This book is a comprehensive compilation of the incidents of sexual violence in South Chhattisgarh, drawing on independent investigations or joint fact findings by WSS.
Pre-order your copy by writing to email@example.com
This book is a comprehensive compilation of the incidents of sexual violence in South Chhattisgarh, drawing on independent investigations or joint fact findings by WSS.
Pre-order your copy by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org
As part of a fact-finding delegation of women representing various civil society organizations and women’s organizations, WSS held a press conference at 12.30 pm at Karimnagar press club on 2 January, 2017 and visited Satavahana University (SU).
Context: On 25 December 2017, dalit bahujan students of Satavahana University in Karimnagar, Telangana, held an event outside the campus gate in front of the Jyotiba Phule Statue to burn “Manusmriti”. This programme is done every year on 25 December to keep the spirit of first such event conducted by Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar in 1927 alive. After the students finished the event of symbolically burning text from the Manusmriti (not from a book but words from the text written on large chart sheets), and were walking back to the hostel, a local BJP politician and his supporters from RSS-affiliated organizations arrived at the University with sticks. They came inside the campus and attacked these students who were very few numbers, meanwhile others went to hostel and brought other students to resist this attack by RSS. As this clash continued, RSS members from outside the University joined in hundreds and Satavahana students also came to the scene in big numbers. Not one of these RSS members was from the university and some of them have criminal cases on them. Continue reading
January 23, 2018
The suicide of the minor dalit girl in Kunduli of Koraput district in Odisha on 22 January is a moment of reckoning for everyone fighting against the heinous crime of violence against women. She had accused four security personnel of gang rape on October 10, 2017. Very typical of incidence of sexual violence where the accused happen to be police, army or security forces, this incident of sexual assault too went through the usual round of inordinate delays and denial of gang rape. The suicide of the young victim who was very keen to pursue her studies but was never able to get out of the raging controversy and heightened media publicity is a bitter reminder of the continued impunity of rapists in uniform, and of the brazen collusion of the state in denying justice to those who, like this young girl, refuse to remain silent.
Getting justice for survivors of sexual assault has always been uphill in this misogynist and patriarchal society. It becomes even tougher when the state machinery itself puts formidable barriers to protect the accused. In this case, the Odisha government and district administration did exactly that.
Let us have a look at the series of events that went against the complaint of the girl.
The DGP had listed the matter under the red-flag category and initial statements by the police even blamed the Maoists.
The demand for withdrawal of security forces by local organizations and the community involved went completely unheeded.
The denial of gang rape by the police and administration in the absence of a thorough enquiry and the long delays accompanied by constant media publicity deepened the distress and anxiety of the family and the community. One can only imagine what it can do to a young girl.
WSS expresses deep grief at the death of the girl and stands in solidarity with her friends, family and community. It is indeed the cruellest of times and the cruellest of societies where a 16-year old puts an end to the ordeal by using her own scarf to hang herself and end the fiasco of seeking justice. Even as we write this statement we cannot do away with the foremost thought on our minds – who is responsible for this suicide?
Ø WSS demands that the Odisha government follows the investigation to the end and punishes the guilty. We also demand stringent punishment be meted to all those responsible for delaying the investigation process.
Ø WSS demands that the Odisha government withdraws all security forces from the area. Women and girls are never safe in such areas. The deployment of security forces and army by no way implies de facto impunity to rape at will.
Ø WSS appeals to all democratic and progressive forces in Odisha and elsewhere to strengthen the struggle for a society free of sexual violence. Let’s work towards a society where those violated do not have to choose the noose in future but are able to live with dignity and with courage. Sexual violence is not only a women’s issue. The culpability of a patriarchal culture where sexual violence is the everyday norm involves entire society at large.
