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martedì 21 marzo 2017

"Bearing Witness" Sexual Violence As Tool of State-Repression

“Police and security personnel took turns squeezing our breasts, pinching our nipples, touching me on my stomach, back, and thighs. They laughed mockingly as they did this.”
This is the testimony of a woman from Kunna village in Chhattisgarh’s Sukma district who was among those paraded naked in October 2015. 

Such graphic details of sexual assault fill the pages of Bearing Witness: Sexual Violence in South Chhattisgarh, which was released recently at the Mumbai Press Club at an event organised by the Mumbai chapter of the Bastar Solidarity Network.
The book, which has been researched and published by a network called ​WSS (Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression), details four incidents of mass sexual violence, including gangrape and disrobing, committed on adivasi women in districts across south Chhattisgarh. With copies of FIRs and testimonies to sub-divisional magistrates, the book brings to life the story of the civil war inside Chhattisgarh’s forests. Whatever the people owned was also looted, including chickens, goats, rice, cash, chillies, gourds, towels, light bulbs and combs.
At the book launch, people who at different points of time lived and worked in the State shared stories of adivasis being brutally assaulted by the men in uniform. As minerals are mined in the region, it is under the vigilance of security forces of the Centre and State, and Maoists.

‘Narratives of courage’

Professor Ilina Sen, who lived in Chhattisgarh for three decades with husband Dr. Binayak Sen, said she witnessed how a State overzealous to bring in mining, destroyed forests by selling adivasis the idea of ‘development’. Ms. Sen said people’s resistance movements were being brutally crushed and adivasis were being labelled as Maoists and killed. She said, “Women’s bodies have been the site of contestation, and violences on her body have been symbols of masculinity of the State. The script has been the same, be it in Kashmir, Manipur, Nagaland or Chhattisgarh.” Ms. Sen said the book reveals the narratives of courage of Bastar’s women.
Shreya K., an independent researcher in Chhattisgarh and co-author of the book, said, “According to the police, a lactating woman is not likely to be a Maoist and hence her breasts are squeezed to check the same.” She said filing an FIR wasn’t easy as the nearest police station was at least 20 km away. Women avoided registering complaints for fear of being attacked again and being accused of working with the Maoists. Ms. Shreya said women have to spend days in the offices of District Collectors to give their testimonies.
Yug Mohit Choudhary, a human rights lawyer who has represented adivasis, said a web of lies is woven in courtroom to portray adivasis as Maoists. He said in June 2012, 17 adivasis were killed; seven of them were minors, a few below 10 years. The State declared all of them were Maoists. Mr. Choudhary said, “The post-mortem shows that the bullet on the dead person’s head was from a higher level, and some even in the back of the head. This proves that those killed could have been kneeling and not killed in an ambush as claimed by a CRPF personnel whom I cross-examined.”

The State government has not spared journalists who have blown the lid off police excesses and staged encounter killings. Pushpa Rokade, an adivasi journalist with Dainik Prakhar Samachar in south Chhattisgarh, has faced threats for reporting about advasis being subjected to sexual assaults and harassment. Ms. Rokade says, “Each time I enter any village deep in the forest, I am investigated for my possible links with Maoists. There is no way adivasis today can celebrate their festivals. Any congregation is assumed by the government to be a Maoist meeting. The police are greedy about promotions; they bump off innocent adivasis and declare them as Maoists. The government created Salwa Judum camps to liberate people from Maoists, but it did not consider anything about people’s livelihoods.”

‘Voice of the voiceless’

Ms. Rokade says she has often had to avoid reporting certain incidents to ensure the safety of adivasis. In cases where adivasis are detained by the police on whimsical grounds, their release takes precedence over reporting. She says, “Adivasis have a way of staying silent even in the face of oppression and their patience is taken advantage of. So I don’t care if I if don’t find toilets or food when I go into the forests for my work. I take pride in putting forth their silent voices.”

