Violence against Madhya Pradesh tribe labeled as criminal: Police came to steal, women got raped

dharA fact-finding team consisting of eight women rights activists under the auspices of Madhya Pradesh Mahila Mandal went to Dhar district’s Holibiya and Bhutiya villages in February 2017 to investigate incidence of rape after receiving complaint from the local people. The team consisted of Ram Kuwar (Prithampur), Kirma (Prithampur), Preeti (Indore), Gopika Bashi (Bangalore), Shivani Taneja (Bhopal), Anu Arvind (Dewas), Madhu Dhurve (Bhopal) and Shivani Bajpai (Indore). We reproduce a slightly abridged version of the report prepared by the team:

Dhar is a district in the Malwa region in the western part of Madhya Pradesh. With over 12.2 lakhs tribal population as per 2011 census, it is the district with the highest adivasi population in the state. Of this, Bhils (including Bhilala, Barelas and Patelias) constitute over 98%. There are 8 tehsils in Dhar, of which Sardarpur, Dhar, Kukshi, Dharampuri, Gandhwani and Manawartahsil are recognized as Scheduled Areas.

Villages reporting the incident of sexual assault and loot by police forces are Holibayda and Bhutiya. They fall in Holibayda Gram Panchayat which covers three villages – Holibayda, Bhutiya and Indla. While the first two villages are 100 percent Bhil, Indla has a Bhilala population. The team saw electricity poles in Bhutiya, but electric cables have not yet been laid and electricity still remains awaited in this village which is otherwise quite on the main road. Holibayda is further on the kutchcha route and nallahs have to be crossed to access areas. Bhutiya has six hamlets, and Holibayda has four hamlets. As commonly found among Bhils, the village is widely spread out with a spattering of houses between fields.

Livelihood

The village depends on agricultural produce for survival and many also migrate as agricultural labour. They take out two or three crops. Soyabean is cultivated for the market. But corn, wheat and tuardaal are for personal consumption. Majority of the families have one or two family members migrating to Gujarat for various kinds of work. It is only those who have a lot of irrigated land or where there is a single man in the house or small children that stay back at the village.

As a young man who had come home for Holi said, “There is nothing to do here.” Another middle-aged lady said, “We have to survive anyhow. If you are born, you have to survive. We do all that we can to feed our children and our stomachs.” In Gujarat, they work in fields, spinning mills and some have got small jobs as drivers. Many work as agricultural labour in the peanut fields. They go for long periods stretching into months.

schoolEducation

The villagers of Bhutiya boast of a primary school till class 5 but the teacher is not regular. Holibayda has two dilapidated building structures for a one room school structure. While the older structure has been long abandoned, even the recently constructed structure for the school is not used as the guest teacher doesn’t come for weeks and remains locked. It was clear on a Thursday morning that all the children, girls and boys of varying ages, were helping their mothers in the field or had taken the cattle for grazing.

The two villages have one graduate who is the Sarpanch. There are a handful of boys who have studied till 8th – 10th. The education of children has been possible only by living in hostels. The community was clear that if a teacher would come and teach, our children would study. Some parents have sent their kids to school in their maternal villages if there is a functional school there. Others have taken their kids with them to Gujarat and enrolled children there in schools.

Description of the incident of January 25, 2017

In the early hours of January 25, the villagers described to the team that a large number of police clamped down on the village from all sides. The villagers informed that many police motorcycles as well as a pick-up van came into the hamlets from different sides. There would be more than 30 vehicles that would have landed into the area. The specific hamlets of Peeparpara, Patelpara and Schoolpara of Bhutiya village, and Chauhanpura and Mehendiphaliya of Holibayda have suffered the maximum losses.

The police fired in the air and opened up tear-gas. While in a way they allowed the men to run away, the women were left to defend the houses and their goods. As the police approached near the houses, they also fired into ground, where women and children were standing. Many women also abandoned their houses and ran for their lives, but for those with children and small infants it was difficult.

In Chauhanpura, as the police surrounded the hamlets, from all sides, men fled and women rushed to the Anganwadi Worker’s house as she and her husband have a basic rapport with local police officials and they felt she could save them. It was the older or the sick that got left behind and faced the police wrath. Some women also voiced to the team that they were in a way making people run. Women who were found in ones or twos were sexually assaulted. Young infants in their laps were also not spared from the violence unleashed in the hamlet.

