Between the 16th to 22nd January, 2016, members of Coordination of Democratic Rights Organization (CDRO) and Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS) conducted a fact finding in villages of Bijapur and Sukma districts of Chhattisgarh. The team investigated the deaths of four unarmed villagers of Peddajojer (Bijapur) on 15 January 2016 by security forces and conducted enquiries into the large scale violence, particularly sexual violence, that the security forces unleased in Nendra (Bijapur) and Kunna (Sukma) villages, between 11th—14thJanuary 2016. Besides meeting officials, the team met villagers and relatives of those killed in the fake encounter at Peddajojer village and the families affected by the brutality committed by men in uniform including acts of loot, plunder, rape, sexual assault and physical violence in Kunna, Chotegadam and Nendra villages. The team also visited Maharani Hospital in Jagdalpur and met two injured women who were lodged there.
Following are the findings of the team:
1. On the morning of 15 January, 2016, six villagers of Peddajojer village were on their way to the nearby market for buying daily provisions. These included three men and three little girls (See pp 8-9 and Annexure 1 of the report).
2. On the way to the market they were ambushed by security forces lying in wait at a dense forest track en-route to the market. Of the six people, two girls managed to escape while the three men and one girl were killed.
3. The villagers upon hearing gunshots and being informed of the incident by the girls who had escaped, rushed to the site only to find that the bodies were missing.
4. The security forces took the bodies without informing the family members of the deceased. They did not conduct any inquest at the site of the encounter. The security forces took the bodies to Bijapur General Hospital. In violation of National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) guidelines, the post mortems were done at the hospital without proper identification of the bodies. No video recording of the post mortem was conducted.
5. Upon learning where the bodies were kept, the villagers assembled outside the hospital and demanded that the bodies be handed back to them. The police initially refused and even asked Rs. 4000 per body as transport charges. Only after the villagers protested, were the bodies returned on 17 January.
6. The four killed were ordinary villagers of Peddajojer engaged in agricultural work and not Maoists as claimed by the security forces. The little girl killed was only 13 years old. The villagers also told us of how harassment by the security forces has become the norm in the village.
1. Between 11 to 14 January, security force occupied Kunna and Chotegadam villages of Sukma district. A combing operation by the DRG, CRPF, COBRA (around 500 to 600 troops) was being conducted in the area.
2. The forces initially occupied a school but later occupied homes of people.
3. During the first two days the forces sexually assaulted many women. At least two women were raped by the forces. Women were stripped, beaten and verbally assaulted. Young girls were also stripped by the forces.
4. On 12 January several men and women from Kunna were taken into custody (see annexure 2 for details). On the way to one police camp, five men and five women were continuously beaten and the 5 women were also stripped and sexually assaulted. Apart from these, three boys were kept in illegal custody and forced to sign on a blank pieces of paper.
5. Twenty-one-year-old Lalu Sodi was severely beaten by the security forces on 12th January. He died two days after, and the villages did not report the death as they feared further intimidation from the security forces.
6. Livestock was consumed by the forces, houses were broken into and implements were stolen by the men in uniform (See Annexure 2).
7. The team found the people of Kunna in a state of shock and their everyday life had become difficult because of the violence by the forces.
8. Finally, an FIR was filed on 27th January, 2016 after a harrowing process by activists and the women of Kunna village (See page 15 for details)
9. Chotegadam village witnessed a similar pattern of plunder and violence (See pp 11-12 and Annexure 2 for further details)
1. Between 11 and 14 January, security forces occupied Nendra village(Bijapur). Four to five batches of police and security forces (CRPF, DRG, Koya) conducted search and combing operations while being stationed there.
2. The men of the village fled immediately as staying back would have meant either getting beaten up or being implicated in false cases. The security forces occupied houses of villagers.
3. Over thirteen instances of gang rape were reported by the women. Many other women were disrobed, molested, subjected to verbal abuse. Women’s faces were covered with a towel or even a mosquito net when rapes took place.
4. The forces not only threatened to burn down the houses with children inside but also threatened the women with the kind of violence they experienced during the time of Salwa Judum.
5. The security forces also looted rations, consumed poultry causing huge economic loss to the already impoverished villagers. (See annexure 3 for more details)
6. When women asked the security forces for money for the rations they had consumed the women were beaten up with lathi and rifles. Older people were also beaten (See Annexure 3 for details)
7. On 18 January, 2016, members from the fact finding team along with 12 women of Nendra went to the Collectorate to bring to his attention the incidents in Nendra. However, the women had to wait till the 21 January to get their FIR registered, that too after a prolonged struggle with the administration. (see page 16 of the report for details)
A significant part of the team’s energies went into meeting officials in a bid to register FIRs against the accused. In all three cases the response of the administration was one of insensitivity and hostility. In the case of the fake encounter at Peddajejor, the official response was of “we will look into the matter”. The efforts involved in filing the FIR in the Kunna case took almost 13 days of constant pressure by the survivors and team members. In the Nendra incident, even when the Collector ordered the recording of statements, the police refused. Only after the fact-finding team was able to meet members of the NCW (National Commission of Women) who were collecting information regarding the infamous Peddagellur incident of October 2015, that the FIR was finally lodged on 21stJanuary.
These incidents, along with the climate of fear that has been created for ordinary villagers, activists, lawyers and journalists, needs to be seen in the light of Mission 16, which forms the governments objective in eliminating Maoists and handing over these lands to mining companies.
Asish Gupta (Coordinator, CDRO)
Shivani (Coordinator, WSS)