Ranjana Padhi, Pramodini Pradhan, Sudha Bhardwaj, Kalyani Menon,Shobha Raghavan,Rinchin, Madhuri Krishnaswamy and Manasi Pingle
For Women against Sexual Violence and State Repression
Women against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS) is a non funded grassroots effort started in November 2009, to put an end to the violence being perpetrated upon our bodies and societies. We are a nationwide network of women from diverse political and social movements comprising of women’s organizations, mass organizations, civil liberty organizations, student and youth organizations, mass movements and individuals. We unequivocally condemn state repression and sexual violence on our women and girls by any perpetrator(s).
Two teenaged adivasi girls from Bastar take on the state in their fight against extra-judicial killings. A Public Interest Litigation challenging the spate of encounters in Bijapur was filed last year before the Chhattisgarh High Court in Bilaspur by two young women from Korcholi with extra-ordinary grit and determination –Suneeta Pottam (19 years old).and Munni Pottam (18 years old). A national women’s organization, the WSS (wssnet.org) is the third petitioner in this case. Faced with a dozen affidavits of the villagers whose family members were killed, the High Court of Bilaspur held that the questions of extra judicial executions and government policies which are responsible for these are similar in spirit to the issues raised by the Salwa Judum petition (Nandini Sundar and Ors vs. State of Chhattisgarh), currently being heard by the Supreme Court. Following which, the young Petitioners filed a Transfer Petition in the Supreme Court last year seeking the transfer of their PIL to the Supreme Court. Suneeta and Munni Pottam are in Delhi to attend the hearing of their transfer petition on Wednesday, 10 January 2018.
At the press conference these young women spoke about these cases of encounters along with the details of the very recent physical and sexual assault of the the women of the villages where Suneeta and Munni live. They also spoke about the harrassment and threats that they have been receiving by the Bastar police (as recent as few weeks back) as result of filing this petition, who have threatened them that if they keep raising these issues which show the police in a bad light, they would be arrested for Naxalite offences and thrown into jail. Shaken but not defeated, these young women have come to Delhi to put their continuous harassment on record before the apex court at the coming hearing. Continue reading
The Chief Minister,
Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS), a nationwide network of women who oppose and resist state repression and sexual violence against women and girls, strongly condemns your government’s anti-people, anti-democratic actions in unleashing state terror against the struggling people of Bhangor.
Madam, your misuse of state power to crush a people’s movement is even more ironic, given that you came into power on the promise of a pro-people, democratic government. Instead, in the eight years of your rule, your government has grown ever more autocratic and anti-people. Continue reading
FIGHT AGAINST SYSTEMIC, STRUCTURAL SEXUAL HARASSMENT AND GENDERED VIOLENCE!
Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS) stands firmly with the survivors who have faced sexual harassment at the hands of the perpetrators on and off the list and, most importantly, extends solidarity in this moment of unravelling narratives, disjointed arguments and personal struggles of individuals voicing their experiences. The last few weeks have seen lists of sexual harassers in academia and civil society published and circulated on social media, statements issued by groups of persons and individuals reflecting on the lists, and questions raised on the ways of dealing with such lists, perpetrators of harassment, and the mechanisms in place to address it. Alongside the lists and statements, there has been a marked silence from some of the avenues that normally engage with sexual violence and harassment, both within and outside academia. While social media was abuzz with discussions and debates, now, once again, there is silence. As a collective standing against sexual violence and state repression, we recognise that institutional spaces can be fraught with sexual violence of varying kinds and, sometimes, despite systems and processes in place, the journey of seeking justice for each individual can be a long and lonely one.
As a collective standing against sexual violence and state repression, whose members have taken a variety of positions on this issue so far, we felt the need to reflect on our positions and come together to forge a collective common understanding. We have been doing that internally through a series of meetings for a year now focusing particularly on sexual harassment in groups and circles considered politically progressive. In the last few weeks there have been further discussions in the wake of the lists, and different responses to the list, including by WSS members themselves. Thus, despite the inordinate delay in issuing this statement, it is a product of an ongoing conversation amongst ourselves, a conversation we wish to broaden and take forward and this statement has been collectively produced in that spirit of feminist solidarity at a time when these revelations are slowly unfolding.
