AMIT SINGH | 29 JANUARY, 2017
Does India Care To Protect Her Tribal Women?
There is no outrage. No candlelight protest. Not even the slightest condemnation by the political leadership in the wake of National Human Rights Commission’s (NHRC) report on the rape of sixteen dalits women rape in Bastar district of Chattishgarh.
In its report on January 7, 2017, the National Human Rights Commission has found 16 women, prima facie victims of rape, sexual and physical assault by the State police personnel in Chhattisgarh.
The Commission has observed that prima-facie, human rights of the victims have been grossly violated by the security personnel of Chhattisgarh for which the State Government is vicariously liable. It has issued a notice to the state government, to pay monetary compensation of Rs. 37 lakh to the victims.
It is interesting to note that the NHRC has only limited capacity to implement its order as it can only ‘recommend’ government and lacks legally binding power.
In unofficial reports prepared by NGOs more testimonies of rape and cruel behaviour towards tribal women are emerging. Many women from Chinnagellur, Pedagellur, Gundam, Burgicheru and other villages have recorded their testimonies against the security forces.
A victim is reported to have told the district collector that the sexual violence did not stop at rape. Several women had been beaten on their thighs and buttocks, they alleged. Their lower clothing had been lifted, their blouses torn, and they had been threatened with further sexual violence – the security personnel said they would push chillies up their vaginas. At least two women who were breast feeding had their breasts pinched and squeezed for milk to prove they had breastfeeding infants. These events were occurred over the five days between October 19-24, as reported by one witness..
This case has not drawn the same outrage as did the rape of the Delhi girl Jyoti Singh. Apart from sporadic reports in the media, the mainstream media skipped this incident as this type of news does not sell and no middle class interest is involved. Similar to the media, most Indian intellectuals maintained stoic silence over these issues as if nothing had happened (except few NGOs and academics who jeopardize their lives to document such cases in Naxal areas).
As for the political leadership- these grave issues (frequent rape of tribal women) matter less. There is no condemnation. No demand to punish the culprits. In addition, human rights activists working to highlight these issues were harassed and intimidated by the police. In fact, there is a long history of the police taking vindictive action against those in Bastar who have been raising issues of human rights violations.
At the core of the rape of tribal women is a prevalent culture of impunity-particularly prevalent among the security forces. In most cases, no action is taken against these uniformed perpetrators of heinous crime. Cases of atrocities and sexual assaultt by the security forces have gone unrecorded and unpunished in the last decade in Bastar, as Bela Bhatia, a well known human rights activist now threatened by mobs herself, reported.
The tribals do not have find it easy to file FIRs, being unaware of their rights. A hostile police system discourages the victims to file a case, and pursue these in the overcrowded courts. Tribal areas are isolated and do not have access to modern communication; neither they are skilled to assert their rights, not they do they know how to fight for justice. Almost with no education and less economic resources, tribal victims are left to suffer in silence.
India has the second largest tribal concentration in the world. In India, Scheduled Tribes are spread across the country mainly in forest and hilly regions. They are treated as low castes, despised and made untouchable by the prevailing adherence to manmade social norms and a still rigid caste system. Needless to say, such barbaric incidence of rape will isolate the tribal population which is already living on the margins of Indian society and further, boost the Naxalite movement which at promise sjustice through violence. Justice through strong action by the state against the rapists is imperative.