Sonamukhi – MASUM fact-finding Report and Letter to NCW

July 26, 2010

July 27, 2010

Letter to the Chairperson, National Commission on Women

Respected Madam,

I am attaching a fact finding report which is self explanatory in nature. This incident was not an isolated one but in continuance of subjugation of local populace in the name of curbing or flushing out of `Maoists’ by joint force. The posted joint force has taken all heinous measures to gauge and maim the dissenting voices with the help of civil administration and ruling political dispensation. In this course actual victims of monstrous torture are commoners of the villages without having any direct association with the so called Maoists against whom the State has supposedly started a war.

The joint forces are targeting the dignity of the women of the villages and infringement on the same is going on with their whims. The state sponsored terrorism by joint force personnel made the womenfolk exposed to ultimate vulnerable to sexual offences.

In this regard we are demanding for:-

· Constitution of a high power commission comprising renowned persons from every sphere of society to measure the onslaught in the name of curbing Maoists.

· Immediate initiation of criminal proceedings with specific sections (rape, molestation and other penal offences) against the raiding joint force personnel attached with the said raid on 30th June 2010 at Sonamukhi village, without waiting for medical examination report or other such corroborative report/ evidence. The initiation of criminal case can be justified by the Supreme Court Judgment in the case `State of MP versus Dayal Sahu’ (AIR 2005 SC 3570) judgment

· Protection of victims, witnesses and fellow villagers should be guaranteed.

· Financial compensation to all victims should be provided

· An independent inquiry should be initiated

Thanking You
(Kirity Roy)
Secretary, MASUM & National Convenor, PACTI
July 21, 2010

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Sonamukhi Fact Finding Report

After receiving information about alleged rape and molestation of women and physical torture inflicted upon the aged and the minors by the Joint Force and local Police accompanied by the CPI(M) Harmads, at Sonamukhi village under Aguiboni- Gram Panchayet and Jhargram police station, a fact finding team of four activists from MASUM visited the place.

The fact finding team was assisted by local youths and few political activists who are not related to any `Maoists” in that area.

Sonamukhi, a village under Jhargram police station is situated at about 14 kilometers from Sub Division Head Quarter-Jhargram. The overwhelming majority of the 50 odd households  belong to the Mahato community, who are recognized as part of the Other Backward Classes. Most of the villagers are marginal peasants or labourers.

To reach Sonamukhi village the fact finding team had to drive down about 10 kilometers of pebbled mud road (Moram) from the Jhargram- Lodhasuli concrete road.

According to the gathered facts, on the fateful date – 30th June – at about 5 am nearly 300 Joint Force personnel and local policemen surrounded the village from three sides. The village is encircled on three sides by forest and bushes and one side opens to agrarian lands and a road. The raiding force was stationed at the surrounding bushes and forest on that day. They reached the place with a huge number of jeeps and bigger pick up vans. According to the eye witnesses, most of the raiding party were wearing camouflage fatigues with black bandana on their heads. It was also reported that they were accompanied by local CPM activists of Bira-Chandri villages. There are also reports that local CPM leaders namely Prashanta Mahato and Jitu Saw made several visits to the village before the raid and threatened the women of the village with dire consequences of sexual assaults. On 30th June while the Joint Force raided the village, the male members were not present as usual. According to the villagers they are apprehending raid by joint force and subsequent torture and implication in false cases, thus staying outside is a regular phenomenon. Sonamukhi incident was not in isolation as similar occurrence happened at adjoining villages of Birihandi, Simli, Bankshol, Ghritokham, Didiha and Jarudia in regular intervals. According to villagers that as no male members were present except few aged, it was baseless allegation made by the authority that Maoist took shelter in the village. It was also evident by the fact, no male except two aged got physical injuries; only women were assaulted, molested and even raped.

In Sonamukhi, after entering the village, the raiding party took position in the roof top of one Sambhu Mahato’s house and started firing crackers and bullets. The sound made the women panicked and they started running toward the open field. In between the joint force personnel forcibly entered the houses, caught aged and minors, looted the property and belongings and sexually assaulted women as their wish till 1 pm; for nearly 8 hours. The raiding force even dragged couple of aged to the fringe of the village. All of the raiding party was speaking in Hindi.