Laying bare the atrocities of security forces in Chhattisgarh Priyanka Borpujari MARCH 15, 2017

Bastar Solidarity Network, Mumbai organised the book release of “Bearing Witness:Sexual Violence in South Chhatisgarh” on 10th March 2017. The book has been brought out by Women against Sexual violence and State repression (WSS).
Shreya K, a WSS activist, placed sexual violence within the larger history of violence of all forms in Chhattisgarh, which peaked between 2005 and 2009 where the Salwa Judum was in active operation. She asserted the presence of a pattern in terms of specific acts—unwanted touch on various body parts and especially sexual organs, pilfering of chickens, taking away money and so on—in areas filled with security forces. The incoming of forces has been continuing in newer forms post the Supreme Court banishment of the Salwa Judum, therefore contributing towards the manifold increase in multifarious instances of violence and sexual assault in particular. It has to be noted, she said, that one could derive identical patterns if one were to examine three factors in the state—the flow of government forces, constancy of violence and the presence of natural resources eyed by mining corporations. We’ve always been able to read the presence of sexual violence into incidents of warfare—where the inequality of power across spectrums are maximum, making justice an almost impossible end. Instances of sexual violence are seldom reported (due to the insistence of taboos), and if reported, the due process is seldom begun. Shreya spoke poignantly about the emotional and physical pain many victims she’d met had suffered, and one of the most important acts we could do, she said, is to bear witness, and hence the launch of the book.
Adv. Yug Mohit Choudhary, human rights lawyer, underlined the vulnerabilities to which people working in the state of Chhattisgarh— lawyers, journalists, academicians—are exposed, certainly caused by the absence of the rule of law. The instances of injustice and violence seems to be ever present in the state—and bearing witness to these events of urgency is a duty we all are responsible to. He examined an event that occurred in a village called Sarkeguda, in Chhattisgarh, in particular—where 17 villagers were killed by CRPF forces on 28 June 2012. The case, after analyses reveals stark violation of Standard Operating Procedures (SOP’s)—wherein there are evidences of gunshots at the back, head injuries, bodies shot when they were kneeling and incise wounds—which clearly indicate possible torture and fictitious encounters. The case is still undergoing a Judicial Commission Enquiry, awaiting justice, he said. He ended by highlighting that there is consistent lying from the side of the state, and this denial of truth seems to be the status quo. We should, he said, together think of strategies as a collective—to give and bear witness.
The three speakers were followed by the presentation of a few video documents from the state—recorded in 2016—recording state violence against the adivasis in Chhattisgarh, collected by Women Against Sexual Violence and Repression (WSS).
A photo exhibition on Bastar by renowned photographer Javed Iqbal was exhibited on the occasion. This was followed by a question-answer session with the speakers, and the session ended with a few cultural programme.

