For over ten days, authorities in the Bijapur and Sukma districts of South Chhattisgarh delayed or have simply refused to file First Information Reports (FIR) in two separate cases of sexual assault. These include the alleged gang rapes of 13 adivasi women who are subsistence farmers by security forces earlier this month. The sexual violence and assaults are reported to have taken place when security forces conducted anti-Maoist military operations in Bijapur’s Nendra village between 11 and 14 January, and in Sukma’s Kunna village on 12 January. The police reluctance is despite a Supreme Court ruling and a 2013 amendment to India’s anti-rape laws, which makes it mandatory for the police to file a case as soon as a complaint of sexual violence is brought to them.
In Bijapur, the police finally relented and filed an FIR late on the night of 21 January, over a week after the alleged violence in Nendra village took place. By then, a group of women’s activists who had first brought attention to these instances had been urging the police to take action for three days. In Sukma, villagers reported the violence to a senior official in the administration on 15 January, but the police has not filed an FIR yet. The two heavily militarised districts are at the epicentre of the deadly, decade-long, state-Maoist military conflict, which has claimed close to 7,000 people already, a third of whom are civilians.
These two complaints come on the heels of allegations of sexual violence by security forces between 19 to 24 October in five remote villages of Bijapur district. In that case the police registered an FIR on 1 November 2015. They did so only after the victims, aided by a fact-finding team (comprising members of a civil society group, Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression), travelled to Bijapur town—the district headquarters, and narrated the violence to the district collector, Yashwant Kumar, who asked the police to file an FIR immediately. Over a month later, I visited four of the affected villages, located deep in the forests, and 18-25 kilometres from the nearest road. The police had made no arrests in the case nor formally questioned the men who were a part of the security operation. At that point, officials were yet to visit the villages in which the violence had allegedly taken place, or collect evidence from there. In late December, the National Human Rights Commission took cognisance of my reportage for the Hindustan Times to ask the union home secretary and Chhattisgarh’s director-general of police AN Upadhyay to submit detailed action taken reports within a month. As of this time, over 100 days since the alleged rapes, the police has still not made any arrests.
The two latest cases from Bijapur and Sukma bear several similarities to the bout of violence by security forces, which was reported in November. On 17 January, a fact-finding team from Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression and another civil society organisation, the Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights, visited Nendra after a villager alerted them about the situation. According to Shivani Taneja, a Bhopal-based educationist who was a part of this group, several women were initially inhibited about speaking to them. "The women in our team then spoke to them in smaller groups," she told me over phone, “Supported by other women villagers, they gradually opened up, and narrated being gang-raped and assaulted by the forces.”
The men from the security forces, the women told the fact-finding team, had stayed in Nendra from 11 to 14 January. On 19 January, I spoke to a schoolgirl from Nendra over the phone. She told me that the security forces were present when she had come back to the village from her residential school on the afternoon of 14 January. This young student had helped translate the accounts of the victims for the fact-finding team and had accompanied the villagers along with members of the team to meet the officials in Bijapur. “Several women said that galat kaam (wrong deeds) happened to them,” she told me, before going on to describe these deeds. “Men from the force sat on them, removed their clothes. Others said they were chased and beaten (maar maarke bhagaaya).” Money, oil, flour, spices were taken from many homes, she said.