Dantewada cries! - Day 1 in the War Zone
When a daughter of the nation has her dignity stripped by the country’s vigilante militia, which doors are left to be knocked upon, to get justice? The country currently is debating over a case of “justice delayed is equivalent to justice denied”, thanks to the numerous TV channels. But four women in Chhattisgarh have not only been stripped of their dignity, but have been ordered to keep mum in order to have their heads firmly on their shoulders.
Four girls, who were raped two years ago, were recently beaten up by the same SPOs (special police officers) who had raped them. The SPOs had forced the girls to put their thumb impressions on blank papers, and left the village wondering, “Why do these men wear the khaki and deride the respect associated with it?”
Himanshu Kumar of Vanvasi Chetna Ashram (VCA) had spread the word about this forcible signing of papers, through SMS, to the higher rungs in the democratic set-up of the country, as well as to those who would have a sensitive yet strong heart, enough to give them a restless sleep as they would ponder over the heinous atrocities.
It was later learnt that immediately after the day the SMS was sent, the girls were picked up again by the SPOs, were kept in captivity at Dornapal police thana for five days, and were let off yesterday – December 24. Satyen K. Bordoloi and I, who reached Dantewada this morning (December 25), went along with Himanshuji to meet the girls, bring them with us and give them the moral strength that they needed abundantly to fortify themselves for the long judicial battle ahead. We drove to their village Samsetti in Sukma block of the same district, which is about 100 kms south of Dantewada. I was personally sure that we would bring home the girls and understand what it was like to be abused and bruised over and over again, so that I could best transcribe their feelings into words, for others to read and feel their pain. Alas….!
Himanshuji couldn’t accompany us till the village since we had an entourage of seven constables following us (this has been the way Himanshuji has been traveling since December 14, when the state declared that his life was in danger and hence he deserved 24x7 protection). Himanshuji did not want his “protectors” to see the residences of these victims, and hence he got off the car about 2 kms before we could reach Samsetti, and said that he would relax under the shade of a large tree. He sometimes feigns about relaxing, because we know it too well that the ambience is far from that state of mind.
As we approached Samsetti, we were shocked to see young men in fatigues, carrying guns, walking past our car, and of course, looking back at us. They were definitely the SPOs of Salwa Judum – only SPOs wear uniforms; state police personnel do not. Easily, there were more than 100 of them. As the last one walked past us, we too reached a junction and alighted from the car. We knew that getting the girls wouldn’t be easy. Just at that moment, some young men from the village, who managed to camouflage their fear, told us that the SPOs had picked up five men from the nearby villages that morning – Madkam Kesa and Madkam Beeda from Paria village; Vanjam Sula, Vanjam Hunga and Vanjam Suka from Bagriguda village. They were sitting idle at home when the SPOs came to them and said that they needed to be spoken to. It was evident that they were taken away for no small talk, and other villagers who had been similarly called for a conversation by SPOs, were still languishing in the jail, since a year!
We continued our wait for the women, until we came across a young man. His wife was one of the women who were raped and we told him that we needed to take her to the Sessions Court so that she could talk herself about the heinous crimes that she as repeatedly subjected to. He was reluctant; he said that it was essential that the village as a commune should decide what the girls should do. Himanshuji requested him to get his wife, and so we set out to search for her, while all along he alleged that she was busy at the site where a pond was being dug as part of NREGA. We walked to that site, but were told that she had left for her home. We were sure that she was only being shielded; no person with NREGA work could actually be allowed to leave work midway. We walked to the village again to get the other girls, but we were told that the girls were away at work. By now we knew that the girls were only being shielded from us. The fact that Himanshuji was not with us also worked against us in trying to persuade the villagers to take the girls along with us.
We finally managed to reach the residence of one of the victims, Rupa (name changed). A religious festivity was underway in the compound and all the men and women and children were gathered. After much persuasion, Rupa came out from the mud and bamboo house and sat next to us. A volunteer with VCA tried to learn what had happened after her thumb impression was taken. Rupa began to speak slowly; the terror inflicted upon her several times had done that to the smiling girl. She said, “The cops came to our house at 4am and asked me to go with them. I told them that I needed to change my saree, but they rebuked me stating that I was acting pricey. I was forced to go with them; they took us to the Dornapal police thana where they beat all four of us girls. We were threatened that if we continued to fight the case, we would be beheaded. I was the only one who said that I did not care if they did so. But my little anger and show of strength did no good. They kept us there for five days and finally brought us back to the village only yesterday.” When the VCA volunteer asked her to come along with us, she refused, stating that it was the festivity that had kept her occupied. Clearly, the cops’ five-day “treatment” had proven to be successful – the girl was scared to do anything that could be done to fight for her own case.
Rupa knows not what to do; knows not where to scream; knows not whether she should fight at all
Much persuasion with the men around yielded no results. We told them that few of us would stay back till Rupa could go, along with another villager, to at least meet Himanshuji, so that he could have a chat with her. But no amount of cajoling helped. Rupa was also pressurised by the villagers as the SPOs had also threatened the entire village many a times before. Finally, we went back to Himanshuji and reported our failure to him. He decided that his words could perhaps be useful. We went back to Samsetti, and not surprisingly, Rupa was nowhere to be seen. By the time, a village senior had begun to beat the drums for the festivities to begin, but Himanshuji silenced them with his strong words in Gondi. What transcribed to me were strong motivational words, egging the villagers to stand up for themselves, lest more forces sent in would only end up in more rapes and beheading of the men. He had managed to get a few young boys to go and get the four women from wherever they were, but the village seniors, who seemed to have resigned to their fate and hence found Himanshuji’s half-hour talk too distant to their lives, decided to get back to their festivity. The women marched to the small mandap that was erected while the drums began to beat again.
Himanshuji did not stop with the louder reverberations of the drums. He continued to egg the young men to go and get the women from wherever they were hiding, but they were scared to do so. Evidently, they knew that their head would be the next to be sliced off, and hence they chose to remain indifferent.
Himanshuji gave them his contact number, and one vocal senior villager said that a meeting would be called for later in the evening along with the sarpanch (who is incidentally also a Salwa Judum member, so of course no positive help would be forthcoming) and only then would a decision be taken.
We returned to Dantewada late in the evening, dejected. As Himanshuji rightly said, “Everyone wants a Bhagat Singh, but only in their neighbour’s house.” The Central government wants to battle Naxalism in full form, and this they do so by raping young girls. Meanwhile, the country yet again celebrated the birth of the man who came to the world to salvage you and me and everyone, from our sins.
Also see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HFuczIZGg2E