, “Hum itne bade aadmi ke bare mein aesa kaise bol sakte hai…” (How can we say such a thing about such a big man?) Eventually, a relative of the girl complained to a senior Maoist and Naveen disappeared from the forest. He left the party and eventually became SPO Sodhi Gangaya. Tatemargu villagers recognised him on November 9, 2009, as one of the guides for the police contingent in the raid in which over 60 buildings were burnt, seven villagers killed, and three women allegedly raped.
How many Comrade Naveens exist among the Maoists? Perhaps just as many SPO Sodhi Gangayas amongst the police. How many Vakapallis will there be? In the end you are left with the thought that the only way may be to fulfil the promise in the letter: ‘If this system fails to give us justice and security, we, who are helpless, refuse to remain so. We are ready to even sacrifice our lives so that such brutality is not visited upon us and those like us ever again.’