After NHRC Report, Chhattisgarh High Court Pulls Up Security Forces for Bastar Sexual Violence

The petition may or may not change the state of human rights in Chhattisgarh but it will certainly crank open the gates for more women to seek relief for crimes committed against them.

Chhattisgarh government cancels tribal rights over forests to facilitiate coal mining. Credit: Nandini Sundar

Representational image of women in Chhattisgarh. Credit: Nandini Sundar
If there is any light towards the end of the tunnel that leads to Bastar, it emanates from the Chhattisgarh high court’s actions on February 8. Justice Goutam Bhaduri has admitted a criminal writ petition and application seeking interim relief for 28 tribal women who were allegedly gangraped, assaulted and looted by police constables and security forces in the villages of Chinnagelur and Peddagelur in Bijapur district.
The high court has issued notice to the state; director general of police Naya Raipur; inspector general of police, Bastar; superintendent of police, Bijapur; and the station house officer, Basaguda police station in Bijapur district – respondents in the case. The 28 women approached the court after National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) found allegations of rape, sexual and physical assault by state police personnel on 16 women, prima facie, true.
In its interim report on January 7, the NHRC said that in its suo moto proceedings – on a media report on the sexual harassment and assault of over 40 women and the gangrape of at least two in the Bijapur district – it held the state government liable for not upholding the human rights of tribal women. The organisation also issued show cause on the interim monetary relief promised to the women. “The Commission has observed that it is of the view that, prima facie, human rights of the victims have been grossly violated by the security personnel of the Government of Chhattisgarh for which the State Government is vicariously liable,” reads the report.
During the course of its investigation till then, the NHRC team interviewed 14 women of the 34 mentioned in three FIRs. Two of these FIRs were registered on November 5, 2015 and January 27, 2016 at the Basaguda police station in Bijapur district and Kukanar police station in Sukma district respectively, while a third one on January 21, 2016, mentioning sexual violence against tribal women by security personnel at Nendra village in Bijapur district between January 11-14, 2016.
The first of the three FIRs was registered by human rights activist Bela Bhatia and the same forms the basis of the present petition in the high court. While the battle for justice is far from over for these 28 women, and many others whose cases remain unreported in the conflict zone of Chhattisgarh, the court’s admission of the case holds significant relevance for the state nonetheless.
This is an area where the security forces are known for their strenuous attempts to prevent women – along with several activists, lawyers, journalists and academicians – from speaking out about such crimes. “It is promising certainly that the case has been admitted. One can only hope that it will be on fast track. It has been delayed for many reasons,” says Bhatia. “And if we achieve justice in this, it will be a great example set for the entire country,” she says.
A ‘test’ to determine if a woman is a Naxalite
One glance through the testimonies of these 28 women, who are the petitioners in the case, shows that this is merely a sample of the assault faced by tribal women. The petition claims that the security forces have evolved a new method to test whether a woman is a Naxalite or not. “The security forces have been informed by the district reserve guard police who were mainly hand-picked tribals from the area and surrendered naxalites that normally a naxalite lady remains unmarried and does not procreate,” mentions the petition.
To ensure this, some personnel from the forces, specifically CoBRA, CRPF, the District Reserve Guard and local police in the villages, force the woman to squeeze her breast and take milk out. This test to check if the woman is lactating or not, determines for the personnel whether the woman is a Naxalite or married (and hence, not Naxalite). The assault, however, does not stop here.