It is important to acknowledge the institutionalised nature of sexual violence and harassment that women have experienced in academic spaces among others. Sexism and blatant misogyny is visible not merely in academic arenas but also in activist circles, amongst writers, artists, journalists, lawyers, and several other professions. The more narratives we hear the more familiar it sounds and today we hear voices from marginalised castes and sexualities adding to the whispered narratives of harassment. This makes it essential to for us to build trust and unity among those marginalised by such violence. It is up to us, those facing various kinds of oppression, across caste, class, gender, religion, community, disability and sexuality to come together against all forms of oppression and exploitation. Our complicity by silence will only add to the impunity such perpetrators enjoy. This silence has been both passive, in the sense of remaining out of the debate as well as active wherein certain people wishing to speak out are being deliberately silenced. How far these silences are determined by the social, economic, political and cultural position is a matter that should concern all of us.
Meanwhile, some have raised the alarm bell of ‘fascism’ as a challenge more urgent and immediate than such ‘witch-hunting’ and ‘hit-lists’. It is true this is a moment of increasing repression. But that should not divert us from the internal critique and introspection required when asking why sexual harassment exists, persists and invisibilised in educational centres that some believe to be crucial for critical thinking and engagement. There has been a long history of struggle that has paved the way for some structures that exist today. The women’s movement, the queer movement, the movement for the annihilation of caste, for land rights, right to livelihood and several such struggles have taught us ways of resisting, raising our voice, and registering our dissent. It is important to note the contributions of all these movements in giving us a language of resistance. But, it is also important to note that while these struggles have helped build structures, both legal and community based, due process and existing institutional mechanisms have worked for some while they have failed many. In some cases, these legal or voluntary bodies have worked against the complainants themselves. The very fact that we have lists being circulated on social media points towards the frustrated efforts of thousands to speak out against those in positions of power who found every other door closed to them. This also shows our collective failure to build spaces of support and conversation. This, more than anything else, makes it amply clear that we need new ways of recognising harassment, new ways of fighting it, and new ways of healing.
The Saksham taskforce appointed in 2013 by the UGC to look into matters of gender sensitisation in higher education recommended in no uncertain terms that employers could not nominate appointees to ICCs. The report stated that that “ICCs… must not be directly nominated by the employer; rather, transparency and a principled basis for membership on the ICC should be arrived at after involving all sections of the HEI (Higher Education Institution) community.” Meanwhile, other central and state universities simply do not have any body that addresses such concerns. The data made available for 6 years 2011-16 through the All India Survey on Higher Education (AISHE) under the aegis of the Ministry of Human Resources Development (MHRD) is indicative of the skewed distribution of male-female ratio in the different fields of education. On the one hand, the gender gap in enrolment in higher education is decreasing with 40% women in 2000 to 46.2% in 2015-16. At another end, at the graduate levels, male enrolment remains higher. At the diploma level, this enrolment jumps from a marginal difference to 70%+ male enrolment. Meanwhile, certain courses like nursing see predominantly female students. In teacher training courses, 63% enrolled are women. A brief look at the ratio varying across different degrees reveals certain professional choices that are gendered. For instance, in B. Ed courses, 65.8% of those enrolled are women, 60% women are enrolled in MA/MSc, and 53% of women are enrolled in BA courses, while only 21.1% of women are enrolled in B. Tech with similar statistics for courses in law and management. Meanwhile, 41% of all PhD students enrolled are women.
