Sexual Violence and Police Impunity in Gadchiroli District
Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS)
The impunity with which police forces have been operating in south Gadchiroli has become a matter of grave concern. The mountain of Surjagad which has been leased to Lloyd’s Chemicals for mining will destroy the mountain which has religious and cultural significance to the highly marginalised Madia Gonds residing in the area. who have opposed the lease. Police repression on the tribals has been intensifying, with random picking up, illegal detention and inhuman beatings of tribals, Things really however, took an extremely murky turn on January 20th, 2017 when two tribal women of Gonwara Village of Bande Block of Chhattisgarh were picked up by C-60, Maharashtra police personnel near Todgatta village while they were on their way to Gadchiroli district.
After active protest from the villagers these women were released. Subsequently, they complained about sexual assault and sought legal intervention.
It is only relevant here to note that the police, without any concern for constitutional rights prescribed under Art. 19(1)(g) and due process, barged into the office of Advocate Nihalsingh Rathod in plainclothes and abducted the women and their companions, when they approached the lawyer demanding a medical check-up in order to corroborate their allegation of rape by the police personnel. The police, the next day, produced the women for a medical test, which was again a highly fortified process. No relative or villager was allowed entry into the hospital which was manned by heavy police personnel and the report clearly indicates that the women were not checked for signs of sexual assault and rape; only a blood test was conducted in the name of a medico-legal exam. The medical officer did not conduct an exhaustive medical test, while preparing the Medico-Legal Report on January 22nd, 2017, which in effect destroyed potentially valuable evidence in this case. These two women were captured by male police personnel and their whereabouts were undisclosed.
To compound the injustice, the Nagpur High Court, on January 31st 2017 dismissed the habeas corpus writ petition on the grounds that the women had testified that they were not subjected to sexual assault. The court refused to take cognisance of the increasing police pressure on the women to testify in favour of the police by arresting activists such as Sainu Gota, Mangesh Huile and Ramdas Jarate, and the relatives of the women. The villagers and family members of the two women have been receiving threats from the police pressurising them to withdraw their statement.
The police personnel have been let off scot-free by the Nagpur High Court, without any form of explanation being provided for the cause of this wrongful detention of the women not once but twice. Simultaneously the police is actively persecuting all those who have stood by the women and their relatives. An FIR on 100 other persons has been filed in this case and on 40 people on another case related to this incident. We demand that those who have been wrongfully arrested be released and false cases against them and many others be withdrawn. We also demand that the police adequately furnish explanation having picked up these women in the first place, where they were kept, how many women police officers were present during that time. Furthermore, we demand that the police provide logical explanation to prove that the abduction of these women from the chamber of their lawyers is legal and constitutional and furnish adequate proof to substantiate their barricading and patrolling of the hospital while conducting the Medico-Legal Exam. We also demand that the Medico-Legal Officer explain why only a blood test was carried out. We demand to know where the police kept these women before producing them in he High Court.
We strongly stress that it is the duty of the police, the medico-legal examiner and the judiciary to ensure that a proper procedure, as has been laid down in the Criminal Procedure Code and the Evidence Act, is adhered to, and bring the notice of the judiciary, in this case, the Nagpur High Court to the prima facie aberrations and violations in following due process in this particular case and demand that the aberrations be accounted for.
The repercussions of the impunity enjoyed by the police as demonstrated in this case, the tribals in Gadchiroli have been rendered highly vulnerable to the atrocities of a police administration to repress the tribal struggle for preservation of a heavily forested mountain that houses their deities, ‘Thakur Dev’, Marai Sedo and Bhimal Pen considered to be an integral part of their social, cultural and religion ethos.