#Delhigangrape- Many more Nirbhayas #Vaw #Riots #impunity

Sexual violence against women has been a feature of many riots and conflicts but a culture of impunity prevails


It was in the August of 2008 that a Catholic nun from the Divyajyoti Pastoral Centre in the Kandhamal district of Orissa was allegedly raped and sexually assaulted by multiple perpetrators before being stripped and paraded. “She was forcibly made to walk in the market by a mob, which jeered at her, made lewd remarks such as “hi, beautiful” and commented on the size of her breasts,” states a report prepared by the National People’s Tribunal on Kandhamal in 2010.
The incident occurred in the midst of communal violence and has now been forgotten like many others. Nearly five years later, the nun’s only hope for justice lies in a sessions court in Cuttack where the case has been transferred.
At a time when citizens across India have been demanding better safety measures for women in the wake of the brutal gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old in Delhi, it is essential to spare a thought for women who have been targeted in the course of communal clashes or braved abuse in areas under conflict.
It is the quality of empathy that makes us strive for justice in instances like the Delhi gang rape, observes social activist Harsh Mander borrowing the rationale from development economist Amartya Sen’s Idea of Justice. “But it is also worrying because there are limits to our justice,” he points out, adding that we need to make our empathy and strivings for justice more universal.
Like him, many believe gender crimes committed during communal violence deserve attention all the more because they are perpetrated in an environment of complete impunity. Justice for such forgotten survivors was the demand of a host of public meetings recently organised under the aegis of the ‘Bombay ki kahani, Mumbai ki Zubani’ campaign commemorating 20 years of the Hindu-Muslim riots in the financial capital. Several delegations to the Justice J S Verma committee (studying amendments to the criminal law) have also suggested that sexual violence during mass crimes be regarded as aggravated abuse attracting more severe punishment.
After all, the case of the 29-year-old Orissa nun is no aberration. Women have been raped, violated and abused throughout India’s history of communal conflict be it the Sikh riots of 1984, the 1992-93 Bombay riots or the more recent Gujarat carnage (2002).
The report of the Srikrishna commission which probed the Bombay riots mentions a gruesome incident in Devipada, Kasturba marg where a Hindu mob surrounded, stripped and assaulted two Muslim women. The younger of the two was subsequently burnt alive. “Though the miscreants were arrested and tried by the Sessions Court at Bombay…they were all acquitted on the ground that the panchnamas were defective and that the eye-witnesses were not produced,” states the commission report hinting at impunity typical to such gender crimes. In another instance, the commission says the official explanation about the police firing that killed two Muslim women, Noorjehan and Zarina, in their homes was “hardly believable”.
Court judgments on the Gujarat riots document similar gender-based violence. Teesta Setalvad of NGO Sabrang cites a judgment in the Naroda Patiya trial which observed that gang rapes and rapes took place and says the judge criticised the Supreme-court appointed SIT for failing to make any attempt to investigate the perpetrators of these offences. “During periods of heightened violence, women become a specific target as a symbol of a community’s honour,” observes Setalvad.
The United Nations has acknowledged the accentuated risk of sexual violence in conflict. It floated a separate agency, the UN Action Against Sexual Violence in Conflict, in 2007 to ensure that such crimes don’t go unpunished.
It also underlined the need to create a
knowledge hub about the scale of such sexual violence in conflict, a mandate that needs implementation in India. “One gets the feeling that while riots are written about, sexual violence is not documented,” says Hasina Khan of the Forum Against Oppression of Women recounting how there was no paperwork to explain what happened to a teenaged girl who went missing from Pratiksha Nagar during the Bombay riots.
Saumya Uma, trustee of the Women’s Research Action Group, echoes her concerns. She is part of a group which is trying to track down and record the experience of women during the anti-Christian Orissa rampage. “We found from various sources that almost 39 women had faced some form of sexual violence, but only two to three cases were registered. What happened to the others?” questions Uma. She added that even the people’s tribunal had observed a large scale invisibility and silence regarding “documenting, reporting, investigating, charging and prosecuting cases” of sexual violence.
Justice for riot survivors is an arduous task because of the state’s complicity and shoddy investigations. “Many of us assume it is the failure of justice, but it is the systematic subversion of justice. It is systematically ensured that FIRs don’t mention the name of the accused but say anonymous mob,” points out Mander.
Vrinda Grover, a Delhi-based lawyer, says conflict areas are equally problematic. “While there may be silence and erasure in mass violence, we are dealing with actual denial of sexual violence happening in the state of Kashmir and northeast,” she notes. “Many NGOs talk of patriarchy in homes. But no one talks of patriarchy of the state,” she says.
A case in point is the tribal teacher Soni Sori in Chhattisgarh who was arrested on charges of playing courier between Maoist groups and a corporate. Sori has written heart-wrenching accounts of sexual abuse at the hands of police officials. “On the night of Saturday, 8.10.2011 in the new police station in Dantewada…I was tortured… After repeatedly giving me electric shocks, my clothes were taken off. I was made to stand naked….three boys started molesting me and I fell after they pushed me. Then they put things inside my body in a brutal manner. I couldn’t bear the pain, I was almost unconscious,” she wrote in an open letter to the Supreme Court.
What is now needed is a host of measures to crack this visage of impunity. This is essential as riots aren’t unfortunately a thing of past. The year 2012 was marked with communal clashes in Assam, pockets of Uttar Pradesh, Pachora in Maharashtra and Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh.