While there are 78% colleges running in private sector, they cater to only 67% of the total enrolment. Overall, women constitute 46% of all enrolments in higher education. But a closer look at the social backgrounds reveals a skewed picture. Scheduled Castes are 13.9%, Scheduled Tribes are 4%, Other Backward Castes are 33.7% and, finally, the greatest disparity in terms of population percentage and enrolment is visible among Muslim women who are 4.6% of total enrolled. These percentages are all below the national average. There is no doubt that besides gendered discrimination, the caste and community backgrounds of women add to the burden of discrimination that women carry when they enter the university.
In sheer numbers, the non-teaching staff appears to be 2/3rds male and in some states, the women in non-teaching staff are 1/5th of the total employed. This disparity is visible even in the post-wise number of women employed as teachers, especially when compared with men, despite gradually increasing enrolment of women in higher education in the last five years. Women constitute 33% of the teachers and professors at the college and university level. The social background of those employed as teachers does not match the existing composition of social groups in society. This is clear as 65% of those employed are upper caste, 25.4% are Other Backward Castes, 7.5% are Scheduled Castes, 2.1% are Scheduled Tribes, and, finally, 3.3% are Muslims. This disparity visibly appears to grow with more men being offered promotions to the position of Professor, Reader and Associate Professors while women remain Lecturers, Assistant Professors or Tutors. This disparity across public and private institutions only appears to increase when taking caste and religion into account and cuts across science, management, engineering and humanities programmes. Thus, discrimination cuts across students, non-teaching staff and faculty. This government appraisal of the situation of higher education in the country based on quantified data reveals the power equations that function in a patriarchal society. These numbers speak of an institutional crisis where merit may be the basis revealed to us on paper but the numbers speak of discrimination on the basis of gender, caste, religion and even region.
Institutional spaces like universities are built hierarchies of power in the name of age, experience, professional standing, and, most visibly, social capital. Persons in such positions of power have abused their positions to harass not just their colleagues, students and researchers, but also non-teaching staff, and persons outside of such institutional frameworks. The language utilised is often couched in polite requests, gentle nudges, explicit demands, and defended with the language of sexual freedom. Anyone who objects is often described as conservative and shamed for not being open and accepting. We see this most clearly as a consequence of the publication of the lists. ‘Naming and shaming’, ‘witch-hunting’ or targeting the perpetrators has only found them support from amongst their kith and kin. None of those named or found guilty have faced the consequences of their actions. The shield that protects them remains intact while questions about the veracity of claims, the complainant’s intentions, and the backgrounds of those who have published lists have been scrutinised vigorously.
When we talk about sexual harassment, it is important to recognise that it stems from the space permitted to it by a deeply casteist, classist, communal, regressive, hetero-normative patriarchal society. It can appear in the form of gendered discrimination that is subtle and extend to blatant violence. The wide range of gendered harassment that the lists show tells us that there are forms of oppression as varied as the background of the oppressors. But this complexity should not stop us from exploring these intersections, exposing their internal power dynamics and find ways to transform spaces – personal and professional in our fight against patriarchy. We need to look at central and state universities, schools and organisations as well as private universities, schools and organisations. Careful attention also needs to be paid to different forms of sexual harassment in fields of education and research ranging from management, to science, and medicine as well, besides other professions, institutions and organisations.
The systemic nature of sexual harassment has deep-rooted effects on the life of those harassed. Meanwhile, it builds a sense of impunity for the perpetrators. We cannot allow these forms of oppression to be normalised as part of everyday sexism. Our complicity by silence will only add to the impunity such perpetrators enjoy. Sexual predation is a means of asserting power that is visible and palpable. We need to call it out for what it is in a society that repeatedly tries to invisibilise it. Women alone cannot be held responsible for their safety. In a society such as ours, women and marginalised communities find their access to even available due process inhibited by social scrutiny and prejudice. We will not stand by while women are accused of overreacting while the mental conditions of the perpetrators, named and unnamed, are being avidly discussed. Those who have suffered sexual harassment or violence need much more than mere acknowledgment. Though, this may just be a start, mental, legal care along with building safe spaces are crucial steps that require long-term engagement and commitment towards community care. This, if done with the spirit of camaraderie, can be the basis for further strength for women to fight violence. We need new ways of talking about sexual harassment, new ways of defining it, calling it out, exposing it, bringing the perpetrators to book and new ways of recovering from the violence it entails.
