Mob threatens rape survivors tells them to return to village and not lodge an FIR against forces
After four trying days of chasing and pressuring authorities, the determination and resolve of the women of Bellam- Lendra (Nendra) village, Block Usur, Thana Basaguda, has finally paid off. An FIR has been registered against police and security forces by the Bijapur thana for sexual violence including gang rape, dacoity, and for plundering and looting the village.
The FIR registered by the women was in reference to an incident of large-scale violence that was meted out by the police and security forces during a search and combing operation carried out between the 11th and 14th of January in their village. With the help of human rights groups, the aggrieved women from Nendra reached Bijapur on the 18th and immediately petitioned both the Collector and the police authorities to register their complaint. With blatant disregard for the law and in clear violation of Supreme Court orders, the police needlessly stalled the registration of an FIR until the 4th day of the women’s determined pressure.
In their statements recorded before the police and the SDM, the women identified some members of the forces by name, all of whom are surrendered militants. The women also testified to at least 13 gang rapes inflicted by the troops. Security forces consumed livestock, food rations and looted belongings, including money. They also tore up sheets and clothes and killed livestock that they did not eat – clearly reflecting an intention to make survival difficult for people. Threats of burning down houses with children inside were repeatedly made.
In a chance meeting, a three-member team of the National Commission of Women (NCW) present in Bijapur was able to meet with nine of the complainants and the WSS team accompanying them on the 22nd of January. On the 21st however, the administration and police made every effort to keep reports of this incident from reaching the NCW and attempted to prevent the women from meeting them. Finally, the team managed to file a complaint before the NCW carrying details of the incident.
On a troubling note however, while waiting to meet the NCW delegation, a mob of individuals identifying themselves as victims of Maoist violence appeared on the scene. They engaged in a discussion with some of the activists who were part of the team, hurling allegations at them of being “Maoist supporters” for taking up issues that pertained to violence by the forces but not violence by the Maoists. Some mob members questioned the women directly for registering an FIR against the forces and even threatened them, demanding that they leave Bijapur immediately. This altercation was extremely upsetting and intimidating for the 12 complainants, including 8 rape survivors.
The group, that included some ex-Salwa Judum members, seems to have the complete support of the police. They were ferried in what appeared to be police vehicles. Their sudden appearance on the seen, unrestricted by the police in anyway, indicates prior knowledge of the presence and objectives of the team. They followed the team from the meeting with the NCW to the thana (where some paper-work had to be completed for the medical examinations). They continued to blindly defend security forces despite the teams efforts to argue that as victims of violence, people should stand together rather than apart.
The required medical exams were completed on the 22nd, and the women have now returned to their village. In the next few days, another round of testimonies will have to be completed and the police insists on taking them, even though they have already been recorded once by the police and the SDM. Given that the women had already spent five days in Bijapur having left their homes and children, the police have said that they would travel to the village to record testimonies. However as has happened in the past, investigation conducted in the village is carried out by the police who go there accompanied by a convoy of security forces. Given that the accused are the security forces themselves, it is inconceivable that the survivors of violence will be able to participate in such a process free from fear and intimidation. Investigations must be sensitive to the survivors and have to be carried out with care and empathy. Under Section 157 of CrPC, investigations in case of rape must take place at a place of the survivors choosing. Given recent developments, we are concerned for the safety of the women and demand that further investigation take place in an atmosphere of security and comfort for the women. They must be assured that they will be free from intimidation from any source – the police or private groups. In addition we demand that investigation in such cases, and in particular this case, be moved from the accused police to an independent investigating agency, in order to ensure fairness and transparency.