Violence Against Women and the Indian State

March 31, 2013

By Mrinalini Paul

In order to exemplify the role of the State this paper attempts to touch upon broadly two concepts that have inherently and somewhat unfortunately attached themselves onto and fuelled the vigour and very nature of the State, that of Justice and Violence. While the former is linked to being handed out by the State and also in turn protected by the State, the latter is one that is used by the State supposedly against its enemies. While the above is a simplistic and unidimensional understanding put forward, the crux of this paper lies in the dangerously manipulative and safely perpetuating avatars of these two concepts otherwise. Justice delayed is no longer supposed as merely justice denied, since it never seems to make an appearance in this play of life where the millions of marginalized populations act out not their own roles, but are moved, displaced and dispossessed by the use of strings attached in the hands of those who have scripted, directed, and inevitably produced this play entitled ‘progress’. Violence, if one looks at history can quite naturalistically follow from the denial of the former, i.e. justice; However, in this aspect too the paper takes a detour and presents violence as an entity in itself, refusing to make an entry after the role or more appropriately the death of Justice, but instead quite in the beginning itself.

A month of travel in Chhattisgarh, meeting with the people, organizations both state-run and people’s, since the distinction between the two is unique, one encounters numerous instances of people’s rights being denied by none other but the guardian welfaristic largest democracy of the world. However, this paper attempts to concentrate on a particular theme, that of State violence against women, though again this theme does not stand in isolation but rather as a part of the vast archipelago of exploitation, where State’s denial of land rights, State’s lack of implementation of pro-people’s policies, the arbitrary arrest of ‘suspect’ individuals-are only few of the other islands floating around in this sea of chaos, popularly known as the sea of ‘change’.
Drawing primarily from four real life incidents, this paper attempts to form an empirical base for ontologically redefining and restructuring the concepts of Justice and Violence. The ‘violent’ denial of justice and the ‘judicial’ use of violence is the role of the State redefined.

Ledha, a tribal woman from a small village in Sarguja district of Chhattisgarh was married to Ramesh Nageshila, a tribal who was a member of the Maoist party. Since a woman’s identity is inextricably linked with that of her husband’s, Ledha was also branded a Naxalite and was sent to jail on charges that she was a squad member and participated in a landmine blast killing 3 CRPF personnel. She was in jail for a year and a half during which she also gave birth to a child. Due to the effort of her lawyer, Amarnath Pandey, she got bail for a month to give birth and then was sent back to jail. Finally, howver, Ledha was acquitted from the case. Ledha’s advocate aware of the complications that could artise even now, advised her to show the acquittal order at the police station so that the police would not harass her in the future. The police this time pressurized Ledha into making her husband surrender while promising to offer money and a job in return. Ledha managed convincing her husband and SP Kalluri arranged for the surrender on May 28, 2006. However, Ledha’s husband was shot in front of her eyes and was let off only after being terrorized about dire consequences if she dared to reveal what had happened. The next day’s papers carried that there was an encounter in Shankergarh police station limits and a Naxalite had been killed. Ledha helpless and scared returned to her village only after few months to find out that the police were looking for her. Picked up and taken to the police station Ledha was raped by SP Kalluri in front of her parents and her child. The next day a notorious SPO called Dheeraj Jaiswal with four other constables came to Ledha’s lockup and gang raped her. This went on for ten days after which Ledha was ultimately released. In January 2007, Ledha still determined to fight, met a lawyer and filed a case against SP Kalluri and others in Chhattisgarh High Court.

The judiciary, however, did not really get a chance to deliver justice, Ledha was picked up by the police while her parents were tortured and forced to file a case against her lawyer, Amarnath Pandey. And then one day Ledha arrived in police escort and asked for her file back from Advocate Saurabh Dongi. Dongi mentioned that his client appeared to be under pressure yet the High Court accepted the application of the subsequent “legal aid” lawyer to withdraw her petition.

A dalit woman is socially boycotted by her village on the mere pretext of accessing the water tank of the dominant caste, a phenomenon common in the system of caste discrimination as practiced still in Chhattisgarh and many other states of India. However, this woman found a way to court through HRLN Chhattisgarh (Human Rights Law Network) and a writ petition was filed in Chhattiasgarh High Court under SC/ST Atrocity (Prevention & Prohibition) Act. The judge at this hearing completely negated the wide potential of the Constitution by simply dismissing the petition though he ‘’appreciated the cause’’ but confessed to the advocate that her client seemed “too oversensitive.”

The newspapers on the 6th of July contained the news that on the intervening night of 5th and 6th at about 3 am an encounter took place between the Chando Police, of Balrampur Police District, Sarguja, and the Naxalites, and a minor girl, Meena Xalxo who was alleged to be part of the naxalite team was killed in the encounter.