Sexual Assault

The villagers informed that four women have been raped, and five others have complained of sexual assault. The team met three rape survivors and three of the women who had been molested, when we reached the village uninformed. Three of the affected women could not be met as they were out in the fields for wheat harvesting.

hut1Survivor 1 – She has been married for less than a year and was visibly (about 6 months) pregnant in January, when she was raped. As she pleaded with the police not to plunder and break her house, one of them pulled her inside by her hand. One stood on the door while one raped her inside the room. She hit out at him and screamed but to no avail.

“He (the rapist) should be punished. Do you think I feel good about what happened to me? No liquor bottles were taken from my house. I hit them a lot and screamed. But who could have come to help me. After the police left, the Sarpanch called the Vidhayak. On the same day, he took us to Dhar. I am not literate, so I told the police everything and they wrote it down.”

Survivor 2 lives alone with her small infant as her husband is already in jail (she believes he has been falsely framed as he had started working as a watchman when he was detained). She voiced that there was no need for the police to have invaded her house when there was no man.

“A policeman came inside and dropped my two-month old son on the ground. We were both crying. He took my silver chain and 20,000 rupees that I had earned from selling soya beans. He pushed me down there (gesturing to near the cooking place) and raped me. One policeman finished and the next one came in and raped me. Do pulis ne mere izzat loot li. The policeman threatened me not to talk or that they’ll shoot me. They were drinking. I begged them, crying, saying please don’t do this. I couldn’t believe that they were police. After they left, I went to see my brother, and saw my sister-in-law crying. She had also been raped like me.”

Survivor 3 is a middle aged lady, about 50 years old, living with less than the most basic facilities in her house. She was in one part of the house but rushed to the school building which is adjoining her house wall as she had stored her corn and precious money in that part. It was here that she was attacked. Referring to herself as an old woman, she said that she pleaded with the police to not take away her daughter’s things that she had put together during her recent marriage. But they didn’t believe her and shoved her aside.

As they pushed her on her chest, she fell on the ground. They beat her up and when one began to rape her, the other went and stood outside on the door. The lady pleaded that it has been 25 years and she doesn’t indulge in even the small things of eating a chicken and survives with just roti-mirchi, but her words brought no sympathy in the perpetrator. Today, she continues to be in pain when she goes to urinate.

survivorSurvivor 4 – Her sister-in-law and she shared that when the police came to their village, the two younger women could not escape as the bhabhi was not well and was lying in the khat. Two of the police forced their way in and one groped her breasts and pushed her down on the khat. She managed to get up and escape.

Survivor 5 is a minor, about 16-17 years old. She had returned from Gujarat only a day earlier, with savings of her whole year. There were four policemen who came to her house, after her father had fled, leaving her alone. One of them sexually assaulted her by touching her on her arms and breasts. She bravely told him “Don’t do this to me.” This did stop the police to some extent, but they continued to loot the house.

Survivor 6 is a young mother of 5 children. She shared that only the very young ones were left in the small settlement, everyone else who could ran, so there was no one to help. Some of the police men clambered up the rooftop. When she protested, they responded that ‘you speak too much’ and pounced on her. There were so many of them that she fainted while they sexually assaulted her. She had gone to the local thana to complain and had also gone to Dhar but turned back because her children were not well. She shared that everywhere, the women were not being allowed to speak.

Some of the women could describe their perpetrator. In Chauhanpura, the survivor said he was a tall and big-built dark-complexioned man. Saving one or two of them, most of them also said that they would be able to identify the men who had attacked them.

Theft and pillage and plunder

“Police chori karke le gaee hamara samaan. They took my full one-year of earnings. They even took rotis from the house!”

