Rape As A Weapon Of War

This article appears in The New Indian Express on the 11th of June, 2010.

On the 21st of September, 2007, the adivasi gangrape victims of Vakapalli, Andhra Pradesh, declared in a memorandum to the Sub-Collector of Paderu. “We, the Adivasi women of Vakapalli village who have been raped, wish to place before you the reasons why we have decided to go on an indefinite fast…

On 20-08-2007, Greyhounds police (21 in number) raided our village Vakapalli and raped 11 women. We have brought this brutal and terrible act of the police to the notice of not just the government and the judiciary but everyone we could reach out to. We asked that justice be done to us. When an incident like this takes place, the government should respond and take steps to ensure that the accused are punished. It must stand by the victims and give them protection. Over a month has passed since we were raped. A criminal case was registered but not a single accused has been arrested so far. On top of it, they are trying to make out that nothing has at all happened.”

Are we not citizens of this country? Will these laws and courts not do us justice? Can they not protect us? Will they only side with the police? In that case, at least take action under international laws if any. In case there are no such laws, then do us justice as per principles of natural justice.

If this system fails to give us justice and security, we, who are helpless, refuse to remain so. We are ready to even sacrifice our lives so that such brutality is not visited upon us and those like us ever again. We therefore, humbly state that we have decided to sit on an indefinite fast.”

On the 22nd of May, 2010, over two and a half years after the incident at Vakapalli in Andhra Pradesh, three adivasi women of village Mukram near Chintalnar, Chhattisgarh, allege to have been raped by members of the security forces. And it has been over just a month after 76 jawaans were killed by the Maoists near Chintalnar. Initial reports alleged that 10 women were raped around Chintalnar over the last few days but owing to a virtual police blockade, all reports couldn’t be entirely verified.

These are not isolated cases. Four women claimed to have been raped under similar circumstances in the village of Samsetti, Dantewada by SPOs in 2006. Five women from the village of Potenar allege to have been raped in the Jangla Camp in 2005. Two women were raped by the Salwa Judum and SPOs in Lingagiri in 2006. One woman alleged to have been gangraped in Konta police station. Three woman claimed to have been gangraped at Tatemargu in November 2009 during a combing operation.

The list is endless. And not even once were the First Information Reports ever registered by the police. Only five girls from Potenaar had testified to the National Human Rights Commission’s Enquiry Team on the 10th of June 2008 but the team (comprising out of fifteen police persons out of sixteen) inferred that the allegations could not be substantiated.

‘During the enquiry it was observed that there were many inconsistencies in the versions of alleged victims, in the petitions given by them, as well as in the statements of the alleged victims. These inconsistencies were with regard to the number of victims raped, number of SPOs who took them away from the camp, number of SPOs who actually committed the act and their identity, and the accompanying circumstances.’ – As mentioned in the NHRC report.

Yet nowhere did the NHRC report mention that rape didn’t take place. And it ‘recommended that a further enquiry may be conducted by an independent agency.’ Nothing happened after that. The Writ Petitions that had challenged the legality of the Salwa Judum had alleged a total of over 99 cases of rape, and the NHRC Enquiry Team that was appointed to investigate into these allegations by the Apex Court, only spoke to five of the victims who were not even mentioned in the petition. Then of course, the NHRC team investigated only another allegation of rape at the village of Polampalli.

At Pollampalli, two women were allegedly raped and murdered but the NHRC report states, ‘The names of Bhusaki Bandi and Selam Bhima could not be identified as from this village. However, the villagers denied any incidence of rape in their village.’

Of course, the NHRC Team visited the wrong Pollampalli. There are two Pollampallis in Bastar, one in Usur Block and another in Konta Block.

The fact remains, rape is a part of everyday life for the adivasi women of Bastar, and according to many independent observers it is used as a Weapon of War.

Rape as a weapon of war, was recognized by the United Nations Security Council in 2008, ‘as a tactic of war to humiliate, dominate, instil fear in, disperse and/or forcibly relocate civilian members of a community or ethnic group.” In the Red Corridor, the predominately non-tribal police force looks at the predominately tribal Maoists as an distinctive group. There is a definite sense of racism and collective punishment. The three girls who were raped at Mukram on the 22nd of May, were accused of being ‘Maoist supporters’ and were alleged to have helped in the ‘Chintalnar attack on the CRPF’.

The police have often claimed all of these allegations of rape as baseless and the Maoists motivate women to make such claims to undermine the morale and legitimacy of the police. As it is, in many cases, owing to the stigma related to rape, as well as further threat to their lives, the victims never come forward. It took the women of Samsetti three years to even come forward and even then the police didn’t lodge their FIRs. They would eventually harass the women, detain them, and beat them after they lodged a case against them in the  JMFC in Konta.

The Maoists are not beyond rape either even though they don’t use it as a weapon of war.