SILENT ZONE: In conflict areas like the northeast and the Kashmir Valley, the state actually denies sexual violence


Fact Finding-Killing of civilians at Bhaliaguda in Odisha

23-11-2012, Press Release


Following media reports of an encounter between the police and Maoists in Gajapathi district of Odisha on November 14 leading to the death of 5 Maoists, a team of the Human Rights Forum (HRF) enquired into the matter.

The team, consisting of HRF general secretary VS Krishna and writer and social activist Deba Ranjan Sarangi visited the villages of four of the deceased on November 21 and spoke with their relatives and the local people.  The names of those killed in the firing by the police are: (1) Aiba Padra (35) of Bujuli village in Gadhapur panchayat. (II) Shyamson Majhi (50) of Bhingiriguda in Saramuli panchayat. (III) Ghasiram Bagsingh (33) of Mardhipanka village, Saramuli panchayat and Sanathan Mallick (27) of Gaheju village in Hatimunda panchayat. All four villages are located in Daringabadi block of Kandhamal district and fall in the jurisdiction of the Brahmanigaon police station. For reasons of time we could not visit the village of the 5th deceased Laxmi Kanta Nayak which is Lujuramunda in Bahadasahi panchayat of block Bastingia in the limits of Tikabali police station. However, we spoke with his relatives and wife Basanthi over the phone.

On the basis of our enquiries we state emphatically that all five of the deceased are not armed Maoist cadre but civilians. They did not die in an encounter but were murdered by the police. The version of the police that a combing party of the Special Operations Group and District Voluntary Force were fired upon on the forenoon of November 14 by Maoists in the Bhaliaguda forest area of Gobindapur panchayat (on the Gajapati-Ganjam border) in the jurisdiction of the Mohana police station following which they returned the fire in self-defence resulting in the death of 5 Maoists is nothing but a blatant falsehood.

All five killed were civilians and unarmed. They were farmers who were leading completely over-ground lives. While three of them, Aiba Padra, Shyamson Majhi and Sanatan Mallick were adivasis of the Kondh tribe, Ghasiram Bagsingh and Laxmi Kanta Nayak were Scheduled Castes belonging to the Pano community. Interestingly, three of them, Ghasiram Bhagsingh, Shyamson Majhi and Aiba Padra were also social activists.

Aiba Padra of Bujuli (located at about 2 km up a mountain) had some land on which he raised ginger and turmeric. His wife Ranjita is an anganwadi worker in the village and they have a 6 year old son who studies at the Good Shepherd School in Brahmanigaon. Aiba was employed with an NGO Orissa Health and Medical Research Institute for which he was filling in details of the government’s socio-economic and caste census. He was, according to residents of the village, quite concerned about the development of the area and took an active part in persuading his maternal uncle Lukosuna Majhi, a BJD functionary and that party’s contestant for the 2009 Assembly polls from G Udayagiri, to get a road laid to Bujuli. According to Ranjita, Aiba was driving her and their son on his motorbike from Brahmanigaon on November 12 when he said that there was some work he had to attend on and would be back the next day. He dropped them off enroute Bujuli and that was the last she saw him alive. She heard the news of his death from some residents of the village who had gone to Brahmanigaon to collect their pension.