People said that when they came back, they found their houses in a mess. Where even women were present in the houses also, nothing was spared. Things were broken and scattered everywhere. Many houses have been looted and plundered in a vicious way. Rations and seeds that were found in sacks were looted. And what could not be taken if it was in big trunks or traditional containers, was spoilt by throwing pesticide into it. It was only in one or two houses that corn that was in the traditional bamboo container was not destroyed.

hut2Cash has been stolen from people’s houses. Most people have lost amounts varying from Rs. 10,000 to 40,000. As soyabean had been recently cut after Diwali, a big chunk was sold and another part had been kept at home for sowing. With no bank accounts, people have stored this money inside small bags in their grain. The police rummaged through it and took people’s only big earnings which carried them through the year.

Two sisters had just come back from Gujarat, laboring in the agricultural fields there, and had brought their earnings home for the family, which was lost in one wipe. Utensils have been broken and destroyed, rendering them useless. Khats and chairs have been slashed. Agricultural implements – axe, sickle, plough – have been taken. People said that these were picked up every few months when the police came to the area, and did not find anything unusual in this to report.

Destruction of house property:  The police clambered up the roof and broke earthen tiles. Hitting the walls with a kulhari and the roof with a dangi seemed to be the common way they destructed property. Thus windows have been broken, house walls have cracked as they are made of mud. Traditional music instruments were cut open. The drums in the house were slashed and cut open.

“Our people (Bhils) use these drums during the upcoming Bhagoriya festival. What can one do? Silver jewellery worn by women or kept in the house was stolen. When they were firing everywhere, how could we have stayed home… to die? We all ran. And they came and stole our goods. I had kept my jewellery in the grain; the police took that too. I had one bangle, two necklaces, one tagli, one kandoor, one sindhoor- they took all of that and the money I had – Rs 350. Anything of value, as oil cans or cellphones, found in the house has been picked up. I had gone to Gujarat to work in peanut fields. I got 8 litres of peanut oil from there and they took it with them.”

destroyedRation Cards: It was reported that in one particular hamlet, Chauhanpura, the police seized all the documents they laid their hands on. Bags were searched and precious documents as ration cards and aadhaar cards have been taken from each house. (On asking how their documents got taken and if the family member had taken them out to show to the police.)

“We weren’t even in the house. All our bags were strewn and papers taken. Now how will we take our rations; they have taken our ration cards also. How much money is spent in making one small document also.”

Machinery that would be found in any village, as water pumps to draw water from the river, and electricity generators that run on diesel have been taken. The police have claimed a seizure of 2 tractors (one bought three months previously on Dhanteras by Heeru s/o Harya Bhil and another brought on rent for wheat harvesting), 13 motorbikes, 4 water pumps and 4 electricity generators. She offered the 4 policemen the khat to sit and pleaded, “Sir, we need to go to till Tanda often. How will the old man go 7-8 kilometres every day? Please don’t take our bike.” The policeman said, “It is Bade Sahab’s orders; he is not agreeing. We have to take it.”

The police loaded a villager’s trolley with all the things they had stolen and seized from the village and used the tractors to take it away. Even a month later, when the team visited the village, people seemed quite at a loss. People don’t have resources left and are waiting to get their life back together through some support. It is probably the first time that this kind of repression has been unleashed on them, and also at this scale, impacting majority of them. While some have begun to repair part of the house, what to repair and how to go about it seems to be a challenge for many. They have begun to tend back to their fields as wheat is ready for harvest.

Arrest of one woman

Resham Bai w/o Heeru was arrested that day. She was at home with her 2 year old son, and was picked up on charges of selling alcohol illegally. She was kept at Tanda Police Station on the night of January 25, and sent to judicial remand the following day. It has taken her husband three weeks to get her out on bail, on February 17.

Surviving in a zone of suspicion and under constant threat All the villagers the team interacted with, men and women, said that this is the first time that the police has come and ransacked the village and attacked women at this scale. However, it is common that every few months, the police would take a round and pick up things that were lying around (usually agricultural implements) outside.

“The police here is also like us… dependent on farming. They take what they need. There is also a fear that young men would be picked up and detained in the police lock-ups for days. It is also for this reason that men don’t stay around in the village. There is no work unless people have very big land-holdings and there is no school, plus the constant threat of the police picking them up. Yahan karne ko bhi kya… ek maheena raho to police le jaati hai.”

destroyed1It was reported that it was common for men to be picked up while outside the village and hence they usually do not go to the market.