Thereafter at 3 pm, village youths while came to know the incident and confirmed joint force’s departure from their village, assembled and hired one vehicle (Tata-safari) from one Mr. Kamal Mahato of Lodhasuli by paying Rs. 500 to ferry the injured to Jhargram Sub Divisional Hospital.

The villagers after arranging treatment of the assaulted met the Sub Divisional Officer- Mr. C. Murugan and made a written complaint to him, he assured to visit the place but till date not visited the village. The women made individual complaints to the said SDO on 6th July 2010 but no action has been taken so far.

Statements made by the villagers establish the barbaric assaults on villagers of Sonamukhi and infringement on dignity of the womenfolk.

Mr. Surendra Nath Mahato, aged about 66 years, son of Late Kumed Mahato – While I was entering the bush to attend nature’s call at about 5 am, the joint force tied my hand back and started beating me with sticks and chains, the village was encircled by the joint force, the force was creating havoc on the villagers, they looted my house and snatched a mobile phone of my son- in- law and wristwatch. The joint force forced us to stand for 5 hours at the fringe of the village with other women, aged and minors as all capable youths had left the village prior to the raid. We have taken to Jhargram Hospital, where I have been admitted for two days, thereafter stayed at my elder brother’s house for nearly 10 days. Apparent injury marks on his chest.

Mr. Khagendra Nath Mahato, aged about 70, son of Late Raja Ram Mahato, ex National Volunteer Force personal- I was brutally assaulted by the Joint Force, they put a plough angle on my shoulder and dragged me from my house, during that the raiding party was questioning me about the Maoist activities and their location. In the meantime I heard sound of bullet fire from east side of the village, they were not satisfied by my answer and was furious, they slapped me on my left cheek and forced me to sit at the outskirt of the village with fellow villagers

Master Khokan Mahato, son of Mahendra Mahato, aged about 12, while caught by the raiding party I was asked about my father’s whereabouts and in that course asked about hidden firearms and location of Maoist.

Ms. Sabita Mahato (name changed), wife of Mr. Tarapada Mahato, aged about 50 years- on the fateful day at wee hours while I was suppose to take my cattle for grazing, a joint force personal having black bandana on his head hold my hand and asked about my husband in Hindi, he dragged me inside my courtyard and during that not willing to hear anything from me, then he forcibly put me on a cot in my own courtyard, while I tried to resist him, he slapped me on my right cheek, he unzipped his pant and forcibly raped me, he put his revolver just down my earlobe and threatened that he will kill me if I shout. Then the villagers arranged a vehicle for medical treatment and brought us to Jhargram Hospital with 5 other women. After firsthand treatment hospital authority released us but while we made a complaint to SDO- Jhargram, he instructed us to get admission in hospital and on 2nd July 2010 we again admitted at the same hospital, the doctor examined us by admitting for two nights at the hospital, the attending nurses made mockery of us by saying for single reason why you admitted yourself twice.

Ms. Shoilo Mahato (name changed), daughter of Late Baburam Mahato, age about 40 years, agrarian labour, on the said morning I found police were surrounded me just when I opened my eyes; they started beating on my hips by sticks indiscriminately and asked me where the firearms are hidden? Any Muslim is living or not? How we protected us from thieves? They searched all the nooks of my house and in between touched every parts of my body.

Ms. Amita Mahato (name changed), wife of Subhash Chandra Mahato, aged about 32 years ­ On that morning when I started cleaning my courtyard I found police personnel at my door, they were asking me to open the locks, me and my sister-in-law opened the door, just after entering the house they volleyed questions about `hidden’ firearms, the party told me that they will reward me if I can handover them the said firearm, they asked about the location of Maoists, in between they ransacked the whole house and littered all household articles. After not getting any offensive articles they started me bashing with sticks and snatched mobile phone from my hold. Then they dragged me to Somen Mahato’s house and forcibly put me into a room and bolted the room from inside. Then four of them put down me on a cot and raped me one after another. While they raped me they put a firearm beneath my earlobe and threatened me not to make any noise. I found Rs. 1500 missing from my house after their raid.