The real story goes like this, as based on the accounts of the villagers and the consequent fact finding team’s investigation, Meena Xalxo was raped and killed by the police, only 2-3 shots were fired, the key witnesses who heard the sound were consistently pestered by the police to change their statement more in tune with the police department’s, the victim’s family got a compensation paid of 1 lakh and the brother a job at the government school nearby as a clerk, such behavior towards a Naxalite’s family was unexpected. The indiscrepencies in the case stem not only from the police department that is yet to file an FIR even after having received the father’s representation, and the accompanying panchnama of the villagers and the sarpanch dated 7.7.2011, to the effect that the police had killed Meena Xalxo and she was not a naxalite; but also the redressal mechanism put in place, a one member magestrial enquiry had been set up and an office also provided, though it is at 200 km from the scene of crime, this enquiry is yet to sit or even visit the village a year after incident.

The doctor conducting Meena Xalxo’s postmortem clearly cited the possibility of rape and consequently a vaginal swab was sent for testing, but the laboratory said that the sample was too little to be tested and no logical conclusion was possible; this piece of information was read by the media, however, quite differently, and TV channels and newspapers portrayed it as a clean chit given to the police.

On the night of 14.9.2012 around 6 SPOs (Special Police Officers) entered the village of Koyabekur (around 25 km from Sukma) late in the night when everyone was asleep. They tied up three men and dragged them mercilessly all the way out of the village. The women of the village at this moment arose and gathered outside blocking their way and demanding for a reason for such violence. The SPOs did not bother to stop for an answer but shoved them into the mud and manhandled most of the women as they hurled abuses at them and did not restrain from even kicking them with their boots. In this act, the village’s mukhiya, an elderly woman of 60 or above was struck by one of the police by a sharp object on her ear and had to be rushed to the hospital for an operation the very next day.
Manish Kunjam, of the CPI (M) was quick to respond to this situation and alerted the media about it as well. In Meena Xalxo’s case a similar move was made by the then opposition leader President of the State Congress Committee, Nand Kumar Patel, and it went a long way in garnering media support which inturn pressurized the State government to set up the judicial enquiry. However, the significance of this blatantly political move seems insignificant when viewed in the larger context of the democracy’s otherwise complacent attitude.

Gendered and caste violence has been manifested through the inequalities in society and its structures from time immemorial, however, the role of the State now seems to have been completely redefined and in its place stands a multi-tainted patriarchal State that loots not only the country’s resources but also the dignity and rights of its women. Vulnerability of women and children in ‘conflict’ zones is a popular theme that draws both publications and funds, the times demand, however, to delve deeper into this comfortable notion, to strip bare the acts of violence reported by the mainstream media and stare into the abyss of rights, justice and freedom. The creation of this abyss and its expanse is what the State is primarily engaged in.

The State cannot be thought of as an abstract political entity, and so this paper adopts a technical and somewhat objective view on the definition of the State on the basis of its role concerning the two concepts of Justice and Violence, as mentioned in the beginning, and in terms of that which carries out this role, i.e. the Executive, Legislative, Judiciary and of course the ‘free’ Media. Each of the four cases cited here, both collectively and individually, serve as indicators for the complete failure of the above mentioned arms of the State.

The false implication of Ledha leading to her being in custody while pregnant, the failure of the Maoist-surrender policy leading to the death of her husband, and the direct infringement on her rights and dignity when raped in custody, is not where the role of the State faction that is to maintain law and order ends, but continues to perpetuate its violence by manipulating the entire process of the justice delivery mechanism. The same can be seen in Meens Xalxo’s case as well. While in the second case of the dalit woman, the structural manifestation of historical injustice is further strengthened when the judge restrains from even ordering a police enquiry into the incident. The assault on the women of Sukma subsequently is an assault on their collective consciousness and is aimed at further subjugation of these already marginalized sections. The State’s treatment of Justice and use of Violence, through its various arms and machineries, as verified empirically through the cases in this article, which are not exceptions but only representatives of the numerous others that lie out there, unexposed, unheard and unclaimed, substantiates the need to perhaps theorize the role of the State as a whole all over again.

The danger lies not only in such widespread use of violence but the impunity offered to the perpetrators because of their close affiliation with the State. The crimes committed by the thousands of troops deployed in Chhattisgarh is only a drop in the vast ocean of crimes committed against women by men in uniform, especially in places of an ‘occupation’ or the lands of AFSPA. Hence the need to go beyond the demand for harsher laws or harsher punishment, and the plea to question the very politics of violence against women.

The challenge posed is a greater one than a State vs victim in any other scenario, as can be best elucidated by citing the Soni Sori case. Soni Sori’s case in comparison to the 4 cases cited in this article, received great amount of legal and non-legal aid, media coverage and so on. However, a year into the case, a group of womens and other organisations staged a demonstration at NCW demanding for a probe into her condition in jail. The NCW forced to reopen the case but after visiting the victim came out with a report that suggested only the need for “counseling”. When such horrific incidents in regard to Soni Sori’s case involving insertion of stones into her vagina, repeated use of torture and humiliation in the jail, strip searches and granting of transfer of custody from Raipur to Jagdalpur after more than a year, all seem to be taken care of by counseling, the main accused in her case Ankit Garg was given the gallantry award. So much for the State’s mechanism that is in place for dealing with violence on women by one of its own arms. Hence lies the tragedy, that in a case of State violence against women, when even evidence is inadequate, who or what will put a stop to this injustice?

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