The team met one man who had been detained for 3 days. Illegal detentions spreading into 40 days were also reported. Heavy amounts running into Rs 30,000 to Rs one lakh are extorted for a release, or at times, the price for an assurance that they would not be beaten. There are instances where men have not returned home and it is heard that they are in a jail in another part of the country. Women are not even able to recognize or identify the place where their husband may be lodged and families wait for them to come back when they will.

Absence of support systems in these places make it very difficult for this community to link up with lawyers, seek justice or legal aid for their families. One woman reported that her husband is in a jail in a place which she could not properly pronounce, and it was confirmed by the Sarpanch that he is assumedly in some jail in Karnataka. Another man is in a jail in Gujarat, but the family had no contact with him. In these cases, people don’t know the charges and it is often through their acquaintance that they hear that he has been picked up by the police.

Custodial deaths

On posing the question of whether anyone has died due to police violence, the villagers’ reactions showed that they did not find anything unusual or surprising about the phenomenon of custodial death. As many of the present we met were younger men, they had heard about it or it was part of their memory as young kids. They were able to share details of three such murders but also shared that there have been more deaths which the other elders would be able to share.

  • Kaalcheeaa s/o Parukh – was about 35 years old. Was beaten up for about a month in Sardarpura Thana and went to jail from there and died subsequently. This happened about15 years back.
  • Bheru – had gone to sell firewood in the bazaar when the police caught him enroute and shot him dead. His body was not returned to the villagers. This happened about 10-12 years back.
  • Kishan s/o Ketu died in Sardarpur Thana about 10 years back. Villagers also informed that in nearby village of Jamda, a woman had died when she had drank water from a matka where the police had put poison in during a similar raid in the past year. This could not be cross-checked as the team could not visit this village.

destroyed2Action taken

On the same day of the incident (i.e. January 25, 2017), the women approached the Sarpanch after the police had left. A young man of their community, the Sarpanch’s family, has also been affected in this incident. He called up the MLA, Umang Singhar, of the area, for his help. The villagers first approached Tanda Police Station which refused to write their complaint. They then moved to the district headquarters, Dhar.

The MLA led the crowd of angry villagers and the affected women to the District Hospital also demanding for a medical examination to be done by a panel of doctors the same day. A panel of doctors did not come, but the medical doctor carried out a medical on the rape survivors (derived from interview with the medical doctor on duty and application quoted in the FIR and people’s testimonies).

In her telephonic interview to the team, the doctor informed that she was quite hassled with the big number of people who had come with the women. She carried out the medical examination even though a medico-legal case had still not been made out, and submitted the vaginal swabs to the local police chowki at the hospital. She clarified that she did not take the clothes the women were wearing as evidence as the women did not have anything else to change into.

The next day, on January 26, 2017, they pushed for a complaint to be filed at the Anusuchit Jati Kalyan (AJK) Thana. They could get only a receiving of the two complaints submitted– one regarding the rapes and the other on the loot and damage. It was only on January 30th, five days later, that the FIR regarding rape was registered (FIR No 001 dated January 30, 2017 at AJK, Dhar). Section regarding gang-rape i.e. Section 376 (D) of IPC has been applied but the details of the accused have been specified as ‘Unknown’ even when the body of the application clearly specifies the perpetrators as the police who had come to raid the village on the 25th of January 2017 (reference: copy of the FIR).

destroyed3Women shared with the team that some of them traveled to Bhopal and went onwards Delhi for registering their complaints with different agencies, as facilitated and guided by their MLA. A complaint has been submitted to the State Women’s Commission (reference: The Times of India, January 31, 2017). The women have approached the NHRC through the support of the MLA and an NHRC team had also visited the area on February 15, 2017 (reference “Dainik Bhaskar”, Dhar, dated February 16 2017). It is only after a month that testimonies under Section 164 were taken in front of the JFMC, Dhar, on March 4, 2017.

Meanwhile, an application filed in the Indore Bench of the High Court for filing a case against the 200 plus policemen involved in the raid on 25th January for violations of theft, loot and sexual assault, was dismissed on March 2nd 2017 (reference “Dainik Bhaskar”, Indore, dated March 3, 2017).

