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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 52, December 12, 2009

Women against Sexual Violence and State Repression

Saturday 12 December 2009


Statement of Women’s Organisations on increasing State Violence on People’s Movements and Sexual Violence on Women by the Police, Paramilitary and Army

We, the undersigned representatives of women’s organisations and individuals, are deeply shocked and disturbed by the Indian Government’s armed offensive by paramilitary and armed forces in the adivasi-dominant forest areas of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Orissa, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. This attack is ostensibly to “liberate” these areas from the influence of Maoist rebels, and to undertake “development” activities there. There are reports of massive deployment of troops in these parts for this repugnant war of the state against its own citizens.

For the past half-a-century, the Indian Government has used the pretext of insurgency to stifle the democratic aspirations of the people and given a free hand to military, paramilitary and other security forces and the police. In recent times, new laws have been introduced to suppress any resistance, peaceful or otherwise against land acquisition and privatisation of natural resources and these laws have vested enormous and arbitrary power with the police and the military. As a consequence, life and liberty have become a distant dream for people in large areas of the country, particularly in the States of the North-East and in Jammu and Kashmir.

Since the neo-liberal turn of the 1990s there has been an increased onslaught by the state on the lives and livelihoods of large sections of the our population in the name of “development” projects such as mining and special economic zones, and large communities are being deprived of their lands, rivers, forests and other common property resources. Pushed to desperation people are organising in several ways to resist this large-scale displacement and dispossession. Presently, driven by aggressive corporatisation, sustained state violence in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa, West Bengal and other States is being systematically used to evict people from their land and livelihood. All this is being done in the name of “development” or “maintaining law and order”. Pro-rich policies of the governments are leading to worsening the lives of vast majorities.

In several cases women have been at the forefront of these struggles. It has been seen that women are specifically targeted in such cases and their political participation is being repressed by use of rape and other kinds of violence on women in mass movements. In this bleak scenario, as women’s organisations, we are enormously concerned about the worsening situation for the women of these regions, particularly due to the presence of large number of paramilitary and military forces. Women are the worst sufferers of the lack of livelihood, food, shelter and security, and of state-abetted violence, specially the increasing use of sexual violence to intimidate communities.


In the past 25 years, despite severe incidences of mass rape and murder, for example, in Manipur and in Jammu and Kashmir, no justice has been accorded to the women and no punishment meted to the perpetrators. The brutal torture, gang-rape and killing of Manorama, in July 2004, by Assam Rifles personnel in Manipur [which has been under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) for several decades now] and the courageous protest of the Manipuri women against their continuous sexual abuse by the armed forces speaks volumes of the inhuman violence inflicted by the military and the police on women in the name of counter-insurgency operations. While Manorama’s ghastly death was highlighted, incidents of sexual violence in the daily life of the women in States under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) largely go unreported. In the recent gang rape and murder of two women in Shopian in Jammu and Kashmir, ignoring strong protests by the local community, the State’s agencies have blatantly tried to protect the accused. Tribal women in Bastar in Chhattisgarh have been subjected to the most extreme forms of violence since 2005 by the Salwa Judum, a civil militia created and funded by the state to ‘counter’ the ‘Maoists’. There are reports of incidents of gang rapes, custodial rape, mutilation of private parts, murder and continuous sexual abuse in villages, police stations and relief camps. The murder in 2006 of a tribal for being a ‘Maoist’ and the subsequent gang-rape of his wife in front of their child for several days inside a police station in Sarguja by police personnel (including the SP) is one of the few documented cases. Despite numerous representations before the Supreme Court, NHRC and government officials, the police refuse to register cases and there is inordinate delay even in registering private complaints. Instead, women and there families are threatened and intimidated by the accused with further criminal assault if they file complaints.

The security forces, a law unto themselves in many remote areas, operate with impunity as if they have a “license” to rape women, especially those belonging to the tribal and Dalit communities. It is also seen that if the police are not themselves inflicting violence, they are abetting it, either by being mute spectators, or ignoring these incidents, or simply refusing to register the FIRs. This makes the functionaries of the administration and the whole state co-perpetrators in the crimes; in situations where the state assumes unlimited powers to limit people’s democratic rights, its accountability and burden of guilt become even stronger. In a case where the atrocity is committed by a state agency, the accountability of the crime has to be broadened to encompass not just the rapist/s but also all the other authorities as well as the state administration and the judiciary which is duty-bound to protect the rights of women as citizens.

We have no trust in police personnel and find police stations most unsafe for women even in situations which are not ‘insurgency’ based. The increasing incidence of custodial rape is evidence of the police attitude to women, especially when it pertains to Dalit, adivasi and working class women; even mentally challenged women have not been spared. In June 2009, a tribal woman from Betul, MP was arrested along with her husband and son in a dowry case but gang-raped in police custody. This incident followed an earlier one, where a Dalit woman along with several others had protested against continuous sexual harassment (“eve-teasing”) by private security guards of the Madhya Pradesh Electricity Board, who resorted to firing in which one youth was killed.

It is a matter of great concern to see the state’s attempts to label all forms of opposition and resistance to its policies as ‘Maoist’ and ‘Naxalite’ to suppress any form of dissent. People’s movements are being labelled as ‘Maoist’ while democratic rights groups, activists and journalists reporting state atrocities are being called ‘Maoist sympathisers’; they are all facing repression, criminal intimidation and brutal atrocities.


In the current context, we, the undersigned, demand that the Indian Government and State governments:

1) Take immediate legal and punitive action against all accused and perpetrators of sexual assaults against women already registered in AFSPA zones, under the Prevention of Atrocities against Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Act 1989, or under Indian Penal Code section 376 (A) and 376 (B) including against those in the government and the judiciary as co-perpetrators of crimes against women.

2) Repeal the Armed Force Special Powers Act from the concerned States immediately. It must be remembered that more than half-a-century of enforcement of the AFSPA and use of force has not resulted in bringing peace or development in North-East or Kashmir and armed offensive is no solution to any unrest.

3) Immediately withdraw its armed offensive in the adivasi-dominant areas of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. Instead, as expected of a democratic government, address politically the long-standing socio-economic grievances of these populations which have been explicitly pointed out in the government’s own reports.

We strongly urge all democratic minded women’s groups and organisations to join us in this urgent appeal to the Indian government.

AIPWA, AISA (Delhi), Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog Sangathan, Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha (Chhattisgarh), Dalit Stree Shakti (Hyderabad), HRLN (Madhya Pradesh), Human Rights Alert (Manipur), IRMA (Manipur), IWID, Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sangathan (Badwani, Madhya Pradesh.), Kashipur Solidarity (Delhi), Madhya Pradesh Mahila Manch (Madhya Pradesh), Nari Mukti Sanstha (Delhi), Navsarjan (Ahmedabad, Gujarat), NBA (Madhya Pradesh), Pratidhwani (Delhi), PUCL (Karnataka), Saheli (Delhi), Sahmet (Kesla, Madhya Pradesh), Samajwadi Jan Parishad (Madhya Pradesh), Sangini (Bhopal), Vanangana (Chitrakut, Uttar Pradesh), Vidyarthi Yuvjan Sabha, Women’s Right Resource Centre (Madhya Pradesh), Yuva Samvaad (Bhopal), Stree Adhikar Sanghatan (Uttar Pradesh)

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