Ms. Reba Mahato (name changed), wife of Mr. Kamlesh Mahato, aged about 32 years; – My husband has a business of supplying decorator’s goods, on the said date while I was in courtyard to open the chicken from birdcage, I found police personnel were standing on my doorstep. My husband fled from the backdoor of our house. The police personnel driven me at the place, where all other women were brought and forced to sit. In between they ransacked my house, broke the locked room where the business articles were stacked while I tried to resist they pin downed me and beaten me black and blue, after returning to home I found that they broke paddy crusher, microphones, amplifiers, they even destroyed and mixed up rice, pulses and mustard oil.

Monira Mahato (name changed), wife of Sambhu Mahato aged about 35 years ­ The police personnel dragged me and my sister in law; Sharmila Mahato (name changed), wife of Anil Mahato, aged about 32 years to open field. While we wake up we found police personnel at our doorstep and heard fire shots. They were 50-60 in number. The male members fled from the house. They started ransacking our house. While they dragged us they were beating us with sticks. At the open field 2 of them raped both of us and threatened that they will kill us in the nearby forest but later released us from their clutches.

The fact finding team got statements of 7 women in which 4 have been raped and three were molested. For maintaining privacy of those we changed their names. All of them were asked identical questions; where is your husband/ men of the village, is there any Muslims living in the village, where are the firearms and information about `Maoists’. All were raped with force and in presence of their fellow personnel; all were speaking in Hindi and threatened the women by saying that next time you must bare you naked and it will be easier for us to rape you, during this threatening the CPM harmads were present according to the victims.

The women made written complaint to the SDO about rape committed by joint force upon them. In their complaints all of them informed the SDO about their fear to lodge a written complaint at the police station. Then again all of them were admitted at the Jhargram Sub Divisional Hospital for examination for rape by insistence of the SDO. The fact finding team came to know that the said SDO sent medical examination reports to the Principal Secretary (Home) Government of West Bengal in a incommunicative manner.

The then hospital superintendent of Jhargram Hospital; Dr. Hiralal Bisui, who asked few of the victim to lodge complaint to police station on the day; 30th June 2010, transferred to another hospital and new superintendent taken the charge from nearby Block Hospital within a hour notice.

Mr. Bankim Mahato, Pradhan, Aguiboni gram panchayet, met the fact finding team, most interestingly he is elected in CPI (M) nomination, vehemently criticized the offence meted out upon the villagers by the joint force. He said no civilized society can accept this kind of brutality. He also accepted the facts that non- deliverance of the state delivery is the root cause prompting the populace toward the `Maoist’ politics. He made references about BPL, Widow Pension and other such schemes and irregularities regarding the same. He also assured that he will take legal course to make the guilty punished and complaint to SDO by next couple of days. He also stated that his position is not in influenced by any force or threats.

On 20th July 2010 at afternoon, “Nari Ijjat Bachao Committee” (Committee to save dignity of women) brought out a rally, participated by around 20000 tribal women, in Jhargram town. The women demanded immediate withdrawal of the joint forces and highest possible punishment of those who allegedly raped the aforesaid women of Sonamukhi village in Jhargram. Ms. Shipra Barik; local C.P.I.(M) party leader as well as Deputy Chairperson of Jhargram Panchayat Samity, took leading part in the said rally and raised voice against the accused personnel of joint force and Mr. Prashata Das; Sectary of Abuiboni Local Committee of C.P.I.(M) party. A huge armed policemen posted in different crossings of Jhargram town as well as in front of Jhargram Sub Divisional (SDO) office, who ruthlessly lathi-charged upon the peaceful rally to prevent them from entering into the SDO office.

In the night, yesterday, police under the order of state administration, started their revengeful operation and arrested Ms. Shipra Barik (local leader of ruling party) and many others. As usual, police force while arresting did not follow the mandatory procedure as laid down by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in D K Basu case (AIR 1997 SC 610). Today they are likely to be produced before the court.