Meeting with the Police Functionaries

The team met police functionaries at the local thana, Tanda Police Station. Part of the team also met SP Dhar the next day. The team has tried to take an appointment with Anjana Tiwari, SP Fire Brigade Indore, who is heading the Special Investigation Team investigating the matter, but repeated efforts have not yielded a response.

Police involved in the ambush: Newspapers have reported and it was confirmed by the police functionaries that a huge contingent had gone to the village. The SP informed the team that two parties of 220 police personnel had been involved in the operation. The team was headed by 2 Additional SPs. Two SDOPs and police from 13 different police stations including Thana in charges of these police stations, specifically named included TIs of Tanda, Gandhwani, Bagh, Manawar, Sardarpur, Amjhera, Baghdun (Sector 1) were part of the forces that invaded the village. SDG forces had also been sent. This includes 2 women police officials who are also reported to have been present.

destroyed4It was also asked that how come such a big posse of police was deputed to a village just one day prior to Republic Day to which the constable at Tanda Police Station did not have a reply and said that instructions had come from the top to go to the village so we have to follow orders.

Purpose of the operations

At both the levels, the police officers informed that they had gone in these big numbers as it was usually difficult to arrest people of these villages. They also confirmed that whenever they go to these specific villages, it is in a large number because the people retaliate, and cases are also usually not a matter of only the local police.

The SP also told the team that they had gone in search of 143 people and there were warrants against these. The police showed the team two lists pointing to the incidence of crime in the area and justified their declaring these areas as hubs of criminal activity.

These lists were (i) of 143 entries showing warrants issued from three villages of Jamda, Bhutiya and Holibayda and (ii) of 178 entries from a cluster of villages including these three. We could not get a copy of these lists but a cursory glance showed that 143 entries does not imply warrants against 143 individuals as names are often repeated in one crime after the other. It was also noticed that crimes dating back to 1995 had been typed out, and the last crime reported was of November 26, 2016.

The Sarpanch shared that there were about 20 people in this list on whom there are warrants, and they were all not from one village. The number of 143 is being put forth to make the issue much bigger than it is and brand the village. He felt that there are as many anti-social elements here as in any village. Other women had also voiced that if there was a warrant, they should have gone to the specific man’s house and why was the whole village attacked. A newspaper report further shows that four of those in the list that the police has been quoting are already in jail and one person has died long back (reference: Hari Bhumi, Bhopal, dated January 31, 2017).

Kinds of offenses

The local police repeatedly said that “these people are criminals and it is not safe to be in their area.” There are many FIRs against them. On probing as to what kinds of crime they are involved in, initially, the police constable was evasive and said loot etc. It took a bit of persuasion when he said that “they steal cattle and cut up the buffalo and eat before a crime can be reported.”

The SP mentioned that the offenses were regarding illegal sale of alcohol and registered under the Excise Act. He added that the people are involved in bike thefts, and that is why there were so many bikes in a village. While the team has no grounds to comment on bike thefts, the SP’s allegations should be seen in the proper context that factually, in two villages with over 200 households, 13 bikes being found is definitely not an obnoxious proportion and many people had documents to prove ownership of the bikes.

destroyed5The SP also informed that they had FIRs against 4 vehicles only. He alleged that the villagers used bikes without number plates so that they are not easily identified. The SP further added that three police officers have been killed by the villagers in the past, and stoned at times. But no specific FIR in this regard could be shown. It was also alleged that the villagers keep rifles in their homes, however on questioning the SP, he admitted that no rifles had been found in their homes.

Crimes registered post the raid

One woman was arrested during the raid on charges of illegal sale of alcohol. On the next day, an FIR was registered (FIR No 16 date January 26, 2017 at 15:52 hours at Tanda PS) regarding injury of seven police men. Charges have been framed under Section 353 (a ssault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of his duty) and Section 147, 148 (rioting) and Section 34 (acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention) under IPC (as shown in a report by the SP).

