January 1, 2013
Lakshman Sori (the name changed) doesn’t want curious visitors to his house, especially journalists. “My wife and I are trying to rebuild our lives, and your visit will ruin everything.”
Mr. Sori’s wife, a Muria Gond, is a rape survivor, but the Sori family, of Shamsetti village in Chhattisgarh’s Sukma district, is concerned more about mundane issues than justice. “We cannot afford justice any more, please do not ask us why,” he said.
This was not always the case. The women of Shamsetti, a nondescript village of about 130 families, did testify in court to how, in July 2006, four of them were beaten up and gang-raped, allegedly by special police officers (SPOs) at the peak of the state-sponsored anti-Maoist campaign.
Today, the SPOs and Salwa Judum — the State-supported militia that waged war against the Maoists — are officially non-existent. But its members still hold power and influence and have the connections to work the system. Five of the 12 accused in the Shamsetti case have government jobs and at least two of the SPO accused are now police constables. While in urban India the delays inherent in the legal process often hold up rape cases, in Sukma and elsewhere in the tribal belt of central India, conviction is virtually non-existent.
Soon after the rape though, the Shamsetti women bravely came forward. One survivor testified that while she was working at her place, a team of police and SPOs arrived in her house. “They forced me to a nearby field and took their turns to rape me, while my parents were beaten and locked in a room,” her statement says. The SPOs allegedly raped the women in the village itself. Yet another testimonial records, “A group of 200 police men and SPOs raided our village. Someone caught me from behind while I was chaffing the paddy at my house. Three men raped me in my house.”
The testimonies run into dozens of pages and discuss how the police refused to accept complaints and the women were threatened with “severe consequences” if they registered complaints. Sudha Bharadwaj, lawyer for the complainants, says it was an “uphill task for the women and their witnesses to get their statements recorded, given the repeated adjournments” in the Konta court, about 25 km from Shamsetti. “But the brave women still appeared while the culprits were hovering around the small court room.”
When asked about their expectations from the judiciary, Sori, whose wife was one of the women raped, said: “Let justice be in Delhi, let us live quietly in peace.”