WSS remembers the Tenth Year Of Manorama’s Sexual Assault And Murder By The Indian ParamilitaryFight Against Patriarchal Violence Daily Inflicted By State, Caste And Capitalism!! An Injury To One Is An Injury To All!!
New Delhi (Press Note) : Ten years ago, in the early hours of 11th July 2004, the bullet riddled body of 32- year old Thangjam Manorama Devi was found in Laipharok Maring of Imphal East district of Manipur. She had been picked up by the paramilitary Assam Rifles from her home in Bamon Kampu Mayai Leikai and was raped and killed. Manorama was suspected of links to an underground separatist group. Soldiers raided her home around midnight, asking the family to wait outside while they questioned her. They signed an “arrest memo”, an official acknowledgement of detention, put in place to prevent “disappearances”, and took her away. Later that day her semi clad body was found in a nearby village. She had been fired with several bullets. There were gunshot wounds to the genitals and semen on her skirt suggesting she was raped before being tortured and killed. Mass protests in Manipur broke out as people demanded an immediate investigation and prosecution of the guilty.
Collective anger and shock over Manorama’s rape and murder gripped the world only as media reports poured in of the most spectacular and militant protest of our times. On July 15, women from the MeiraPaibi stripped themselves naked outside the 17 th Assam Rifles headquarters holding up the banner “Indian Army Rape Us”! Known as the Mother’s Front, Meira Paibi had started as a support group for women family members of the disappeared and arrested, but had eventually also become involved in fighting against human rights abuses. They had soon joined the campaign to repeal the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act more popularly known as the AFSPA.The case pertaining to the rape and murder of Manorama is pending before the Supreme Court. The army and central government have gone all the way to the Supreme Court to dodge prosecution, even though a judicial enquiry appointed by the state of Manipur has found the army personnel guilty. Meanwhile the people of Manipur still await justice even after 10 years.
It was for the repeal of the same AFSPA that Irom Sharmila started a fast, a fast that continues to date to demand with no response from the Indian state.
The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), 1958 gives the army special powers and liberties, such as:
•  Arrest and search warrants are not required for any operation.
•  Army officers can fire upon and use lethal force on an unlawful assembly of five or more people and for the illegal possession of firearms, if they feel the need.
•  No criminal prosecution is possible against army personnel who have taken action under this act, unless sanctioned by the central government.
Friends, acts such as the AFSPA are known to be draconian precisely because of the power they invest the army with in areas of armed conflict. First, the impunity enjoyed by army personnel protects them from the crimes they commit on civilians and the injurious consequences of the crimes. Secondly, the impunity given to the army implies that women in these areas are being denied of any legal redress that might have been available to them under the Indian legal system, however uphill it might be to access those legal remedies and legal protection. Sometimes, proving a case of sexual assault itself becomes the toughest struggle waged by a community.
On May 30, 2009, two young women – Neelofar and Asiya – went missing in Shopian in Kashmir and were found early next morning in a stream that no one had ever drowned in, in the midst of a high security and heavily guarded area; spontaneous protests broke out as the women appeared to have been raped and murdered. Almost the entire town was on the roads demanding an enquiry and it was a tough proposition for the administration to even get the post mortem done. After two post mortems and an exhumation of the bodies 5 months later an entirely manipulated CBI enquiry concluded that death had happened due to drowning. Long years of militarization and the continuing imposition of AFSPA since 1989 in the Kashmir Valley have provided impunity to security personnel in countless cases of rape, murder, disappearances and fake encounters. The methods of torture used by the army in interrogation procedures during detention involve brutal sexual violence on men as well. It would be hard to estimate how many women have been raped and killed in the valley. Even the notorious incident in Kunan Poshpura, where the 4th Rajputana Rifles during its search and combing operations on 23 February, 1991, had gang-raped a large number of women in these two small villages of District Kupwara have only started coming to light.  Early this year, the Kupwara deputy commissioner broke his silence and disclosed publicly that he had been threatened and offered promotions to change his report on the alleged mass rapes in Kunan Poshpura in February 1991. Justice still awaits the women from Kashmir.
On the morning of August 20, 2007, eleven Kondh women of Vakapalli village in Visakhapatnam district, Andhra Pradesh were raped by Greyhound personnel. A sustained agitation came up across the State seeking justice to the women by punishing the rapists. After four years on April 26, 2012, the AP High Court ordered in the women’s favour. The policemen moved the Supreme Court and obtained a stay. The role of the state administration and police was as complacent as it always is in such cases. The women still await justice in this long struggle to bring the perpetrators of sexual violence to book.
A PIL filed against the operations of Salwa Judum in Chhattisgarh had testimonies of 99 adivasi women alleged to have been raped by the members of Salwa Judum. Five women had bravely filed private complaints after their complaints were not acted on by the police, but conviction is a far cry in Chhattisgarh. After repeated adjournments over a period of six years, they have now finally been forced into withdrawing the cases. Such rampant sexual violence is an integral part of the offensive launched by the Government of India in the name of curbing “Maoism” and ushering in “development” involving not only the army and police personnel but also state protected vigilante groups and private armies.