Today, let us recognise these fractures and needs of the time. Let us move towards a collective conversation instead of expressing our rage individually in personal spaces. Let us open up those personal spaces into spaces of safety, solidarity, unity and struggle. Let this moment not go without consequences in our larger struggle for gender justice. And let those consequences pave the way for building structures, networks, systems that bear in mind the pain and humiliation as well as the resilience of those fighting back by speaking out.
WSS reiterates its commitment to stand strongly by those who have dared to speak out and find ways of addressing these questions in the long run with the care and consideration it deserves. In the coming months, we hope to initiate and invite conversations across university and other spaces, understand forms of violence that have not yet come out in the open, and, finally, work towards a policy on how to deal with sexual harassment that incorporates structures of care that each of us need today.
Let us break the silence!
Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS)
WSS condemns the cold-blooded assassination of Gauri Lankesh and politically motivated killings
WSS is shocked by the cold-blooded assassination of senior journalist and human rights activist Gauri Lankesh. Unidentified gunmen drew up outside her house in Bengaluru almost immediately after she arrived around 8 pm on 5th September, and shot multiple bullets at her at point blank range and fled on motorbikes. She died almost instantaneously. We condemn this political assassination in the strongest possible words.
Gauri Lankesh had fought tirelessly in support of the rights of people from all oppressed sections of society, especially to maintain communal harmony, speak against caste-based violence and unite together all progressive forces. She was a fearless independent woman who never hesitated to question atrocities of any kind, including the sinister and powerful forces backing the perpetrators of these atrocities. Her work as an anti-communal and anti-caste crusader was relentless. She was one of the primary leaders of the anti communal struggle. She was a founding member of the Karnataka Komu Sauharda Vedike (Karnataka Communal Harmony Forum) and was also a member of the All India Forum for Right to Education. She had been a vocal supporter of anti-caste, feminist and student struggles and in forging unity across ideologies to confront fascist forces. Continue reading
WSS Statement in Support of the Women Survivors
in the Dera Sacha Sauda Case
We, the members of Women against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS), salute the courage of the two women complainants who stood up to sexual oppression and relentlessly continued their struggle for fifteen long years. That they stood up against the might of someone with millions of followers, money and political clout, and in the face of innumerable threats over the years, is nothing short of heroic. We hail the brave journalist Ramchandra Chhatrapati, who paid with his life for first publishing the anonymous letter written by one of the woman in his newspaper “Poora Sach”. We also applaud the activists of Jan Sangharsh Manch, Haryana, for standing quietly and firmly with the women complainants for all these years, despite facing physical and mental violence.
We welcome the CBI court’s decision to sentence the accused to 20 years’ rigorous imprisonment (10 years for each count of rape) and a fine of Rs. 30 lakh. It has also ordered for Dera property to be sold, if necessary, to pay for the damages caused by the rioting by the followers of the accused, over a judgement they were opposed to.
Sequence of events
In 2002, a ‘sadhvi’ serving in Dera Sacha Sauda, Sirsa (Haryana), wrote a letter anonymously addressed to the then Prime Minister of India, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, detailing the incidents of sexual violence meted out on the women by ‘Maharaj’, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh. These sadhvis who live like his bonded slaves owing to their families’ faith in him were, according to the letter, routinely sexually abused by him. Any voice raised against this abuse was met with coercion and threats of – or actual — violence on the women and their families.
