When I read the two-part report on the alleged gang rapes in Bijapur by security forces, I was aghast, but not surprised. It did not surprise me either when I read that no one has been arrested till now.
According to the reports, several women were allegedly gang raped, assaulted and looted by security personnel in this remote, Maoist-dominated area of Chhattisgarh for over 50 days.
Intimidation and physical attacks on tribals by security forces has happened before and, unfortunately, will continue to take place even though a new provision in the Indian Penal Code provides for prosecution of rape crime by armed forces.
The story took me back to 2009 when I visited the same district. After crossing several security barricades and a run-in with a very angry young CRPF jawan who nearly broke my camera, I reached Lingagiri village in Bijapur’s Basaguda block.
“It’s a ghost village,” a local contact had earlier told me. It was indeed a ghost village: There were several burnt-down houses — many by then had been taken over by bats — a rice mill, a completely run down school and a health centre.
But within 20 minutes of reaching there, at least 70 people surfaced from somewhere. They said they wanted to tell me their story, of how security forces plundered their villages, physically assaulted them, forcing them to run away to the surrounding jungles and to Andhra Pradesh.
Pregnant women gave birth inside jungles, old people who could not walk fast enough were left behind and children went days without food.
I followed the story for several months and then lost track. I have been to Chhattisgarh several times after that but never managed to go back to Bijpaur.
But to the best of my knowledge, no one was ever arrested. “This is not only a case of gang rape of tribal girls and women; the crimes are perpetrated by men in uniform in a militancy-affected area.”
“The Armed Forces (Special) Powers Act does not apply here, but even without it, what enormous impunity men in uniform enjoy for rapes and killings in areas torn by uprisings! How much worse would be areas where there is legal impunity assured by Afspa?” former bureaucrat Harsh Mander told me.
The security forces can continue to harass people because of the support they get from the ‘democratically elected’ political class. Recently in Nagaland, when security forces sent a ‘notification’ to editors, the civil administration refused to speak up. The same has again happened in Chhattisgarh. Chief Minister Raman Singh is yet to give a statement. Aren’t the Bijapur rapes a big enough issue to warrant his attention?