The names of the Police personnel registering the FIR as injured include 1) Aseem Bhuria, SDOP kukshi 2) Mrs .Priyanka Dudve 3) Rajendra Narvariya ASI ,4) Nayak R. Karmendra, Head Constable ,5) Bhoom Singh, Constable and 6) Hare Singh. The villagers against whom the FIR has been lodged are 1) Bovaniya s/o Thakur Bhil, 2) Bhuran s/o Thakur Bhil, 3) Bhama s/o Rangan Bhil, 4) Biriya s/o Nahar Singh, 5) Rangan s/o Dhuvaan, 6) Taar Singh s/o Kuwar Singh, 7) Faquaria s/o Golu, 8) Bhangra s/o Chhagan and others. It should be noted that this FIR has been filed after the villagers tried to put in their complaints at the Tanda Police Station on the previous day, and then again in the morning on January 26, 2017.

Discrimination against a specific community

The team met three police officers at the Tanda Police Station and they were transparent in their biases against adivasis, and Bhils in particular. They said this is an adivasi area and that is why we have problems, and that they are all ruffians. When further asked how can we categorize a group of people negatively, the Head Constable specified he meant ‘Bhils’. He went on to say that they speak to you decently only when they want something, otherwise would loot you and that no one should dare to go alone in these areas etc.

village1The SP said his biases were because maximum FIRs were filed against these people. When questioned on the casual discriminatory attitudes of the local police towards the local community, he said it is possibly because his constables had ‘low IQ’. “It is a village that survives on crime,” SP Dhar district Virendra Singh is quoted to have said in a Times of India article (January 31, 2017).

Investigation

A Special Investigation Team has been also constituted by the DGP, headed by an Additional SP from Indore to carry out the investigation. The team includes an SI from Dhar District. In the team’s interactions with the SP Dhar Mr Virendra Singh, it was evident that he believes that the allegations of rape and loot are all made up and that the police will come out with a clean chit. He further added that he believes that the people have themselves destroyed their belongings and property to convince outsiders of a case.

Observations and Comments

  • Insensitive response by senior police functionaries on serious charges of rape and loot by state forces

The SP countering a charge of rape and loot by saying that the village is a den of crime is equivalent to saying as if the crime does not need any discussion on its own, or is acceptable in the light of the other. This kind of a response cannot be accepted as defense under any circumstance. But newspapers continue to report that the police is defending itself to Human Rights Commissions and enquiries that responding with charges that their men were beaten up on an earlier occasion or that the area is known for thefts etc. A defense that there were a handful of women police officers in the team that carried out the operations and rapes could not have taken place in their presence does not recognize the fact that in many places, women police officers have known to be mute spectators in the face of violations leashed out by their male counterparts inside thanas. Moreover, a trip to the village would clearly show that the houses are spread out across fields, and in a way that what is happening in one house would not be known to a person in another house.

  • Purpose of the operations seems to be to spread terror

In spite of their big numbers, the police did not manage to arrest even one man, out of all the warrants they were supposedly carrying. They have also filed an FIR against specific men for obstructing their official duty, but these were not also apprehended. One of the rape survivors said that the police should have gone only to the houses of those who had cases, why did they loot and attack everyone. The purpose of the operation was clearly to spread terror by assaulting women and looting, rather than arresting as this should not have been such an impossible task. The fact that the police put pesticide in the soyabean and corn and broke vessels and khats suggests a sinister objective of not allowing people to survive.

  • Timing of the operation suggests intention to loot

It needs to be examined why the police planned such a big operation involving 13 thanas at the given point of time. It is not they do this on a monthly basis or something. January is also probably the time when people had come back from Gujarat with their annual earnings and soyabean crop has been cut a couple of months back. It is possible that the police is also aware of the fact of when they will find money in people’s houses that the attack was planned when it was.

  • Assumed impunity with the police

It is quite scary that the police feels that they could carry on with these kinds of violations with a vulnerable population and get away with it in a free state. It is a combination of power and state authority that the police unleashed this kind of violence and loot in a village. The whole way in which this was carried out seemed to come 18 with a sort of assumed impunity from the side of the police. What threw a spanner in the works were the complaints from the women- not as easy to brush off as the loot complaints.

This incident in Dhar shows how this sense of impunity is seeping into the psyche of the police and state across India. It is not only the tactical support that the state has provided to casteist forces in various parts of the country including Madhya Pradesh, but is here directly terrorizing people by loot and sexually assaulting women of socially and economically vulnerable communities. We have so far seen this kind of impunity experienced by police and security forces in the kinds of human rights violations reported from the interior villages of Bastar and border states as Kashmir or Manipur.

