MUMBAI

Laying bare the atrocities of security forces in Chhattisgarh

At the receiving end:The cover of the book and (right) pictures of adivasi women sexually assaulted by armed personnel.Special Arrangement , Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression

At the receiving end:The cover of the book and (right) pictures of adivasi women sexually assaulted by armed personnel.Special Arrangement , Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression  

Graphic details of sexual assault on adivasi women fill the pages of Bearing Witness: Sexual Violence in South Chhattisgarh

“Police and security personnel took turns squeezing our breasts, pinching our nipples, touching me on my stomach, back, and thighs. They laughed mockingly as they did this.” This is the testimony of a woman from Kunna village in Chhattisgarh’s Sukma district who was among those paraded naked in October 2015. Such graphic details of sexual assault fill the pages of Bearing Witness: Sexual Violence in South Chhattisgarh , which was released recently at the Mumbai Press Club.

The book details four incidents of mass sexual violence, including gangrape and disrobing, committed on adivasi women in districts across south Chhattisgarh. With copies of FIRs and testimonies to sub-divisional magistrates, the book brings to life the story of the civil war inside Chhattisgarh’s forests. Whatever the people owned was also looted, including chickens, goats, rice, cash, chillies, gourds, towels, light bulbs and combs.

At the book launch, people who at different points of time lived and worked in the State shared stories of adivasis being brutally assaulted by the men in uniform. As minerals are mined in the region, it is under the vigilance of security forces of the Centre and State, and Maoists.

‘Narratives of courage’

Professor Ilina Sen, who lived in Chhattisgarh for three decades with husband Dr. Binayak Sen, said she witnessed how a State overzealous to bring in mining, destroyed forests by selling adivasis the idea of ‘development’. Ms. Sen said people’s resistance movements were being brutally crushed and adivasis were being labelled as Maoists and killed. She said, “Women’s bodies have been the site of contestation, and violences on her body have been symbols of masculinity of the State. The script has been the same, be it in Kashmir, Manipur, Nagaland or Chhattisgarh.” Ms. Sen said the book reveals the narratives of courage of Bastar’s women.

Shreya K., an independent researcher in Chhattisgarh and co-author of the book, said, “According to the police, a lactating woman is not likely to be a Maoist and hence her breasts are squeezed to check the same.” She said filing an FIR wasn’t easy as the nearest police station was at least 20 km away. Women avoided registering complaints for fear of being attacked again and being accused of working with the Maoists. Ms. Shreya said women have to spend days in the offices of District Collectors to give their testimonies.

Yug Mohit Choudhary, a human rights lawyer who has represented adivasis, said a web of lies is woven in courtroom to portray adivasis as Maoists. He said in June 2012, 17 adivasis were killed; seven of them were minors, a few below 10 years. The State declared all of them were Maoists. Mr. Choudhary said, “The post-mortem shows that the bullet on the dead person’s head was from a higher level, and some even in the back of the head. This proves that those killed could have been kneeling and not killed in an ambush as claimed by a CRPF personnel whom I cross-examined.”

The State government has not spared journalists who have blown the lid off police excesses and staged encounter killings. Pushpa Rokade, an adivasi journalist with Dainik Prakhar Samachar in south Chhattisgarh, has faced threats for reporting about advasis being subjected to sexual assaults and harassment. Ms. Rokade says, “Each time I enter any village deep in the forest, I am investigated for my possible links with Maoists. There is no way adivasis today can celebrate their festivals. Any congregation is assumed by the government to be a Maoist meeting. The police are greedy about promotions; they bump off innocent adivasis and declare them as Maoists. The government created Salwa Judum camps to liberate people from Maoists, but it did not consider anything about people’s livelihoods.”

‘Voice of the voiceless’

Ms. Rokade says she has often had to avoid reporting certain incidents to ensure the safety of adivasis. In cases where adivasis are detained by the police on whimsical grounds, their release takes precedence over reporting. She says, “Adivasis have a way of staying silent even in the face of oppression and their patience is taken advantage of. So I don’t care if I if don’t find toilets or food when I go into the forests for my work. I take pride in putting forth their silent voices.”

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