Shyamson Majhi of Bhingiriguda was a much respected man. He was president, since 2004, of a local committee formed by the people and was quite active in issues like exposing panchayat raj corruption and laying of roads to remote villages. He had unsuccessfully contested for the Saramuli sarpanch’s post in 2006. He, along with several other activists, had met the Revenue Divisional Commissioner of southern region at Berhampur recently seeking electricity for his and other villages. Shyamson was also trying to get an NGO in the area to facilitate a potable drinking water scheme for Bhingiriguda.

Along with Ghasiram Bagsingh, (one of the others killed in the bogus encounter) Shyamson took active part in the anti-corruption movement in the panchayat that focused upon, among other things, the siphoning of rice meant for relief for the 2008 Khandamal riot-hit. The Saramuli sarpanch Kamala Patmajhi and her husband Karma Patmajhi and their associates were responsible for diverting a substantial part of the rice and were thus profiting. Because of the sustained movement this year against them, the sarpanch was arrested and remanded to judicial custody for about 2 weeks.

On November 13, Shyamson asked his brother Judhistir, a government teacher, for his motorcycle saying he had to go to Daringabadi to seek legal help for 11 of their associates who were being implicated in a false case by Karma Patmajhi and their associates. That was the last his wife Sikko Alu Majhi saw him. The couple have two sons, one of who is mentally challenged. They learnt of Shyamson’s death on the 15th of November from relatives.

Ghasiram Bagsingh (33) of Mardhipanka was by all accounts an exceptionally dynamic activist. He was elected panchayat samiti member in the 2006 polls and was quite well known in the area. Apart from some farming, he also did small construction contracts. He was the leader of the anti-corruption crusade in the panchayat that resulted in the sarpanch getting arrested. He, along with people like Shyamson Majhi took out an impressive rally at Daringabadi on October 12 seeking action against not just the sarpanch but all those who were involved in the rice misappropriation and other illegalities. Videos of this rally are available with shots of the Block Development Officer and tehsildar also who the agitationists petitioned on the occasion. Ghasiram was driving the bike with Shyamson pillion riding on November 13th when they left for Daringabadi. This is the last seen of both of them alive.

Ghasiram was the virtual head of the family after his father passed away in 1998. He took care of his 5 sisters and a brother. Ghasiram’s wife Laxmi is left with four children, two boys and two girls. His entire family and village residents are devastated.

Sanatan Mallick (28) of Gaheju was a farmer who raised ginger and paddy. He was also a pastor his village church. He and his wife Mamita, an anganwadi helper, also ran a small kirana shop in the village. They have two daughters. According to the village residents, he was a good man and of a helpful nature. He would often speak in terms of doing the right thing. The last time Mamita saw him alive was on November 13th when he left home in the morning saying he would return the next day.

While we could not visit Lujuramunda, the native village of Laxmi Kanta Nayak (38), we could gather some information over the phone. He and Basanti, his wife, have 2 daughters and a son. Nayak was a marginal farmer and wage labourer as well. He had left the village along with his cousin Junes Digal on November 13 for Daringabadi. They went to invite Digal’s uncle for a domestic function related to the recent birth of Digal’s second daughter. They even called up a relative Amit saying that they had finished inviting the uncle and would be back in the village. When they failed to return on the 14th, their relatives made enquiries in Daringabadi but to no avail. They learnt the next day that Nayak was no more.

In fact, we were told by several people that Junes Digal survived the firing by the police after which he was taken into their custody. The police kept him confined in illegal custody for almost a week and acknowledged his arrest only on November 20. Two more persons Samsan Mallick(25) of Dahugram and Arun Sunamajhi (22) of Goudugram, coming under Bahmanigaon police station, were produced before the court by the police on 22nd November after family members of both moved habeas corpus in Odisha High Court. They had gone missing after the Bhaliaguda encounter.

The insensitivity of the administration is evident in the fact that not a single one of the families was even informed about the deaths. It was only friends or relatives that gave them the news and they all rushed to the MKCG at Berhampur to pick up the bodies.

