Bijapur villagers recount widespread sexual assaults by men in uniform
While filing an FIR against security personnel for a rape case on November 1, Chhattisgarh police invoked for the first time in the state a clause that became law two years ago after nationwide outrage over a fatal gang rape in the capital forced politicians to act.
Large-scale violence and looting was reported between October 20 and 24, when 200 men in uniforms undertook an anti-Maoist military operation in the villages of Pegdapalli, Chinnagellur, Peddagellur, Burgicheru, and Gundam in Bijapur district.
The villages where the crimes have been reported lie 18 to 25 kilometres from the nearest road and a CRPF camp, a veritable outpost of the Indian state in a region racked by a decade-long conflict which has claimed nearly 8,000 lives. The fear of violence and death stalks combatants and civilians alike.
It’s a sparsely populated area – with far-flung hamlets of mud, tiled and thatched homes sprinkled amid tracts of jungle, freshly harvested paddy fields, streams and low mountains – that the state describes as Maoist-held territory it is currently trying to militarily reclaim.
Since no investigator or official has visited the villages so far, the scale of the violence remains unknown. HT is reporting a partial account of incidents based on some of the interviews it conducted in three villages last week, assisted by a female Gondi translator.
In Peddagellur village, the aunt of a teen who reported being gang-raped said, “Four of us were grazing our cows that morning when the force (a generic term used by villagers to refer to police as well as paramilitary personnel) arrived and started chasing us. There must have been 15-20 men.”
Holding her head in her hands, she said, “They beat us severely, with sticks and rifles. I was hit on my buttocks, thighs and legs. Our cows were running. We fled scared, but they had surrounded her (the teen). Later that day, Sodi Lakshmi and I found her. She was badly bruised and swollen. Both of us brought her back home. I applied jungle medicine to her body.”
Fact-finding reports from three different groups of activists, Adivasi Congressmen including the area’s legislators, and Sarva Adivasi Samaj, an Adivasi civil society group who visited the area in November contain additional accounts of violence.
Over 15 women reported to the teams that their lower clothing was lifted, and they were threatened with sexual violence, including chilli being pushed into their private parts. Others said they were stripped and chased.
Victims reported being chased out of their homes, occupied by security forces. In some instances, security men allegedly took off their clothes and told the women they could come and sleep inside with them.
Women said even those holding infants were beaten and their hair pulled. Some children were also beaten and their clothes removed. When women tried to intervene, they were also beaten, they told the teams.
Several villagers said the personnel looted money ranging between Rs 500 and Rs 27,000 from their homes. They also reported destruction of possessions like clothes, bicycles and utensils, as well as looting of chickens and essentials like rice, pulses and cooking oil, which the security men ate during the days they stayed in the villages.