A day after the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) found 16 women prima facie victims of rape and assault by police personnel in south Chhattisgarh’s Bijapur district, little news emerged from the five villages where the alleged atrocities occurred.
Chinnagelur, Peddagelur, Gundam, Burgicheru and Pegdapalli, the five villages about 70 km from Bijapur district headquarters, where security forces allegedly went on the rampage between October 19 and 24 in 2015, largely remain out of bounds for even journalists.
“This area of Bastar is virtually a no-go zone for us. One has to cross 10 CRPF camps and three police stations to reach the villages,” said a local TV channel reporter who did not want to be named. “Police, usually, do not stop local journalists, but CRPF personnel treat everyone as Maoists. I will not to go there because anything can happen.”
Another Bijapur journalist claimed, “It is not advisable to go there now. There are still victims who are scared to record their statements. If we cover human rights lawyers and defenders for stories, they target us in subtle ways. It is very difficult to work here.”
In its press release on Saturday, NHRC said it was waiting for the recorded statements of 20 other victims.
On Sunday, the reactions came from rights activists and the opposition in state capital Raipur, even as the state government did not comment on the NHRC asking it why it should not recommend interim relief of Rs 37 lakh to the victims — Rs 3 lakh each to eight victims of rape, Rs 2 lakh each to six victims of sexual assault, and Rs 50,000 each to two victims of physical assault.
Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS), the group that flagged the alleged atrocities in the villages, demanded that the government should ensure security of the victims and the villagers following the NHRC’s observations.
The WSS alleged in a statement that many women (victims) had not yet been able to file complaints and were “under pressure” to remain silent. “There has been a firm denial and also obstruction by the police and security forces to efforts by of women’s groups and human rights defenders. Also, many of the women and villagers coming out to testify in the case are harassed by the police for attending meeting and proceedings,” said Rinchin, a member of WSS.
Rinchin alleged that fake cases were lodged against drivers took them to the affected villages. “Lawyers too are not able to visit Bastar now because they are facing false accusations.”
The police, meanwhile, stood their ground. “The complete order of the NHRC is yet to come and things will be clear only after we read the copy. As far as rights activists alleging that they are harassed by the police… why are they not complaining to higher authorities in Raipur. If they complain, then proper action can be taken,” special director general of police (Naxal) DM Awasthi told HT.
The state Congress unit demanded the resignation of chief minister Raman Singh over the issue. “The BJP government wants “adivasi-mukt” Bastar because the government is selling rich minerals in Bastar region to the corporates,” said Chhattisgarh Congress spokesperson Bhujit Doshi who hails from Bastar.
Chhattisgarh chief secretary Vivek Dhand, through whom the NHRC issued the show cause, was in Bengaluru for the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas and could not be reached for comment despite repeated attempts.
How case came to light
Scattered reports surfaced when local journalists travelled to the area in October 2015 and found out about the allegations of the villagers. After whispers of troubles faced by journalists in getting out video footage, WSS members visited these villages.
WSS fact-finding team found women in the villages were raped, molested and assaulted by security forces who had come in three to four batches for patrolling between Oct 19 and Oct 24, 2015.
An FIR was lodged in Bijapur on November 1, 2015.
Taking note of media reports based on WSS fact-finding, the NHRC conducted its own investigation.