We reiterate that the five deceased are unarmed civilians and not underground functionaries of the Maoists as is being made out by the police. This fact can easily be verified from a visit to their villages. None of the 5 had any cases registered against them and they were all leading law-abiding lives.

There was no exchange of fire on the forenoon of November 14 but only unilateral firing by the police. The police, as is their wont, continue to assert that these 5 were armed Maoists who fired upon them thereby necessitating return fire in self-defence resulting in the deaths. This is a standard concoction of the police to explain away extra-judicial killings. After registering a case under section 307 of the IPC (relating to attempt to murder) against the deceased, the police seek to close the case. To allow this to happen would be plain mockery of the law.

A mandatory magisterial enquiry will no doubt be done by the administration but that is no substitute for criminal prosecution of those who perpetrated these killings. The law and the Constitution of India will not have it any other way. We demand that:

1.     The police officers/personnel who participated in the Bhaliaguda killings of November 14, 2012 must be charged under Section 302 of IPC relating to murder as well as other relevant provisions of the penal code and prosecuted.

2.     The investigation in the case must be done by the CBI or a criminal investigation team under the aegis of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).

3.     Compensation of not less than Rs 10 lakh must be handed over without delay to the family members of all five killed.

4.     The government must seriously implement protective legislation for adivasis and other traditional forest dwellers in the 5thSchedule areas of the State.

5.     The State and Central governments must desist from treating the Maoist movement as an outbreak of mere criminality. They must acknowledge that the movement has roots in material deprivation, un-freedom and social oppression. The ongoing policy of brutal suppression must be stopped and that movement addressed politically.


VS Krishna                                                                            Deba Ranjan Sarangi

(General Secretary, HRF)                                              (Writer and Social Activist)


Maoists sought release mostly of tribal activists

BHUBANESWAR, April 13, 2012

Prafulla Das

It may sound strange, but it is true. Of the 27 persons whose release the Naveen Patnaik government assured Maoists for securing freedom for the abducted Italian Bosusco Paolo (since freed) and Biju Janata Dal legislator Jhina Hikaka, 24 are tribals and they reportedly have nothing to do with Naxals operating in their region in Orissa.

Of the remaining three, only two are Maoists, according to Dandapani Mohanty, convener of the Jan Adhikar Manch, who acted as interlocutor for talks with the government. The two Maoists are Murla Neelam Reddy and Setu Pangi, both hailing from neighbouring Andhra Pradesh. The other person, Subhashree Das, is the wife of Sabyasachi Panda, secretary of the Odisha State Organising Committee of the Communist Party of India(Maoist), which had kidnapped Mr. Paolo from Kandhamal district on March 14.

26 persons yet to be released

Ms. Das was released from jail after a fast track court at Gunupur in Koraput district acquitted her on Tuesday. The remaining 26 persons were not released till Thursday.

Land rights activists

Mr. Mohanty told The Hindu that the 24 tribals, whose release was demanded by the two different groups of Maoists who had kidnapped Mr. Paolo and Mr. Hikaka, were activists of the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangha (CMAS), a local outfit fighting for land rights for tribals for nearly two decades.

He said the cases against these activists pertained to an attack on the Narayanpatna police station in Koraput district, taking over possession of their land that had been in the custody of non-tribal families for long, and a quarrel between the two CMAS factions. Eighty-nine other CMAS activists, who faced similar cases, were already acquitted by different courts, Mr. Mohanty claimed. But many were still facing trial.

Common demand

As for the fresh demand by the Andhra Odisha Border Special Zonal Committee of the CPI(Maoist) — which had abducted Mr. Hikaka from Koraput district on March 24 — for release of five more persons, Mr. Mohanty said only one of them, Ghasi, was a Maoist. The other four were social activist and CMAS advisor Gananath Patra and three activists of the tribal outfit that was fighting for land rights for tribal people as well as opposing liquor trade in their region.

Interestingly, both groups of Maoists had demanded the release of Mr. Patra, who was acquitted by a court in Koraput district during the day in a case of atrocities on Scheduled Caste people, for want of evidence. In the recent past, he was acquitted in an abduction case. But two more cases are still pending against him.


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