I once got a dismissive chuckle from an adivasi from Konta when I asked about a particular Area Commander called Comrade Naveen. His real name is Sodhi Gangaya and he hailed from the village of Curreygudem in Konta block, deep within their ‘liberated zones’. When I asked villagers about Sodhi Gangaya, I got a blank stare, for they knew him as Comrade Naveen.

Comrade Naveen had raped a girl in the village of Curreygudem in 2008. When I asked the villagers of Curreygudem if they had ever complained to anyone about it they responded, ‘hum itne bade aadmi ke bare mein aesa kaise bol sakte hai…’ (how can we say such a thing about such a big man?)

Eventually, a relative of the girl complained to a senior Maoist and Comrade Naveen disappeared from the forest. Of course, it didn’t end there. Comrade Naveen left the party and eventually became SPO Sodhi Gangaya.

He was recognized by the villagers of Tatemargu on the 9th of November, 2009, as one of the guides for the police contingent that raided their village where over 60 buildings would be burnt down, seven villagers would be killed, and three women would be allegedly raped.

How many Comrade Naveens exist amidst the Maoists, can count as just as many SPO Sodhi Gangayas there are amongst the police. But how many more Vakapallis will there be?

“If this system fails to give us justice and security, we, who are helpless, refuse to remain so. We are ready to even sacrifice our lives so that such brutality is not visited upon us and those like us ever again.”  Thus said the survivors of Vakapalli.

(14) Comments Write a comment

  1. why not we send this report to UNO as our human right commission is no more sensitive to such actions as this is war,in war every thing is fair,bye fake our democracy.

  2. Hi Javed,

    Really moved and frustrated by your post(s). I really wish that your writing comes up in more international literature. In an ideal world, yes, national newspapers and blogs featuring real stories of such atrocities by the State should have been OK. But…

  3. Pingback: Comrade Naveen’s new weapon of war: Rape at Blogbharti

  4. Hi,

    I dont think this case can be taken up in the national human rights commission coz it is more than 1 year old case, but even if it is taken up then somebody has to speak up as a witness, else it is a lost battle.
    Thats how our constitution and their funadamental rights work??? No justice

  5. That is not rude, just short-sighted and ignorant. On one hand the problem IS an apathetic State exercising unreasonable powers that causes tragedies like this. On top of that, to advocate totalitarianism is quite absurd, I must say.

  6. Hi Javed! I’m a research activist working in the development sector.
    I have been a regular reader of your columns in the Indian Express and eagerly await the next one each week. I am impressed by your perspective on the issue. Rarely have journalists spoken of rape as a weapon of war; it is only feminists who have been crying their throats hoarse.
    Thank you for bringing to light the horrors of Chattisgarh, and for giving the people of the state a voice in the rest of the country that conveniently forgets that such a state exists!
    Keep up the great work.
    As for having a totalitarian approach towards rape, I must say I disagree. If capital punishment were to work, we would have no rapes after the rapist was hanged in Calcutta years ago.What we need is quickness of punishment as against extreme harshness.

  7. Congrats Javed. Existing laws coupled the sluggish legal procedure have failed to appear as a deterrent for the wayward behaviour of the police force. Can’t we have special courts set up for speedy delivery of justice to bring the culprit to justice?

  8. Hi Javed:
    Thanks for this excellent piece. It is, as others have mentioned, rare that the relationship between sexual assault and state violence is exposed here in India. As Arathi Chandrashekar notes above, it is only feminists (both nationally and internationally) who have made this connection and made HUGE strides in the international arena.

    Can we (civil society women’s groups, for example) not take the evidence of your work to the international level (through CEDAW) for example and hold the state accountable? There is ample evidence that rape is being used as a weapon of war in Central India, in the Northeast, Kashmir. Do you know if this is being done or being thought of at any level?

    Amazing work–I teach in the US and will be assigning your work to my students there. May there eyes open as well!
    in solidarity.

    • Hi thanks. I have those point of views because of the ample time I spent debating it with researchers such as Nandini Sundar and Bela Bhatia.

      For three months I myself debated that it was NOT being used as a weapon of war, as most of the tribal women were being raped by tribal SPOs. But then I found numerous cases otherwise, and was introduced to the concept of ‘political violence’. The culture of impunity that is being introduced by the state is another powerful piece of evidence. If it wasn’t a weapon, and there were just a few incidents of ‘rotten apples’, then why weren’t the allegations ever properly investigated?

      As for evidence to take to the international level, you can also look up the articles written by Tusha Mittal (tehelka) and Aman Sethi (The Hindu). I write for the New Indian Express that only has readership in the South of the country.

      And to be honest, there’s very little that can happen in the international levels as we’re not Iran or North Korea (against whom human rights can be used as a weapon of propaganda).

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