Patriotic rapes and the silence around it: no candles for Bastar women?

Surabhi Singh

Writer and advocate of Human Rights, working as Communications Officer at Oxfam India- I strongly believe social justice, equality of opportunities and freedom of expression are the only true marks of a nation.

My state Chhattisgarh has a glorious history of rebellion against tyranny, autocracy and invasion. It started in Bastar, as early as 18th century when the Halba Tribesmen rebelled against the Maratha and British invaders. Halba tribes had fought with great valour under the leadership of the then Governor Ajmer Singh and sacrificed their lives for independence. It was the year 1779. The local tribals had nothing to eat after consecutive droughts, and their women and children were abused, raped and pillaged by first, the Maratha invaders and later, by the Britishers. Though the tribals could hardly match with the aggression, manpower and artillery of their invaders, the Bastar tribals fought nevertheless.

After nearly 230 years later, the Bastar Tribals are still fighting their invaders. This time though, their invaders come in uniforms- khakhi and military. The droughts, the poverty, the rapes and the systematic genocide continues. The atrocities endemically patronized by a power hungry, capitalist, deeply corrupt government, police and judiciary- has left the Bastar tribals, especially the women and children-open to surmountable torture, threat and physical violence. Since the last one decade, as the Government presses towards more and more Corporatization of this mineral rich district, the mountains, rivers, forests and animals have come down as a heavy collateral in the process. The brutest of repression, however is being faced by the helpless tribal women, girls and children.

The insidious arrogance with which the tribals are being tortured, it is evident that the state government armed with a militant band of crude war mongering footsoldiers, is adhering to a conspiracy of using force violating all legal perimeters. In the last six months, there have been three consecutive cases of gang rapes in the villages of Sukma and Bijapur districts. Each time, the higher officials in state police have denied allegations as lies, despite the fact that the rape victims have documented every possible physical and medical evidences. The accounts of these frenzied militia almost always follow a singular pattern. The name is “combing operation” or “search operation” supposedly to fog out the Maoists from their hideouts. However, in the garb of this “patriotic duty”, the personnel indulge in rogue loot, murder and gangrapes. This institutional arrogance of the soldiers comes from the twisted philosophy of branding these tribals unilaterally as “Maoists or Maoist sympathizers.” A terminology, when laced with the collective coherence of “anti nationals” “terrorists” and so on- gives the local police, and the para-military an unwavering impunity to perpetrate atrocities on those labelled, all in the name of “serving the nation”. Indeed, the perpetrators are rewarded with gallantry medals, promotions and even cash incentives each Republic Day. While more and more such patriotic rapes happen in the forests, the MoUs signed by the state government gains momentum. After the three consecutive gangrape episodes in village Nendra and Pedda Jojer in Bijapur, and Kunna in Sukma; the Rowghat Rail Corridor project worth 3,000 crore has now reached a step further, after hanging in the quandary for nearly 23 years. 3,000 crores worth of rail corridor to transfer the irone ore from Rowghat mines to units of NMDC and SAIL.

As Malini Subramanyam, noted social activist and journalist told, “The Civil Society Groups in Chhattisgarh are unable to come out openly in support of these rape victims, fearing brutal state repression. Although each NGO is doing a commendable job in their own sector, their collective voice in support of the rape victims in Bastar is very low decibel. The state machinery has quenched all roads to rights based advocacy work here. Even if one does enter the foray, it’s like entering a judicial catacomb of torture, murder and custodial rapes. Repeated arrests of villagers, members of civil society groups and even journalists, to be booked under the draconian “Unlawful Activities Prevention Act”; and an unfriendly judiciary has broken the morale of the dissenting voices in the state.

While Durga Jha, member of another prominent civil society group Chhattisgarh Mahila Manch said that several NGOs are working in the direction in solidarity with AAP leader and crucader of Tribal Women Rights Soni Sori. “Although, our stories remain untold, since there’s no one in the mainstream media interested enough to do stories on tribal women empowerment in the state. There is a lot happening in the grass root level, but, the media refuses to cover it,” she laments. Few other women NGO workers agreed that there is no one to tell positive stories of resistance that’s building up stealthily in the state against liquor mafia and even human trafficking. Repeated RTIs on details of custodial rapes of the arrested tribals remain rejected unabashedly.

Tuhin Deb, Chairman State Resource Centre has had a long association with the civil society movement and rubber shoulders with the likes of Shankar Guha Neyogi. Speaking of tribal resistance and commenting on the current situation, he says that situation in Chhattisgarh is dismal to say the least, although an armed uprising is not the solution. He adds, “Chhattisgarh has never seen a cultural renaissance and thus, there is lack of social awareness. Whats happening in the forests to the tribal women is a shameful reality. Although, there is a major protest happening all over the district, beyond the jungles, there’s not much stiff resistance.”

As Soni Sori, the activist, and AAP Legislator continues to collect the strays of abuse, rapes, threats, murders and builds up the resistance movement one march and one police FIR at a time, history will stand witness to the shameful silence of millions of us in the pseudo quasi liberated existence.  Meanwhile, the newspapers and the TV channels along with several social media sites continue to paint a picture of grotesque unreality, twisting and turning the facts on behest of Corporate and government agents. The rapes become “alleged molestation”, the loot becomes “search operation” and the innocent tribals become “surrendered Maoists.”  Those who try to penetrate through the charade, are ubiquitously arrested and thrown behind the bars.
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As nature is raped, humans are stripped of dignity, history is being written in my state by authors who are unrepentant agents of greed. As per tribal women- they are paying the price of being born in the wrong time at the wrong place.