The Muria don’t know anything about rape, as they say, their word for it is closer to ‘baalatkaar’ than anything else. But when four tribal girls were allegedly gang-raped by SPOs in the village of Samsetti in 2006, neither does the entire state machinery of Chhattisgarh.
Recently, the same girls were beaten by the very accused and forced to give their thumb-prints on blank papers. They were then detained for five days in Dornapal police station, where the very accused are stationed. Once the girls were released they flatly refused to talk to anyone, let alone their lawyers. The villagers of Samsetti had told the victims to let go of the matter as well. Previously, throughout September, the Sarpanch of Samsetti would ask the villagers to withdraw the cases and to put their thumbprints on blank papers otherwise the police and the SPOs would come to their village again. They did not heed to his threats.
According to victim testimonies, on the 6th of July 2006, in the village of Samsetti, in the district of Dantewada, three girls, aged 19, 22 and 23 were gang-raped by government appointed SPOs and members of the Salwa Judum during a raid on their village. Another girl had been raped in January of that very year.
When the girls had gone to file a complaint at the police station, they were threatened and chased away. Time would pass. It was discovered that there were allegedly 24 cases of rape in the entire Konta block, out of which, only six of the women were willing to speak up. Four of them were from Samsetti, one from Arlampalli and another from Bandarpadar.
The girls first wrote their complaints straight to the Superintendent of Police and the Collector on the 27th of March, 2009. Nothing happens. Then a complaint case was jointly filed to the Judicial Magistrate First Class, Konta on the 29th of April, 2009.
Interestingly, while statements were being recorded at the court on the 16th of June, 2009, the accused were loitering around the corridors. On the next court date, the 17th of July, when the testimonies of the victims were meant to be heard, the Magistrate was absent, allegedly, ‘called away to headquarters.’ The Magistrate also magically disappears on the next court date, the 12th of August.
The Magistrate, Amrit Karkate nervously rides his bicycle to court everyday from his house in Konta – the bastion of the very accused. A warrant for the thirty accused is finally issued by the court in October to the police stations of Dornapal, Konta and Bhejji. Yet no arrests are made. The accused are missing. One of them is even giving speeches. The accused SPOs are on duty yet for some reason they’re missing too.
Harassment of the victims still continued, the women fled their village and began to live on the premises of the Vanvasi Chetna Ashram. They had even approached the Collector Reena Babasaheb Kangale on the 11th of August to ensure the safety of the women. Yet nothing would happen. There would be no security. They returned to their village. They’d be beaten. They’d be dragged to jail. Irrespective of the fact that once a warrant is issued, the accused cannot withdraw the case unless the accused are brought to court and the matter can proceed. What’s the point of beating them now? What can they do?
Take the case of Madkam Madvi (name changed) of Bhandarpadar, Konta block, who was allegedly gang-raped by SPOs at Konta police station in April of 2008. According to her testimony, she claims that she was taken to the police station by the Salwa Judum, robbed of some Rs. 25,000, then kept alone in a room. She was first raped by a SPO in an isolated room in the police station, then blindfolded and gang-raped over two days at the station by three more unidentified persons.
Eventually, she was set free and after further harassment she escaped to Andhra Pradesh. She had hoped to start over and had even married.
At this point, members of the Salwa Judum traced her down in Andhra Pradesh and the harassment continued. According to her husband, they had threatened him saying, ‘we were going to sell this girl and earn some money but now that you married her, we have suffered a loss that you shall now have to payback.’ They then stole Rs.3500, one cow, three goats and two chickens to ‘make up for their loss.’ After further threatening them, they went back to Chhattisgarh, ensuring that Madvi would sleep in a different room in a different village every night.
Finally, through the Gandhian NGO Vanvasi Chetna Ashram, a complaint was written to the Superintendent of Police, Dantewada. There was no reply for months. The matter was then taken to the court as a private complaint. There was a request to shift the case from Konta to the Dantewada sessions court on the 9th of March, 2009.
Harassment began soon after. SPOs crossed the state border and searched Madvi’s house on the 10th of April, 2009. And on the 2nd of December, 2009, Madvi’s father and a boy who shared her husband’s name were apprehended and taken to Chintur Police Station in Andhra Pradesh. There, the father was threatened and the boy was beaten. They were told to bring Madvi to Konta police station. At this point, she had gone into hiding, knowing that her next appearance at court was to be held on the 10th of December when she had to depose.
The deposition didn’t happen. On the very day of the hearing there was a rally against the Vanvasi Chetna Ashram, who used to support her emotionally and financially. As of January 6th the Vanvasi Chetna Ashram has ceased to exist, it’s workers arrested, it’s employees threatened, it’s director missing.
The day after, prominent activists Medha Patkar, Sandeep Pandey, D. Gabriele, Kavita Srivastava along with some twenty others were attacked by a mob comprising of members of the Salwa Judum who referred to themselves as ‘Maa Danteswadi Adivasi Swabhimaan Manch’. According to activists, the entire mob was orchestrated by police. And according to local media reports, one of the accused in the Konta Rape case was also part of the mob.