Korseguda village in Bastar is a land of abundant natural beauty. It’s also where the original owners of this country, the tribals, live in fear of being termed a Naxalite. Living in the Naxal bastion of Bijapur district in Chhattisgarh, the tribals of Koreseguda have long forgotten what peace feels like.
Sitting next to her infant daughter, who was born on January 10, Durgavati (name changed) is in her house in Korseguda village. Talking to Newslaundry with the help of a translator, 23-year-old Durgavati says in Gondi: “I was five months pregnant and was sitting inside my room in the hut. Suddenly, about 10 security personnel barged into my room. Two of them held me by my hands and another blindfolded me with a cloth.”
She alleges that security personnel took her into the room of another hut on the premises and closed it from the inside. “I was forced to strip my clothes and they assaulted me. They started groping my breasts and were putting their hands in my private parts. While some of them were molesting me, others were taking videos of the act on their phones. I could hear their voices. Then they forced me down on the floor and three of them raped me.”
Durgavati says the incident occurred on September 13, 2018, and that she was held in the room for almost an hour. She says, “After being raped, they removed the cloth from my eyes and tied my hands from behind. They dragged me out into the open with only a petticoat on my body. They took me half-naked first to the CRPF camp and then to Basaguda police station where they allowed me to wear a blouse.”
Later in the evening, a villager called Taati Gundu went to the police station with some of the other villagers, requesting that the woman be released. After pleading, Durgavati was allowed to go home.
Her mother, 45-year-old Hemla Meena (name changed) remembers hearing her daughter crying inside and asking for water. Meena asked the security forces why they had locked her daughter inside. “I asked them to release her, but the security personnel started assaulting me. My girl was five months pregnant but even then, they didn’t show any mercy and gang-raped her.
Another Korseguda woman, 30-year-old Padma Chinu, says she tried stopping the personnel. “When I tried stopping them from taking her [Durgavati] inside saying that she is pregnant, they started hitting me with lathis and continued for a while.”
In the Naxal-hit villages of Bastar, it has become a natural response for the men to run away whenever they see the security forces—CRPF, SPOs, District Reserved Guards and state police.
On September 13, when the security personnel came to Korseguda, Durgavati’s father Hemla Nanu (name changed) also ran away seeing them for the same reason. He says now, “That day I ran away to escape the assault but I never knew they were going to rape my pregnant daughter.”
Last month, the villagers reported Durgavati’s gangrape and incidents of police excesses to social activist Soni Sori. They alleged that the police were forcefully abducting villagers of Korseguda and only releasing them after the villagers paid them ₹15,000-30,000. In January 2019, Sori and lawyers from the Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group—a group of lawyers which provides free legal service to tribals in the Naxal-hit areas of Chhattisgarh—visited Korseguda and met the villagers. The villagers submitted a complaint which the Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group sent to the Bijapur Collector and Superintendent of Police. Newslaundry has assessed a copy of the complaint.
Durgavati says, “A few days after the visit of the social workers, the police came here. A special police officer named Mangu asked me why I was troubling them by calling social workers to the village. He then told me if I am going to do this, the police will kill me. He took my thumb impression on a blank paper and gave me ₹1,700.”
Despite her abject poverty, Durgavati has not used a single rupee from the amount given to her by the SPO. The wad of notes clutched tightly in her hand, she says, “I am not going to use this blood money.”
Newslaundry spoke to around two dozens villagers, who corroborated that on September 13, 2018, around 10 security personnel forcefully entered Durgavati’s house and then took her to a room where three of them raped her and others molested her—while she was being recorded on video. After being released from the Basaguda police station, Durgavati was taken to a government hospital in Basaguda where she was treated for her injuries. However, she was not given a medical report.
Semla Bhima, Sarpanch of Korseguda says, “Many of our villagers have witnessed what the security personnel did with Durgavati that day. She was crying for help but nobody could help her.”
When asked if there was a medical report that supported the allegations, Semla said, “We have not been given any medical report, generally in such cases, they don’t give us any documents and ask us to leave.”
It is significant to note that in remote regions of Bastar, medical reports and FIR copies—especially in cases related to security forces—are not handed over to tribal villagers. This makes it difficult to establish the exact facts of the case.
It is also difficult for them to identify the security personnel who raided the village since the CRPF, SPOs and the district police conduct patrols and operations together and they do not wear nameplates or tags on their uniform. However, it is easy to identify SPOs as most of them are tribals and they assist the CRPF because of their local know-how.
There are around eight CRPF camps within a distance of 40 km from Bijapur to Korseguda. Each camp has, on average, 150 CRPF personnel.
The abduction of Korseguda villagers
During their meeting with Soni Sori, the villagers had talked about how they were being forcefully abducted by security forces. They claim they’re being picked up from their homes or from the market in the name of questioning and are taken to Basaguda police station. Here, police officials detain them for days and only release them after they are paid a hefty sum of money.