In the given case, the girl was summoned, by Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh to his private chambers. He used several ploys to coerce her including threats of murder for refusing to have sex with him and of burial of her body with impunity (her family’s faith in him would go against her in every way). He also talked about his considerable influence with the government of Punjab and Haryana and Central Ministers. The Dera head then raped her. In the letter, she also detailed cases of other women who had been raped and, after having left the Dera, were pressured and threatened by his followers to not reveal their ‘internal’ matters to the outside world. Over the past 15 years, some of those helping the sadhvis were killed and the women were continuously harassed.
Taking suo motu cognisance of the letter, on September 24, 2002, the Punjab and Haryana High Court referred the matter to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for an inquiry. In this connection, 18 sadhvis were questioned, one of whom told investigators that the Dera chief and his followers were “very dangerous people”. Two of the women accused the Dera chief of rape. One of them said she had been raped in order that she may be “purified”.
Justice and its aftermath
The CBI filed a chargesheet in July 2007. On August 25, 2017, the special CBI court in Panchkula convicted Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh under Sections 376 (rape) and 506 (criminal intimidation) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
The rape conviction led to widespread rioting and rampant and open destruction of public and private property in Punjab and Haryana and parts of Delhi and UP by his followers. Reports indicate at least 35 people were killed in the ensuing violence and more than 200 were injured. However, in the majority of cases, it is unclear what the cause of death was and who the perpetrators were. The DIG has clarified that until the post-mortem is conducted, such information will remain unknown.
WSS does not believe that the state should deploy bullets to quell mass mobilisation (this also goes against international human rights Conventions) or file cases under the antiquated colonial sedition law. In this case, there were several measures the state could have taken leading up to the verdict that could have been more effective and ethical. The inability of the state and central government to control the building numbers of about one lakh followers of the Dera in public parks in Panchkula in the week prior to the verdict is reflective of the nexus of the “godman” and his henchmen with the state machinery. This, despite the police and the administration having been intimated at least one week in advance of the hearing, about the pile-up of petrol, diesel and assorted weapons by the Dera followers, and the impending violence that could be unleashed in case of a hearing that they would consider “unfavourable”. Why was no effective preventive action taken by the state government? Why did at least three Haryana ministers collectively donate Rs. 1.12 crore from their discretionary funds to the Dera chief since August 2016? What measures are going to be taken against those who actively encouraged the impunity of the sexual exploitation that went on within the Dera?
We stand with the women survivors who put the court process in motion and applaud their courage in face of violence and intimidation. We recognise faith-based collectives centred around a person considered ‘divine’ as spaces of control, coercion and violence on women’s bodies. The case also brings to the fore the absence of autonomy and voices that many of these women — despite being educated — lack in their natal and matrimonial homes, where the family will sometimes abet sexual violence. We also recognise that faith-based collectives provide a system of impunity that sexual and financial predators such as Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh take advantage of, by feeding off the oppression of a largely dalit bahujan following. We condemn the way such predators hollow out the rhetoric of an anti-caste collective mobilisation and deploy their followers towards a goal of impunity. We denounce the fact that, through their open support of the Dera chief, elected state representatives of several political parties have furthered the twisted links between caste, religion, patriarchy and the state, and have turned a blind eye to the violence and sexual exploitation that went on within its walls. We understand this exploitation may not be happening only at the Dera Sacha Sauda, but may be more widespread than has been acknowledged. The rape conviction of Asaram (again set in motion by a young victim in her teens) is yet another a case in point.
In the face of this political chicanery, it is encouraging to see that the courts have condemned the non-action of the governments in Punjab and Haryana and the centre and that the sentencing of Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh to 10 years for each rape case and monetary compensation for each of the women survivors proceeded as per law without further violence.
That the Dera Sacha Sauda be shut down and all the people — especially women and children — still staying inside, be evacuated as soon as possible and be amply compensated.
An independent investigation to probe allegations of sexual assault on other women residents of the Dera.
Speedy closure and justice to the complainants who registered other cases against the Dera chief, including murder and forced castration of male followers.
An inquiry into the role of the state and central ministers who openly showed their support to the Dera chief accused of rape, among other crimes.