Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The tribal ‘Ruchikas’ of Dantewada- Javed Iqbal

Operation Green Hunt to flush out the Maoist rebels from central India may have begun only last November, but the hapless tribals of Chhattisgarh’s Bastar region have been at the receiving end of official hostility for years before that.
Javed Iqbal
First Published : 08 Jan 2010 12:26:00 AM IST
Operation Green Hunt to flush out the Maoist rebels from central India may have begun only last November, but the hapless tribals of Chhattisgarh’s Bastar region have been at the receiving end of official hostility for years before that. It is not clear why they should attract official ire, but they do. The state machinery, of course, denies any such sentiment.

Take the case of four Muria tribal women from the village of Samsetti. The Muria say they don’t know anything about rape; their word for it is closer to baalatkaar than anything else. On July 6, 2006, according to witnesses, government-appointed special police officers and Salwa Judum members gang-raped three young women, 19, 22 and 23, during a raid on Samsetti, which is in Dantewada district. Another girl was allegedly raped in January of that year. But the state wanted to know nothing about it.

When they went to file a complaint at the police station, the girls say they were threatened and chased away. It was discovered later that there were allegedly 24 cases of rape in the entire Konta block, but only six women would speak up. Four were from Samsetti, one from Arlampalli and another from Bandarpadar. The complaints, however, were not recorded.

Finally, on March 27, 2009, the women first wrote straight to the superintendent of police and the district collector. Nothing happened. Then a complaint case was jointly filed with the Judicial Magistrate First Class, Konta, on April 29.

Interestingly, while statements were being recorded at the court on June 16, the accused were said to be loitering around the corridors. On the next court date, July 17, when the testimonies of the victims were meant to be heard, the magistrate was absent, allegedly ‘called away to headquarters’. The magistrate also magically disappeared on the next court date, August 12.

The magistrate, Amrit Karkate nervously rides his bicycle to court every day from his house in Konta – the bastion of the accused. A warrant for the 30 accused was finally issued in October to the police stations of Dornapal, Konta and Bhejji. Yet no arrests were made. The accused are said to be missing yet one of them is even giving speeches. The SPOs are on duty but for some reason they’re missing, too.

What about the victims? Recently, these women were said to have been beaten by the same accused and forced to give their thumbprints on blank papers. They were detained for five days in Dornapal police station, where some of the accused too are stationed. Once the girls they released refused to talk to anyone. Samsetti villagers too apparently told the victims to forget about it. Throughout September last year, the sarpanch of Samsetti kept asking villagers to withdraw the cases and put their thumbprints on blank papers, otherwise the police and the SPOs would come to the village again. They did not heed the threats.

Harassment of the victims apparently continued as the women fled their village for the Gandhian NGO Vanvasi Chetna Ashram run by Himanshu Kumar. The ashram approached district collector Reena Babasaheb Kangale on August 11 to ensure the safety of the women. No assurance was forthcoming. They returned to their village. They’d be beaten. They’d be dragged to jail, irrespective of the fact that once a warrant is issued, the accused cannot withdraw the case unless the accused are brought to court and the matter can proceed. What’s the point of beating them now?

Take the case of Madkam Madvi (name changed) of Bandarpadar, Konta block, who was allegedly gang-raped by SPOs at Konta police station in April 2008. According to her testimony, she was taken to the police station by the Salwa Judum, robbed of some Rs 25,000, then kept alone in a room. She was first raped by an SPO in an isolated room in the police station, then blindfolded and gang-raped over two days at the station by three more unidentified persons. Eventually, she was set free and after further harassment escaped to Andhra Pradesh. She had hoped to start over and had even married.

At this point, members of the Salwa Judum traced her down in Andhra Pradesh and the harassment resumed. According to her husband, they had threatened him saying, ‘We were going to sell this girl and earn some money but now that you married her, we have suffered a loss that you shall now have to pay back.’ He said they stole Rs 3,500, one cow, three goats and two chickens to ‘make up for their loss’. After further threats, they went back to Chhattisgarh, ensuring that Madvi would sleep in a different room in a different village every night.

Finally, through the Vanvasi Chetna Ashram, a complaint was written to the superintendent of police, Dantewada. There was no reply for months. The matter was taken to the court as a private complaint. There was a request to shift the case from Konta to the Dantewada Sessions Court on March 9 as the magistrate lived in Konta in the very neighbourhood of the accused.

Harassment began soon after. SPOs crossed the state border and searched for Madvi’s house on April 10, 2009. And on December 2, Madvi’s father and a boy who shared her husband’s name were apprehended and taken to Chintur Police Station in Andhra Pradesh. There the father was threatened and the boy was beaten. They were told to bring Madvi to Konta police station. At this point, she had gone into hiding, knowing that her next appearance at court was to be held on December 10, when she had to depose.

The deposition didn’t take place. On the day of the hearing there was a rally against the Vanvasi Chetna Ashram, who used to support her emotionally and financially. As of January 6 the Vanvasi Chetna Ashram has ceased to exist, its workers arrested, its employees threatened. No one can predict how Madvi’s story will end, but the omens are not encouraging.

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