Two sisters live in a clearing in the forest about 10 km beyond the abandoned houses and empty yards of Mukram village in Chhattisgarh’s Dantewada district. A third young girl cowers in the courtyard of her aunt’s house in neighbouring Tokanpalli. Between 14 and 18 years of age, Kose, Rame and Hidme (names changed) say they fled their homes in Mukram after they were sexually assaulted by Special Police Officers of the Chhattisgarh Police on May 22 this year.

“We can’t return to Mukram,” said Rame, “If they [the SPOs] find us again, they said they would cut my body into pieces and bury it in cement and no one would ever find it.”

Situated in the heart of territory dominated by the Communist Party of India (Maoist), Mukram lies along the only road that links the isolated police camps of Jagargunda, Chintalnar, Chintagupha and Polampalli to National Highway 221. While the road is open to civilian traffic, supplies for the police camps are sent every few months in heavily guarded convoys.

Seventy six members of the security forces were killed at a spot about 4 km from here on April 6 when they were ambushed by Maoists.

On May 29, The Hindu reported that five men from Mukram, including the sarpanch, Aimla Nanda, had been picked up by soldiers participating in a road-opening operation and that three women had been dragged to the CRPF camp and assaulted.

Though Superintendent of Police Dantewada, Amresh Mishra, denied the villagers’ claims last month, the women, whom The Hindu recently interviewed at length in private, provided graphic and disturbing accounts of the sexual assault they were subjected to by the SPOs.

“I was attacked at about 4 p.m. on the same day that the force took away Aimla Nanda. Two SPOs grabbed me from my house and took me to the CRPF camp in Chintalnar,” said Hidme, “We were surrounded by SPOs and walked through the jungle.”

At some point en route, the girls allege, the SPOs threw them to the ground and beat them brutally till they soiled themselves. “I was kicked and hit in my genitals until I bled profusely,” said Rame, “The bleeding continued for several days after the attack.”

“After beating us in the jungle, the SPOs stripped us naked, threw us in a small pond and told us to wash ourselves,” said Hidme, “They then took us to the Chintalnar camp where they called us Maoists and beat us again.”

“We were saved only when a senior policeman saw us in the camp and ordered the SPOs to let us go,” said Hidme, “He kept saying ‘Why have you brought them here? What are you doing to them?’”

“In such a conflict, reports of rape are often used to discredit security forces,” said O.P. Pal, Acting Superintendent of Police Dantewada, “We have not received any information regarding this incident.” But Mr. Pal said he would inquire into the matter, adding that the Chhattisgarh Police was a “disciplined force”.