It seems the Chhattisgarh police doesn’t consider statutory bodies set up by the country’s Parliament important enough to act on multiple notices sent by them. The National Commission for Women and the National Human Rights Commission have issued several notices to the Chhattisgarh police for an Action Taken Report (ATR) in connection with the rape of a 23-year-old pregnant woman by security personnel but the Chhattisgarh police is yet to respond.
On September 13, 2018, a 23-year-old tribal woman, who was five months pregnant then, was allegedly raped by security personnel in Korseguda, the Naxal bastion of Bijapur district in Chhattisgarh. In January, the woman had described her plight to Newslaundry: “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 had alleged that she was forced to strip her clothes and was assaulted. “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,” she had said. She alleged that she was then dragged to the CRPF camp and then to Basaguda police station. It was only in the evening, when some of the villagers went to the police station requesting for her release, that she was let go.
On January 24, a complaint, along with Newslaundry’s report, was submitted to the NCW by Shikha Pandey, a human rights fellow with the Bilaspur-based Jagdalpur Legal Aid group (JagLAG). In wake of the petition, the NCW sent a notice to DM Awasthi, the Director General of the Chhattisgarh police on January 30, 2019. The notice requested the Chhattisgarh police to look into the matter and take appropriate actions in accordance with the law. The NCW also asked the Chhattisgarh police to update them about the action taken within a period of 30 days.
No ATR was received by the NCW.
On April 12, 2019, the NCW issued a reminder notice to the Chhattisgarh police asking them to submit the ATR within a period of 30 days. Again, there was no response to the NCW’s notice. On May 21, the NCW sent a third notice to the DGP of Chhattisgarh police. The notice pointed out that despite two earlier notices—one on January 30 and a reminder notice on April 12—the commission had not received any response from the police. The notice state: “You are, therefore, requested to look into the matter and expedite the submission of the required ATR in the matter within the next 30 days.”
Similarly, the NHRC had asked the Chhattisgarh DGP and Bijapur’s Superintendent of Police and District Magistrate to submit an ATR within four weeks. The NHRC notice also pointed out the inaction on the police’s part. The notice was issued on February 28, 2019; however, the concerned authorities are yet to submit an ATR. Newslaundry accessed a copy of the complaint and all the notices issued by the NCW and the NHRC.
Shikha Pandey, the lawyer who filed the complaint with the NCW and the NHRC, said, “There seems to be a deliberate attempt to dilute the seriousness of the complaint. This case highlights the absence of a mechanism that could address such complaints of sexual violence and ensure an independent investigation.”
Senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, the founder of Human Rights Law Network, said, “Statutory bodies like NCW and NHRC are not made for sending notices only. Other than police, it is also the fault of the NHRC and the NCW. These are powerful bodies who can intervene even in the court where the cases are pending. They themselves can file the petitions in the high court as well as the Supreme court. This is happening because these bodies have turned themselves into a toothless tiger despite having so much power.”
Independent researcher Kalyani Menon-Sen also weighed in on the NHRC’s effectiveness. She said, “There is a lack of independence from the government—members include retired civil servants and outright political appointees (with active links to the governing party). They are appointed without any consultation or screening, there is zero transparency.” She added, “There is a lack of representation. The single woman member—a practising advocate with RSS affiliation—was appointed only after the NHRC accreditation was blocked at the global level.”
Menon-Sen also spoke about the disconnect of the statutory bodies from the ground. “There is a lack of connect with the ground. After a big hue and cry by civil society human rights groups, the NHRC appointed a whole bunch of special rapporteurs. Every one of them is a retired IAS or IPS officer. I’m sure many of them are lovely people and have the best intentions.”
Newslaundry also sought Chhattisgarh DGP DM Awasthi’s response to police’s inaction despite multiple notices issued by the NCW and the NHRC in the Korseguda rape case. At the beginning of the conversation, Awasthi asked this correspondent which district Korseguda is in. He added, “Maybe the judicial or magistrate inquiry was happening in the matter and only after receiving these reports, we can give it. The report must not be pending with the police. But reply to the notice should definitely have gone accordingly, I will check why the response has not been given yet.”
Tamradhwaj Sahu, Home Minister, had told this reporter in January that he will look into the matter and will take the strictest action possible against the culprits. However, Sahu did not respond to Newslaundry’s query about the Chhattisgarh police’s inaction.
Newslaundry repeatedly contacted Rekha Sharma, chairperson of the NCW, to understand the commission’s future course of action. Her response is awaited. However, her office said appropriate action will be taken in the matter.