Sexual Violence in Adivasi Inhabited Regions: Assault of an Adivasi Woman by Orissa Security Personnel in Gajapati District

April 15, 2011

Below, we select the Background and Conclusions from a Fact Finding Report by Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS). This report sheds light on the general nature of sexual violence inflicted upon the Adivasi inhabited areas of East-Central India, and the challenges faced by these communities – Ed.

An allegation of rape of an adivasi woman by security and police forces was brought to the notice of WSS by local activists who had been approached by the survivor’s father. The incident is said to have taken place on February 12, 2010 in Gajapati district in Orissa, but local activists came to know about it in August. The arrest and rape of this woman has largely gone unreported, providing impetus for the present investigation. An all-India four-woman fact finding team went to Gajapati district in Orissa on September 30 to October 1 2010 to investigate the alleged rape.

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Background

Sexual violence against women has become a regular feature in the context of sustained and unchecked state repression across all states in India today. Areas of the North East and Kashmir where the Indian army has been deployed for several decades, have witnessed numerous instances of custodial rape, sexual violence, indiscriminate arrests, torture and killings. In the rape and murder cases of Manorama in Manipur, and Nilofer and Asiya Jan at Shopian, justice has been mocked in spite of remarkable mass movements. Mass protests against sexual violence during police raids have led to severe backlash. Even fact finding groups of women seeking to investigate these incidents have not been spared.

In the Adivasi inhabited areas of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Orissa, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra, the offensive launched by the Government of India in the name of curbing ‘Maoism’ and ushering in ‘development’ has also been accompanied by rampant sexual violence by armed forces as well as by other state-protected vigilante groups and private armies. In addition to encounter killings and arbitrary arrests of activists, sexual violence against women has become integrated into combing operations of state forces in these areas.

Armed offensive has proven to be no solution to any situation of unrest. Although the use of force for more than half a century has not brought peace or development to the people of Kashmir or the North East, the state continues to justify its armed offensives including Operation Green Hunt in Adivasi areas as a way of “restoring democracy.” Sexually assaulted women on the other hand, are denied their democratic right to even lodge complaints against the state forces and/or other perpetrators.

Extra juridical violence of the state continues to be supported by draconian laws such as AFSPA, Disturbed Areas Act (DSA), Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act (CSPSA), Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), National Security Act (NSA) and National Investigative Agency Act (NIA). These laws have vested enormous and arbitrary power with the police and the military, with the impunity to jail, torture and kill and suppress the peoples’ resistance against land acquisition and privatization of other resources as seen in the Operation Green Hunt areas. While the armed offensives are ostensibly presented as combating insurgency and/or left-wing extremism the state is actually facilitating mining and other corporate grab of land and other resources. A “cleanse” of the indigenous populations of the area is also part of the state agenda in some states. Women, who have been at the forefront of democratic movements in these areas, have borne the brunt of the violence and even youth have not been spared.

In August 2010, we were informed that a young adivasi girl had been arrested from a village in Gajapati district on the grounds of being involved in naxalite activities. She had been allegedly raped by the security forces on the way to the police station, and no report had still been filed on that. Given the continuous combing operations in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Orissa and especially in the southern parts of Orissa, we felt there was a dire need to investigate.

News of women being subjected to sexual assault with the advent of Operation Green Hunt that commenced from November 2009 was beginning to come in. However, we need to see this solitary case in Orissa in the context of two developments that WSS is concerned with. Sexual assault against women predates Operation Green Hunt as we have been attempting to document cases of sexual assault in Dantewada district of Chhattisgarh where six women have been finally able to lodge FIRs. On the other hand, this incident in Gajapati district too seemed to fall in the so called “red corridor” that was targeted as part of deployed paramilitary offensive against Naxalites by the Home Ministry. Nothing seemed new except the concentrated effort of the Home Ministry and the free hand it seems to have given to the police and paramilitary in these regions.

Resistance by adivasi communities has been going strong since many years against the forcible taking over of land, mineral and mining resources that continues to be the mainstay of the people in terms of both habitat and livelihood. The announcing of the Operation Green Hunt gave legitimacy to untold repression in Narayanpatna, Raygada and Niyamagiri. Repression in Jagatsinghpur and Kalinganagar reached new heights in the beginning of 2010 as people gave a tough fight too. Areas close to Andhra Pradesh were being brought under scrutiny over and over again. People’s daily lives and movement, livelihood and daily activities have all been disrupted in this purging of Naxalites. The war ensuing in Orissa against the Naxalites is a war against itspeople and its resources. Gajapati is one of the most vulnerable districts of this backward state and the incident covered here indicates the extent of repression and daily torture the village people face from the police and paramilitary.

Conclusions

People in these areas are being picked up continuously

The fact finding team found that there were many people who have been detained for allegedly Naxal activities. There would be a very small proportion of people in the whole area who would not have directly been embroiled in some case, or whose family member would not have been accused. There are people continuously being harassed by security forces, and timely interventions by a mass of villagers is the only way by which they would have been able to save themselves. This case also points out the randomness in picking-up people and the complete failure of legal procedures to protect innocent people from this kind of harassment.

Absence of procedures of Juvenile Justice Act at times of pick-up of juveniles

Along with the adults, there are many juveniles that are being picked up in these areas, and being presented as hardcore naxalites. These adolescents are undergoing similar torture and provisions within the Juvenile Justice Board have not been followed at the times of arrest, detention or jail remand. The children arrested are commonly presented as over-age in order to bypass the law.

