Book Review: Bearing Witness – Sexual Violence in South Chattisgarh

Bearing Witness

In the 2016-17 Budget, 77,000 crore Rupees were allocated to the Home ministry. It was 24.56% higher than the previous year budget allocation. Out of the 77,000 crores, 50,176 crore rupees were to be spent on the 7 armed divisions of the Indian state. The Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) which is responsible for maintaining internal security was alone allocated 16,228 crore rupees. Next to that Border Security Forces were allocated 14,562 Crore rupees. The Home ministry’s staff strength, including the number of armed personnel which was 7.44 Lakh in 2006 increased 32% by 2014. On one hand there is oppression on the lines of nationality question and on other hand there is a huge war waged on those who protect their lands against the corporates who are at their door steps to loot the natural resources.

The Indian state of Chhattisgarh was carved out of Madhya Pradesh in 2001. By 2003 the CRPF was permanently stationed in Chhattisgarh. By 2005 MoUs were signed with Tata steel and ESSAR group. On the same year Salwa Judum, an extra constitutional armed force was created by the Chhattisgarh government with the help of Tata and Essar mining companies. Salwa judum which loosely translates to “Purification Hunt” comprised of Adivasi youngsters and was formed under the leadership of Adivasi landlords who had affiliations with the RSS. During its active years, nearly 3,50,000 Adivasis were evicted out of their villages and herded into camps. The mass evictions were accompanied by various forms of violence. Needless to say use of sexual violence was also rampant. In the 2011 landmark judgement the supreme court declared the Salwa Judum group as illegal and unconstitutional and was eventually disbanded.

But even after that there was no was no relief to the Adivasis. State violence continued unabated. On March 2011 in a combing operation conducted in 3 villages, 3 Adivasis were killed, over 300 homes were burned down, and 3 women were raped. Cases were filed against S.R.P Kaluri who led the combing operation and CBI enquiry was ordered. In 2013 he was awarded President’s Police Medal for Meritorious Service and in 2014 he was appointed as the IG of the Bastar division. Such is the impunity the perpetrators of state violence enjoy.

In 2015, SRP Kaluri announced Mission 2016, a plan to put an end to the Naxal violence in the state. A new division called District Reserve guard force comprising of Adivasi youngsters was formed. The Supreme Court judgement in 2011 against Salwa Judum clearly stated that “To pursue policies whereby guns are distributed amongst barely literate youth amongst the poor to control the disaffection in such segments of the population would be tantamount to sowing of suicide pills that could divide and destroy society”. But who cares? Laws and Judgements are for the poor. While launching the DRG, SRP Kaluri commented that “unlike other personnel in forces, DRG boys come with minimum requirement and easy eating habits of rice, dal, salt and turmeric which is sufficient for them for three meals”.

Bearing WitnessBearing Witness: Sexual Violence in south Chhattisgarh” published by Women against social violence and state repression (WSS) speaks about the cases of mass sexual violence that has happened after September 2015. It records the findings done by the WSS on the ground in the places affected by state violence and the difficulties faced by the Adivasi women who fight for justice.

In the Combing operations conducted in October, 2015 in Peddegellur region of Bijapur district, and in Nendra and surrounding villages of Bijapur district and in Kunna village of Sukma district in Jan 2016, and in Korcholli and surrounding villages of Bijapur district in May 2016 mass sexual violence and atrocities were committed by the CRPF and the DRG forces. Be it a girl child as young as 13 years or pregnant women, many of them were subjected to rape. Houses were vandalised and their savings and livestock were plundered by the armed forces. Women and children were disrobed and beaten. 

Whenever news about such violations surface, the state and the media either try to brush it off or when there is overwhelming evidence they try to portray it as a mistake committed by a few individuals. But as this book shows sexual violence committed by the armed forces is an organized crime carried out with full knowledge of the government. It states its uses as an effective means to quell the voices of dissent. As in this case sexual violence happened in multiple places, at the same time by different armed force divisions.

 The state police are not ready to even register an FIR for these cases. Even after multiple visits to the police station, reiterating the horror they went through to multiple police authorities the complaints are often brushed off as naxal conspiracy to malign the state. On November 1, 2015 after a huge struggle a FIR was registered for the cases reported by the Adivasi women of Pedagellur village. Even after National Commission for Women, National Commission for Scheduled Tribes, National Human Rights commission intervened and conducted fact finding missions and confirmed the mass atrocities and human rights violations no action has been taken on the FIR.

In its 2011 verdict the Supreme Court stated that “The primordial problem lies deep within the socio-economic policies pursued by the state on the society that was already endemically and horrifically suffering from gross inequalities”. But we see only a strengthening of the “amoral political economy” which the Supreme Court condemned. The state is becoming more and more draconian, resolved ever more to pursue the neo liberal economic policies and opening the natural resources of this country for corporate looting. The present government once it came to power signed an agreement for an Ultra Mega Steel plant in spite of all the ongoing opposition. The police/army to people’s ratio is 1:40 in the region. But no infrastructure development has been carried on by the state. Even today women have been walk kilometers for water and other household needs.

But if any apologetic should find consolation, the home ministry also allocated 150 Crores to the Nirbaya Fund, for the protection of women. So thousands of crores to rape women, and 100 crores to protect them! What else other than capitalism is capable of pulling such a cruel joke on the striving masses!!

Often the debate about the Adivasi struggle is constructed as a Naxal violence vs State retaliation. The Adivasis are then named as victims of the inevitable militarisation to eliminate the Naxals, the greatest internal security threat, as Manmohan Singh, the previous Prime minister of India described. The moral crusaders of capitalism then lecture about the values of a non-violent struggle, to the starving poor who fight for their livelihood with bows and arrows and stones.

But fortunately this book doesn’t fall into that meta narrative and lays bare the truth. The State and its economic policy are responsible for all the violence and human rights violations that are happening in the Adivasi regions. This book may not have explicitly spoken about the alternative that is needed. But Capitalism must End. It’s only with the death of capitalism a just and peaceful society can come into existence!

One of the Adivasi women revealed in her testimony that a member of the armed forced warned her that “If Narendra Modi gives us orders we will burn down your village”. With the Hindu right wing forces getting emboldened, a day when this voice is heard in every nook and corner of the country is not far away. A mass working class organisation is the need of the hour.

Arun Kaliraja