The horrific reports of sexual violence in Bijapur in October 2015 shows what a culture of impunity has developed in Chhattisgarh. Despite the Supreme Court’s directions in 2011 that the state must register FIRs on complaints against security forces, this is perhaps the first time in a decade that the police have registered an FIR on a complaint by a women’s fact-finding group. But this is only the beginning of a long and hopeless battle in which trying to get justice becomes a means to torture the victims.
The experience of earlier attacks in Chhattisgarh shows us what law and the CBI enquiries mean in this area. On March 14, 2011, the Chhattisgarh police announced that 36 Maoists, three special police officers (SPOs) and one policeman had been killed near Chintalnar. And so the fiction might have rested, except for a villager with a cell phone who called the journalists.
On March 23, after visiting the area, two national dailies described how the security forces and SPOs, out on combing operations, had burnt 300 homes, raped three women, killed three men and looted and beaten villagers.
On March 26, Swami Agnivesh and Art of Living representatives trying to deliver relief were assaulted by Salwa Judum leaders and SPOs; earlier the SPOs had also stopped journalists, Congressmen and a relief truck ordered by the collector. The National Human Rights Commission took up the case of police violence and questions were raised in the state assembly.
All these matters were brought before the Supreme Court, which was hearing a petition on egregious human rights violations by the Salwa Judum and SPOs. In July 2011, the Supreme Court ordered a CBI enquiry into the incidents of violence in the villages of Tadmetla, Timapuram and Morpalli, clearly referring to the “allegations made…of women raped and three men killed in March, 2011”.
Enter here the CBI and the Chhattisgarh police. It was only after the media broke the story that the Chhattisgarh police bothered to register any FIRs. Amazingly, all the FIRs claim that Naxalites attacked the police, and then burnt the villages as they were fleeing.
There is no mention of any rapes or killings by the security forces.
The CBI simply took over the police FIRs, making them the basis for the status reports they have been submitting to the court. The CBI was supposed to submit a preliminary report within six weeks, but visited the villages only after six months. They wanted to carry out lie detector tests on the rape victims, but showed no such desire to question the police officials responsible.
After the CBI team was also attacked by SPOs in February 2012, they refused to visit the site, and started summoning villagers 187 km away to Jagdalpur. It is only this year after the petitioners refused to bring villagers to Jagdalpur that the CBI visited the site. This time too, they were intimidated by a drunk police escort and rumours of a planned Maoist ambush.
Given the bonhomie between the CBI at the Centre and the state, the agency seems reluctant to take on the Chhattisgarh police. Upon finding that rapes and murders had indeed taken place, the CBI should have clearly stated that the police FIRs were false.
By failing to do so, the new Supreme Court bench hearing the case is being led to think that for four-and-a-half years the victims have been waging a legal battle to get justice for the police.
(Nandini Sundar teaches sociology at Delhi University. The views expressed are personal)