Newslaundry met with 15-year-old Punem Kamla, who was kept at Basaguda police station for two days. Kamla was only released after paying ₹15,000. Kamla says, “It was December 14, 2018. I along with two other girls went to the Friday weekly market at Basaguda. While we were shopping, more than two dozen policemen came to us and took all three of us to Basaguda police station. They questioned us about what work we do, whether we are involved in Naxal activities or not.”
Kamla and one of her friends, Punem Ramwati, were released on Saturday after their parents paid ₹30,000. The third girl’s parents didn’t have money to give the police. “She had to go to jail,” Kamla says. “They have imprisoned her in Jagdalpur jail.”
Sixteen-year-old Punem Ramwati, who was released with Kamla, corroborates Kamla’s story. She says they were at the market to make some purchases when the police questioned them. “We told them that we stay at home. Then they took us to Basaguda police station. We were kept overnight. In the morning, the TI (Thana Incharge) told us he will question us in the evening.” By evening, Ramwati and Kamla were released after their families made the payment.
The sarpanch of Korseguda, Semla Bhima says he went to the police station to seek the release of the three girls. “The TI told me these girls are in Sangam ( a group of youth appointed by Naxalites which looks after the security of a village ) but I reasoned with him. I told him these girls don’t have any connection with Naxalites. Then he told me he will release them if they pay him money.”
The villagers identified the third girl currently in jail as Punem Sandhya. The TI demanded that she pay ₹60,000 for her release—a huge amount. Semla Bhima says, “We couldn’t arrange that much money to secure her release. So the police jailed her.”
The sarpanch says the security forces routinely come to Korseguda, alleging that the villagers help Naxalites or are “involved” in Naxal activities. The villagers are then beaten and hauled to the police station. “On December 24, they forcefully took away six people from our village and then detained them for two days at the police station. They were released only after they paid ₹80,000 to the police (₹15000 from four of them, ₹20,000 from two of them).”
‘Our torture began in 2006’
According to the villagers’ complaint given to the Collector and Superintendent of Police of Bijapur, five villagers were jailed in 2016 on charges of Naxal activities. Punem Gandhi, Punem Lachu, Dodi Aaytu, Dodi Chauti and Kakem Lakhmu were later acquitted by a Dantewada court in 2017. The police told them the court order required them to report to Basaguda police station every 15 days.
In August 2018, in acquiescence with this instruction, the five villagers—accompanied by two others including the sarpanch—went to the police station. After reporting, four of them were dismissed and the police detained Gandhi, Lakhmu and Chaitu. They were then allegedly stripped naked and beaten. Gandhi was released after the police took ₹10,000 from him. Lakhmu and Chaitu were unable to pay the amount and were sent to jail. The villagers claim the beating was so brutal that all three were confined with their injuries for one month—Gandhi at home, and Lakhmu and Chaitu in jail.
The complaint also alleges that on November 23, 2018, 20-year-old Punem Irma was forcefully taken by the police to Basaguda police station while he was grazing his cattle. It states that the police asked him his name and then slapped him and that Irma was released in the evening after he paid ₹6,000.
Another incident mentioned in the complaint took place on November 3, 2018. The police forcefully took away 12-year-old Taati Shankar, a student of Class 6, while he was grazing cattle. Shankar was beaten up at the police station. He was released two days later after the police took ₹8,000 from his family.
Semla Bhima says, “Since 2006 when Salwa Judum came into the picture, our torture days started. Detaining illegally and then releasing after taking money from our people has become a rampant practice in today’s scenario.”
Bhima recounts how once, at 4 am, the police took 14 villagers to Basaguda police station. Seven were released on the same day. A day later, two were released on payment of ₹30,000 each. The following day, two more were released after taking ₹40,000 each from them. The remaining three were unable to pay. “Those three were sent to jail where they were beaten black and blue. If somebody is unable to pay the money, they (the police) put that person in jail saying that a particular person is involved in Naxal activities.”
Semla Bhima claims the police has collected ₹1.57 lakh or more from the villagers through illegal detentions and extortion.
Living in fear of harassment
The stories of torture and struggle stack up in Korseguda. Semla Soma, 40, who brought a tractor on instalments, lost it to police forces. They seized it and told him he had purchased it using funds obtained from Naxals.
Semla Soma told Newslaundry, “I was going to Bijapur to repair my tractor at the showroom. While I was on my way, I was stopped by the police who took away the keys of my tractor. They told me that tractor doesn’t belong to me and Naxals gave money to buy the tractor. They told me you are not capable enough to buy a tractor. Then they took away the tractor and kept it at Bijapur police station.”
The police told Soma he would have to pay ₹1.5 lakh to get his tractor back. Soma says he had taken a loan from his relatives, sold his cattle and collected ₹1.9 lakh to make the down payment on the tractor. “I was paying the monthly instalment of ₹12,000. I have not taken anything from Naxalites. I can’t even make a police complaint because the police themselves have seized my tractor.”