Safety of women prisoners

Guidelines for arrest of women are being clearly flouted, with arrest or detention happening before sunrise, absence of women constables, not providing an arrest memo and not bringing a witness from the family at the time of the arrest. There is also no procedure for proper medical examination of the arrested before they meet the magistrate or of questioning by the magistrate to ensure that the accused has not been subjected to torture or sexual assault.

Disregard of a tribal woman in the eyes of the administration and senior police

There has been no response on this case from the senior officials in the administration and police. The incident does not seem to have perturbed anybody. Further, the message that the security forces are putting their lives in peril given the threat they feel from the Maoists and are above such incidents of sexual violence was put forth. The fact that the SP and the administration have not taken any action on the incident shows that there is little regard for the plight of a marginalized adivasi woman. The custodial gang rape of an adivasi woman is a serious issue and it warranted that the SP took immediate action to at least institute an investigation and file FIR based on the complaint filed by the woman. Failing to do so, on the grounds that he was not directly approached by the family of the woman, shows a complete disregard of the concerns of the tribal woman, and the thought that the tribal woman does not have any identity and personhood to be considered. For the marginalized communities in these areas, the image of the police and security forces is definitely not of a ‘saviour’ or ‘protector’, rather it is that of one to be feared.

Responsibility of jail authorities

Callousness permeates the perception of jail authorities towards custodial violence. Incidents of sexual assault in custody would come out in the open more promptly if protection mechanisms were put in place at the jail. The woman in question had no one speak to her in an assuring or sensitive manner in judicial custody. The rule that a police detainee should be produced in court within 24 hours, and a jail remanded person at least once in 15 days is an opportunity for people to voice their complaints. This rule was not followed, giving little opportunity for the rape to become known. The onus of ‘complaining’ and finding the courage to do so falls on the persecuted herself, whereas the system is neither taking notice nor any stance on the ills within it. The jailer jail assistant, and pharmacist were nonchalant about the physical abuse of under-trials by the police, and felt they didn’t need to stick their head out in these cases; they were clear that their job is ‘medical treatment; and not ‘justice or prevention’.

Intimidating the woman, witnesses, and other people

A sense of fear and the fact that it is always a risk to complain against the police and jail authorities is strongly affecting the course of the case in question. The woman could not speak about the incident of sexual harassment in the jail- to either elaborate on it or discuss how it had come up in the petition and why other people had brought it up -but had to simply deny its occurrence and not open up a discussion on anything of this nature.

Her brothers and other possible witnesses to the incident of rape have their lives at stake, and are therefore not speaking up. The lawyer also senses that he is likely to be trapped in some serious allegation because of his relentless stand of defending the villagers accused as Naxals in court. After supporting this woman, the Sarpanch and Panchayat Samiti members are also being harassed, and have consciously withdrawn from being identified with the family in the police circles.

Insecurity of women in the villages

There is a threat on the security and life of women with the onslaught of combing operations and raids in the interior villages of the forests. These forces have become a threat to the ways of existence and survival of the people in their own traditional lands. Several incidents of women being picked up, beaten and/or sexually assaulted came up in the discussions. It was not possible for this fact finding team to further explore these links in this trip, but it did give an idea that there have been other such assaults on women in the area, with no response from the administration.

Need to have different provisions for proving custodial violence in sensitive areas

It is not easy for women in custody to report violence faced by them from those in power. The environment in these sensitive areas compounds the situation, and women are only able to bring their complaints with a lot of fear for themselves and their families. It is also difficult to go back for justice to the same agency that has been the perpetrator. In this case, the accused were part of the forces at Adava P.S.; there was an insensitive response even from the SP for the mere reason that the person had been arrested under charges of Naxal activities, leaving the family with little hope of justice from here.

It is unlikely to find corroborative evidence – either eye-witnesses or a medical examination. The eye-witnesses are either part of the forces who have committed the crime, or are the ones who are being picked up and repressed in the name of curbing Maoist violence. Therefore, to expect ‘evidence’ in these areas is difficult. Legally, the incident of rape does not have to take place only inside the thana premises to be considered a ‘custodial rape’ because the entire region becomes a place of consciously exerting state control and power. The woman in question was enroute and in direct custody of the police and security forces, and therefore the responsibility of the state.

Under-trials in general and in Maoist cases

Undertrials continue to languish in jails for extended time-periods. The trials are very slow, with no evidence against the people, besides statement under Section 161, which is often forced. Also, under-trials are not brought in the court, and many formalities are not followed. In the case of so-called Maoist under-trials, the impression that we got was that the situation was even worse. People in Maoist cases are picked up and presented in court usually on weekends or in the evening or night hours, and they don’t get a chance to meet the Magistrate, as the papers are signed in private spaces and not the courtrooms. This is an issue that needs to be further understood.

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Women against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS) is a non funded effort started in November 2009, to put an end to the violence being perpetrated upon our bodies and societies. We are a nationwide network of women from diverse political and social movements comprising of women’s organizations, mass organizations, civil liberty organizations, student and youth organizations, mass movements and individuals. We unequivocally condemn state repression and sexual violence on our women and girls by any perpetrator(s).

Email: againstsexualviolence [at] gmail [dot] com

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Fact-Finding Team Members

Pramodini Pradhan
PUCL, Bhubaneswar

Anuradha Talwar
Shramajibee Mahila Samity, Kolkatta

Shivani Taneja
Madhya Pradesh Mahila Manch, Bhopal

Anuradha Kavuri
Human Rights Forum, Vishakhapatnam

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