A wreath of lesions coils up Sunita Tulavi neck; lesions she says were caused in the course of a three-day interrogation at a Border Security Force camp in Chhattisgarh's Kanker district. “They blindfolded me, tied my hands and then electrocuted me with wires wrapped around my neck and stomach,” said Sunita, a resident of Aloor village, “They questioned me for three days and then released me. My sister is still in custody.”
On September 8, Kanker police arrested seven alleged Maoists, including six girls aged between 15 and 19 years, from the Pachangi and Aloor villages in connection with an August 29 ambush in Kanker in which three BSF soldiers and two policemen were killed.
Adivasis from these villages told The Hindu that the girls were picked up in a two-day search-and-comb operation on September 5 and 6 in which, residents allege, the BSF and the district police brutally assaulted over 40 men, molested two teenaged girls and picked up 17 villagers in all: 10 from Aloor and seven from Pachangi.
A senior BSF officer involved in the operation has categorically denied the villagers' allegations. “The BSF is a disciplined force,” he said, “not a single person was assaulted or molested.”
“Part of propaganda”
The officer said the villagers' claims could be part of a Maoist propaganda effort, and that all the suspects had been arrested on the basis of specific information provided by Kanker police informants.
The three neighbourhoods of Pachangi village lie scattered around a low hill in the heart of the settlement. On September 5 and 6, villagers allege, a joint team of the district police and the BSF gathered all the men of the village, dragged them up the hill in pairs and assaulted them.
“On Monday [September 6] the BSF took me and two others up the hill, forced us to strip and then beat us with sticks,” said Narsingh Kumra, 24.
“They threw me on the ground, pushed my knees up and pushed a stick into my private parts,” Narsingh said.
Narsingh and four other men from Pachangi are currently admitted in Kanker Hospital, recuperating. His account was corroborated by fellow patients Sukram Netam, 45, Premsingh Potayi, 32, Rajju Ram, 30, and Bidde Ram Potayi, 31, who said that they too were sodomised with sticks.
While the men were gathered at the base of the hill, a 20-year-old woman of Panchangi (name withheld) said that a BSF soldier tore open her blouse and skirt and molested her.
“He stopped only when my aunt saw him and started screaming,” she said. A schoolgirl, aged 16 and currently in class X, said that a soldier cornered her in her house, groped her and tried to tear open her blouse. “He kept saying I just want to love you,” she said. He stopped when her mother raised an alarm.
In the course of the two-day raid in Pachangi, the BSF allegedly picked up two girls, Mangte Potayi and Baiju, and five young men, Paru Ram, Devin Ram, Dalla Ram and Ringlu Ram. While the girls were presented as suspected Maoists on September 8, the men were paraded as Maoists on September 10.
Meanwhile, a similar raid was under way in neighbouring Aloor. The BSF picked up sisters Sunita and Sarita Tulavi; Rajkumari Sori, Dhansu Kumra, and Anita Kureti. While Rajkumari was picked up on September 4, in the nearby Badgaon market, the families of the remaining six girls said they were picked on September 5 from their homes.
“The BSF took away both my daughters [Sunita and Sarita],” said Manobai Tulavi, “When their father, Punnim kumar went to stop them, they took him away as well.” Manobai said that her brother Sukluram Kowachi also tried to stop the BSF. He was arrested as well. Ramnath Dugga, Tursingh Dano and Shyamlal Hidko were working in their fields when they were apprehended.
Villagers said that they made several visits to the nearby BSF camp in resettlement colony P.V. 34 but were turned away. On September 9, Sunita Tulavi and her father were allowed to return to Aloor village, where she met this correspondent.
Her younger sister Sarita, and the five girls from Pachangi and Alnoor, are currently in Kanker jail on charges of ambushing the BSF on August 29 this year.