Violence against women and the Indian state
(AWTWNS 22 April 2013)

This AWTWNS news packet for the week of 22 April 2013 contains one article. It may be reproduced or used in any way, in whole or in part, as long as it is credited.

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Violence against women and the Indian state

22 April 2013. A World to Win News Service. Women and men are once again holding extremely angry protests in New Delhi targeting the police and government officials following the kidnapping, rape and horrendous torture of a five-year-old girl. Demonstrators continued to besiege police headquarters for the third day on 22 April, demanding that the police chief resign. The chief argued that the officials could not be held responsible because “the problem is one of mental depravity. The problem is one of mental sickness. And that will not be sorted out by anyone resigning, least of all the leader of the police force.” Yet for many people, the crime against the little girl was bad enough, but the behaviour of the police demonstrated that the Indian state does more to encourage such crimes than to prevent them.

It was as if the power structure were thumbing its noise in the face of the mass anger anger that mounted after the rape and murder of a young Delhi student last December. While India is experiencing an unprecedented epidemic of reported rapes and cases of sexual abuse, the authorities have tried to portray this as a good thing because it supposedly shows that women have more confidence in them. But when the girl’s parents went to the police, after neighbours heard the her crying in an apartment where her abductors had left her for dead, the police offered them 2,000 rupees ($37 dollars) to remain silent. Reports of similar rapes of little children began to appear in the media, including a four year old girl in the city of Nagpour currently on life support after violent sexual abuse.

The government reacted by banning gatherings of more than four people on New Delhi’s main avenue, where students had planned a protest. About a hundred defied the ban by demonstrating at the city’s famous India Gate. Television news viewers witnessed a large police officer slapping a woman demonstrator in the face. Yet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh repeated the police’s defence, that there is little the authorities can do to prevent “depraved behaviour”.

After the outrage sparked by the rape and murder of the Delhi student in December, the Indian parliament passed a law with new penalties for rape, including the death sentence. Cries for more police protection and laws went up amid this latest round of scandals. A leading woman police official called for “sensitivity training” for officers, a measure some people have supported as a step toward dealing with an unbearable situation.

Following are excerpts from an article by Mrinalini Paul from the West Bengal-based Web site sanhati.com. It was posted on 31 March, before these latest outrages, but it is more relevant now than ever. The author addresses the demand that India’s existing state provide more protection for women and seeks to show that this state, with its police, courts and parliamentary system, is a concentration of the problem and not part of a solution.

Chhattisgarh is a state in central India, part of a large area in central and eastern India where the Communist Party of India (Maoist) is leading tribal peoples and peasants in armed revolution.

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.

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 [Maoist revolutionary fighter] and was sent to jail on charges that she was a squad member and participated in a landmine blast killing CRPF [Central Reserve Police Force] 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, however, Ledha was acquitted. Ledha’s advocate, aware of the complications that could arise 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 to convince her husband, and SPO [Special Police Officer] Kalluri arranged for the surrender on 28 May 2006. However, Ledha’s husband was shot in front of her eyes, and she 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 a few months to find out that the police were looking for her. Picked up and taken to the police station, Ledha was raped by SPO 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 SPO 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.

[In another case] a dalit [so-called “Untouchable”] woman was 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 practised 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 Chhattisgarh High Court under the 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 6 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 two or three 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 [200,00 rupees] and the brother a job at the government school nearby as a clerk. Such behaviour towards a Naxalite’s family was unexpected. The discrepancies in the case stem not only from the police department that has yet to file a FIR  [First Information Report] even after having received the father’s representation, and the accompanying panchnama [report based on witness statements] and the sarpanch [village official] dated 7 July 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 magisterial enquiry had been set up and an office also provided, though it is at 200 km from the scene of crime. This enquiry has yet to sit or even visit the village a year after the 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 September 2012 around six 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 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 refrain from even kicking them with their boots. In this act, the village’s mukhiya [leader], an elderly woman of 60 or more, was struck by one of the police with a sharp object on her ear and had to be rushed to the hospital for an operation the very next day.

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 function of maintaining 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 [state violence whose purpose is to protect and perpetuate injustice], 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 are 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 [so-called ”disturbed areas” where the armed forces exercise “special powers”]. 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 versus victim in any other scenario, as can be best elucidated by citing the Soni Sori case. [Sori, an Adavasi (tribal) schoolteacher in Dantewada, Chhattigarh, was arrested in 2011 and charged with assisting the CPI(Maoist).] Soni Sori’s case, in comparison to the four 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 women’s and other organisations staged a demonstration at NCW [National Council for Women, an Indian government body] demanding for a probe into her condition in jail. The NCW was forced to reopen the case, but after visiting the victim, came out with a report that suggested only the need for “counselling”.

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 “counselling”, the main accused in her case, Ankit Garg, was given the gallantry award. [In January 2012, Police Superintendent Garg, who Sori says supervised her torture, was awarded the Police Medal for Gallantry for his role in a 2010 action in which 250 officers killed six Maoists and two civilians in what was described as a police ambush. Garg and officials insist that the schoolteacher sustained her injuries, including stones doctors later found lodged deep in her rectum and vagina, when she slipped and fell in a bathroom.] So much for the State’s mechanism that is in place for dealing with violence against 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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One thought on “Violence against women and the Indian state
(AWTWNS 22 April 2013)

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