In this culture of impunity and immunity where perpetrators of sexual violence go scot-free, the domination of the upper caste is often manifest in sexual violence. Sexual assault on minor dalit girls and women by the Jats and Yadavs is on the rise in parts of North India like Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh. The complicit role of the district administration and police is evident as WSS findings reveal. The rape and murder of two minor girls who were found hanging from a tree in Badayun district of UP is an open display of patriarchal and casteist power that is endorsed by a patriarchal state. It is a reminder of the brutality of medieval times that will not go unchallenged: resistance to such gruesome acts is growing every day. Evidently, perpetrators of sexual assault who are the upper caste enjoy the same immunity and the police and the administration work hard for their protection. Even the record or evidence of sexual violence gets completely erased out as seen in the casteist violence unleashed on 29 September, 2006 at Khairalanji of Maharashtra. Surekha Bhotmange was brutally assaulted and killed along with her two sons and daughter in Khairalanji village of Bhandara district by the dominant caste people of the village. They were dragged from their hut, strapped on to a bullock cart and paraded naked. This humiliation was followed by an orgy of violence, sexual assault and murder. The sexual assault of the mother and daughter went ignored as it was turned into a murder case alone. The administration and police failed to file charges of sexual assault or even invoke the Prevention of Atrocities Act as it sought to let the perpetrators go off on light charges. In the barbaric communal violence wreaked out on Muslims by sections of the Jat community on 6 – 7 September, 2013, in the villages of Muzaffarnagar district in UP, there was a huge exodus of Muslim dalit landless families living in those villages since hundreds of years. Several women have been reported to be sexually assaulted in these incidents. There is no desire to return back to the villages as the most palpable and outspoken fear is the safety and security of the women. These women and families continue demanding justice even as they are being evicted from the camps that were made for them in the aftermath of the violence.
You, I and each one of us have a role to play in ending such systemic violence against women. There is no other way but to intensify our struggle as women for dignity and liberation! We cannot leave it to the legal machinery alone as we see how some of the significant recommendations made by women’s organizations and all other democratic organizations and individuals to the Justice J.S. Verma Committee in 2013 were blatantly ignored. The government had constituted this Committee after the  Nirbhaya  case in Delhi in December 2012 and the widespread protests,  to look into the possible amendments in the criminal laws related to sexual violence against women.
The   Committee   (2013)   observed that   ‘impunity for systematic or isolated sexual violence in the process of internal security duties is being legitimised by the AFSPA’ and ‘women in conflict areas are entitled to all the security and dignity that is afforded to citizens in any other part of our country’.   The committee recommended that the requirement of sanction for prosecution of armed forces personnel should be specifically excluded when a sexual offence is alleged and they   should be tried under normal law,   and also suggested to ‘take special care for the safety of complainants and witnesses in cases of sexual assault by armed personnel’. However the Central government discarded these   important recommendations given by Justice   Verma   Committee.   The complete lack of political will of the state and its military and administrative apparatus has to be torn asunder to put an end to sexual violence on women. At the same time, let us also resolve to make people conscious that our bodies are no longer to be assaulted, lynched and mutilated in the deepening orgy of patriarchal violence.
Friends, let us seek to strengthen all democratic movements against state repression by drawing attention to the continuing sexual violence inflicted on women. Today, on July 11, as we remember Manorama in Manipur who was raped and killed ten years ago by the Indian Army, let us resolve to unite across all states and raise our voices against:
•  The increasing use of sexual assault by the state forces and other perpetrators as a means to intimidate the community and suppress struggling women, especially in areas and situations of conflict.
•  The daily atrocities and sexual violence faced by the dalit community at the hands of the upper caste and their protection in a caste-biased patriarchy.
•  The police who do little to secure justice for survivors of sexual assault and consistently undermine the struggle for justice by deliberately fouling upinvestigations.
•  The draconian laws that permit the presence and provide impunity to the armed forces amidst civilian populations, which have been responsible for the burgeoning of sexual crimes against women, torture and killings, and also the complete disruption of normal life throwing safety, security and even livelihood options to the wind.
Issued on 10th July 2014
About WSS
Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS) is a non-funded grassroots effort initiated in November 2009, to challenge and put an end to the violence being perpetuated upon women`s bodies and societies. We are a nationwide network of women from diverse political and social movements comprising women’s organizations, mass organizations, civil liberties, student and youth organizations, mass movements and individuals. We unequivocally condemn state repression and sexual violence on women and girls by any perpetrator(s).
To know more about WSS, see

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