After this incident, 24-year-old Semla Manoj lives in fear that the police will take away his own recently-purchased tractor. “I have stopped taking out my tractor as the police can take it away. The police make allegations that we help Naxalites and buy tractors using the funds given by them. We have not.”
Another villager, 55-year-old Padam Lukhmu, has his farm next to the CRPF camp. He says he isn’t allowed to harvest his crop. “I sow rice every year in my farm but when the crop gets ready, they (the CRPF forces) don’t allow me to enter my farm. Because of this, boars have been eating my crops for the last three years.” Lukhmu says the personnel allow sowing but not the cutting of the crop. “They say you guys are disturbing us during our duty and you will put bombs here.” The villagers claim 30-40 acres of their land neighbour CRPF camps, and none of the farms here can be used for farming.
The complaint also states that ever since the formation of a CRPF camp near Tarrem village, the residents of Korseguda have faced regular harassment at the hands of the security forces. The complaint says the security forces made visits to their village twice a day and harassed their women and children. It says, “They have threatened that if they see any agricultural tools in our hands, we will be called Naxalites and will be killed.”
What the government and police say
Social activist Soni Sori, who was approached by the villagers, says these kinds of incidents happened during BJP rule and before it too. “I want to tell the government that they should take cognisance of such matters and take strict action against those people who are involved in such acts. If the government takes strict action, then these kinds of incidents will definitely stop. People who are involved in such acts—directly or indirectly—get this power through the government only.”
Sori says Bastar’s tribal representatives who have become ministers or MLAs also need to take notice of these problems. “They should take action against such culprits, whether they’re tribals, non-tribals or police forces. It’s not correct if the police force is going to villages and committing such heinous acts; they’re saying the government belongs to them and they will do whatever they like. This kind of attitude has to be arrested. The government is for everyone. It’s for tribals as well as jawans.”
Newslaundry contacted Home Minister Tamradhwaj Sahu to ask him about the atrocities faced in Korseguda. He said, “We were not aware of these incidents. But if such horrifying incidents have taken place then I will definitely find out all the details related to it. I am going to look into the matter and will take the strictest action possible against the culprits.”
Kawasi Lakhma, a tribal leader from Bastar and a cabinet minister in the newly formed Congress government, reiterated Sahu’s promise. He said, “I am going to meet them and will take appropriate action against them. People from Korseguda know me. I am also a tribal.”
However, former journalist and Bastar-based social worker Sanjay Pant says most elected representatives are tribals but are unaware of the rights given to them under the Constitution—because of which the common people of Bastar suffer.
Shikha Pandey of Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group, said, “Villagers approached us after which we have sent a complaint to the collector and superintendent of Bijapur. Will take further course of actions as the things unfold.”
Newslaundry spoke to Surendra Yadav, the Station House Officer of Basaguda police station, about Durgavati’s rape and the abduction and extortion of the villagers by the police force. Yadav said, “I think you have not done a detailed inquiry. No rape has happened here. I joined this police station on September 30 whereas the incident you are mentioning happened on September 13. If rape has happened, then an FIR will get registered. But we haven’t received any report.” Yadav also said that since he had joined, no one has been detained illegally and no money has been extorted for money.
Alok Awasthi, Deputy Inspector General, CRPF, Bijapur said,” I am not aware of this incident but if any of our men was found responsible for doing such atrocities we are ready to hang them because nobody will tolerate such kind of nuisance. But it should be proved.”
Mohit Garg, the Superintendent of Police, Bijapur, told Newslaundry that no complaint had been received on paper. However, “somebody has posted about the rape and illegal detention online so the state set up a Special Investigation Team to look into the matter. Our IG of Bastar Range set up the SIT under the additional SP Bijapur about two weeks ago. The SIT is investigating it and if they find any wrongdoing on the part of officials, appropriate action will be initiated against them.”
The first post about the issues in Korseguda was posted on Facebook on January 7 by Geedam-based activist Lingaram Kodopi. This raises questions about Garg’s claim that the SIT was formed two weeks ago.
When asked about this, Garg said, “How do you know this? Somebody must have told you a story.” This correspondent explained that he had visited Korseguda and that Durgavati had shown him the money. Garg then said, “I have not received any complaint about this threat by SPOs and am unaware about money being offered by them. You can ask them (the villagers) to come and meet me directly. If something of this sort has happened, it’s not correct.”
Newslaundry also contacted Vivekanand Sinha, Inspector General of Police, Bastar Range—the man Garg says formed the SIT to investigate Korseguda. But when questioned, Sinha sounded clueless, saying “Korseguda? Which district?”
Newslaundry told him it was in Bijapur. Sinha said, “They must have formed … SP must have formed the team. I have also given some lady officers from the Range to them. We got a complaint on social media about Korseguda after which they formed the team.” Sinha also said he “doesn’t remember exactly” what the Korseguda matter is about, just saying a team was formed 10 days ago.