Six of the fifteen men — including former Special Police Officers Kicche Nanda and Kawasi Mangalram — accused of raping six tribal women during the controversial Salwa Judum campaign in south Chhattisgarh have been acquitted by a sessions court in Dantewada after the women turned hostile and refused to recognise their alleged rapists.
As the Dantewada Judge, A.K. Beck, recorded, the complainants, all women from Samsetti, told the court that they “…do not know the accused Kicche Nanda or Kawasi Mangalram. The witness clearly stated that no incident (of rape) took place with them. They have not filed any complaints in the police station” or “in the court of Konta.”
In June 2009, exactly four years ago, six girls from Samsetti and other villages had filed rape charges against nine special police officers and 3 Salwa Judum leaders. The SP Dantewada refused to register a case; in an affidavit to the Supreme Court later, the Chhattisgarh government would say this was because the police had enquired with the accused, Salwa Judum leaders Boddu Raja, Soyam Mooka, and Dinesh, who denied any such charges. Since the word of the accused was what counted with the police, the girls were forced to file their complaints directly with the trial court.
On December 10, 2009, the trial court issued arrest warrants in all the cases, but noted that according to the police, the accused were all untraceable. For example, “In this case, accused Kartam Surya, Kovasi Mangal Ram, Kichche Nanda are absconding. There is no chance of finding them in near future. So, accused Kartam Surya, Kovasi Mangal Ram, Kichche Nanda are declared absconding. There is a permanent arrest warrant committal against them by the court.’
However, Judum leaders Soyam Mooka, Kartam Surya and the others who were allegedly “absconding” continued to be active as SPOs and members of the district force. Kartam Surya was later also accused of being involved in the burning of Tadmetla, Morpalli and Timapuram in 2011, on which the Supreme Court ordered the CBI to investigate.
The police refusal to arrest the Samsetti rape accused was repeatedly brought up before the Supreme Court, and on 25th April 2011, Harish Salve appearing for Chhattisgarh promised to have this looked into. No action was taken.
Kartam Surya, who was killed by the Maoists in February 2012, was given a guard of honour by the police.
This correspondent was in court when Era (name changed), the primary witness, retracted her statement. The adivasi woman, who could not speak or understand Hindi, was clearly confused and perhaps scared as the accused were sitting outside the court room.
One of the women who brought the allegations against the SPOs, Mira (name changed) said that she is “sick of outsiders.” “You do not come when we are in trouble, go away now,” she told this correspondent a few days after retracting the charges in the court. She even denied her existence. “I am not Mira,” she said.
With the men acquitted, the complainants and the accused will now return to the same villages or panchayats where they will live with each other as neighbours. The women of Samsetti, on their way to the market, will meet the men, who “did not rape” them. May be the men will get transferred after a point but the women will still have to meet one of the accused – Kartam Surya, the most feared policeman of Sukma.
Mr. Surya was killed last year but his statue adorns the village market in Sukma. A hundred kilometres north, in Dantewada, a court reader still shouts, ‘Kartam Surya hazir ho?’ (Kartam Surya, present yourself), before every Samsetti hearing. In the judgment, however, he is described as “absconding”. The call for Kartam Surya will be heard for a few more months till the case concludes, a court clerk said, as he handed over the order sheets.