If the police elsewhere in India were to follow the approach of their Chhattisgarh counterparts, no case of rape would ever be prosecuted. For the state government has dismissed as “entirely false” a tribal woman’s allegation of gang rape on nothing other than the word of the very men the woman says raped her. Not surprisingly, the men are all leaders or activists of the Salwa Judum counter-insurgency campaign the Chhattisgarh government has promoted with the Central government’s backing.
On August 20, Chhattisgarh filed its long-awaited reply in an ongoing Public Interest Litigation case against Salwa Judum in the Supreme Court.
The petititioners – Nandini Sundar, Ramachandra Guha, E.A.S. Sarma, Manish Kunjam and Kartam Joga – have alleged that the Salwa Judum is guilty of serious crimes against the tribal population of Bastar, including murder, rape and arson. Following the corroboration of many of their allegations by the National Human Rights Commission, the Supreme Court asked the Chhattisgarh authorities to investigate and
punish the perpetrators. An Action Taken Report was filed in January 2009, which the petitioners attacked as inadequate in a detailed affidavit. In March, the government asked for a few weeks to file a reply but finally presented its case only this week.
One of the incidents on which action was expected concerned the March 2008 rape of Ms. M, an 18-year-old girl from Bhandarpadar village, Dantewada district. On April 29, 2009, she filed an affidavit before the Chief Judicial Magristrate in Dantewada naming four Salwa Judum leaders --- Soyam Mukka, Boddu Raja, Dinesh and Tudka --- as her assailants. On June 15, 2009, Ms. M. reiterated her allegations before the magistrate.
In its reply to the Supreme Court, however, the Chhattisgarh government submitted an “enquiry report” dated June 17 stating that Ms. M had left her village and “nobody knows as to where she has gone
away”. The fact that she had appeared before a magistrate two days before this report was written is not mentioned. Instead, the Dantewada Superintendent of Police asserts that since the complainant’s current written address --- just across the border in Andhra Pradesh --- is in another state, “thus the police party could not visit that place”.
Dismissing her complaint about rape by the leaders of the Salwa Judum and Special Police Officers as “entirely false”, the report says: “In this regard, the witnesses, namely Ismail Khan… Boddu Raja, Soyam Mukka and Dinesh Maurya were inquired and their statements recorded”. Nowhere does the enquiry report say that three of the seven “witnesses” are named suspects in the case. Worse, it goes on to assert: “The leaders of Salwa Judum, namely Boddu Raja and Soyam Mukka have stated that the witnesses launched Salwa Judum movement against the naxalites by visiting across the villages in public awareness mission. A fortiori, the frustrated naxalities, in effort to defame and discourage them and put an end to Salwa Judum have planned a strategy and at the instance of naxalites, this lady complainant [Ms. M] has leveled allegations such as rape and robbery”.
Boddu Raja and Soyam Mukka are the prime accused in the rape case. But this did not deter the police from treating their word as sacrosanct in a case that no less an authority than the Supreme Court is seeking action on.