  • Carrying forward the British legacy of a criminal tribe

In 1871, the British had promulgated the Criminal Tribes Act, an act to regulate specific communities by giving police sweeping powers to arrest and control their movement, forceful separation of children from parents and other such provisions. There was an assumption that a person born in this community was ‘criminal by birth’. These were obviously communities that were ‘difficult’ for the Britishers for varied reasons. For instance, Bhils who had fought the British rule in Kandesh and on the banks of Narmada were to be recognised as criminal tribes. Bhils were listed as Criminal Tribes but their categorization was not across all states, and also not across the years. However pockets continued to be seen as ‘ex-criminal’ communities and continue to suffer with this labeling. The state has also not worked to make opportunities available for people while the police and society continues to treat them with suspicion.

Education options at the village level are nil, so are the limited employment opportunities and people thrive on the little agricultural income that they can and look for other options to supplement this. People are taking up various options for their livelihood, as working in spinning mills, daily wage labour in agricultural fields, driving, security guards, which is a clear sign of the need for survival and willingness to try something that works for them. But there has been nothing offered through the government.

Several team members were informed through different local people of that they should not go to the area, and that it was unsafe for women to travel to these villages. The people were aware of these perceptions about them. Women said, “You have come as a guest, we would talk to you decently. Why would we harm anyone?” It should be considered that this widespread perception needs to be changed.

It does not aid the people’s self-esteem or interactions with mainstream, or even contribute anywhere to controlling whatever level of criminal activity that may be ongoing through specific individuals. The police told us that they had got the vehicles that they saw in the village and now the people could retrieve them when they produced the papers. While this looks like a valid argument in itself, it would not feel so if people came to our homes and took away our vehicles. It is a clear assumption of being guilty until you prove yourself innocent.

A visit to the thana is fraught with uncertainty, stress and a money demand for the villagers. This is another way in which the police has assumed that everything in the village was out of illegal money and felt they could take a share of it or destroy it.

  • Vulnerability of women

The team observed that the women have stood by each other in this episode of extreme violence, but sexual assault is still a shameful thing to speak about in a deeply patriarchal society and they speak in small groups or behind closed doors, and are not able to publicly talk about it. The teams investigating this crime and even otherwise understanding the situation in the village, need to recognize the patriarchal systems in practice within the community. We cannot just see the whole community in one lens, but need to examine the situation from the gendered lens also.

Demands

From the state government, we demand , the present FIR should be expanded to include charges of sexual molestation and looting and destruction of property in accordance to the testimony of the women.

– A fair investigation in the matter and all involved to be criminally prosecuted (we cannot allow such people in a police force).

– Case be registered against the senior police officials who have abetted the crime by not taking action.

– Interim Relief be provided to the survivors in accordance to the SC, ST Atrocity Act.

– Compensation should be provided based on a calculation of materials stolen as well as the destroyed crop and household articles.

– The policemen involved in the operation should be line attached and identification parade be conducted to identify the policemen involved in the rapes and molestation. This can be done through the roznamcha. Moreover, the scale of violence makes it evident that the entire squad should be held responsible for the looting and unleashing of terror in the two villages.

This crime is not the first case of continuous and mass violence against tribes that were labeled as “criminal”. In 2007, a big settlement of Pardhis had to leave their village in Betul, when mass violence was unleashed on them, by the mob led by local leaders in connivance with the police. Illegal detention of men, women and children of the same 20 community continue to be common in the state capital itself.

There is a need for a tribunal to be formed to investigate such incidents. We urge other human rights groups to examine the issues of denotifed tribal communities and particularly this area more and accordingly take forward the cause of these communities. Our limited visit revealed that there is much more to be understood.

Specific areas that need to be further probed include examine custodial deaths in the area and around, even though of the past. Examine the scale of extortion and human rights violations (illegal detention, custodial torture) of vulnerable communities in the state, with a focus on ex-criminal tribes, and how this pans out for children, women and men of the communities.

Download full report HERE

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