Independent investigation required into sexual violence against Adivasi women

Amnesty International India
India: 10 January 2017 11:21 am

Findings by India’s National Human Rights Commission that at least 16 Adivasi women were raped and assaulted by state police personnel must lead to an independent investigation into the cases, Amnesty International India said today.

On 7 January, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) stated that it had investigated three cases of alleged sexual violence by security forces against Adivasi women that were registered between October 2015 and January 2016, and found prima facie evidence of rape, sexual and physical assault. It found the state government ‘vicariously liable’ for gross human rights violations.

“The Chhattisgarh police have been dragging their feet over the complaints of sexual violence filed by Adivasi women,” said Gopika Bashi, Women’s Rights Campaigner at Amnesty International India.

“The NHRC findings should serve as a wake-up call. It is imperative that an independent investigation be carried out, especially since the police and security forces are implicated in the complaints. Sexual assault cannot be allowed to become a strategic tool during military operations.”

To date, there have been no charges filed in any of the three registered cases. The NHRC found that the statements of some of the victims in the three cases had not yet been recorded. It also noted that the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act – a law to address violence against Dalits and Adivasis – had not been invoked in any of the cases.

Isha Khandelwal, a lawyer assisting some of the survivors, said, “There is a deliberate delay in the investigation. The burden is on the state government to do something. What are they waiting for? This has to be seen in a broader context – there is a level of impunity given to the senior officers who are heading police operations in these areas.”

On 1 November 2015, three Adivasi women and a girl filed an FIR alleging rape and sexual violence by security forces in five villages in Bijapur district between 19 and 24 October 2015. On 15 January 2016, six Adivasi women registered an FIR against security force personnel for sexual assault during search operations on 12 January in Kunna village and Pedapara in Sukma district. Another FIR was lodged on 21 January 2016 against security personnel who allegedly raped more than a dozen women in Nendra, Bijapur during search operations between 11 and 14 January.

In May 2016, India’s National Commission for Scheduled Tribes called the investigations into the cases ‘unsatisfactory’ and said that no progress had been made in identifying the security personnel suspected of assaulting the villagers. It recommended that the investigation be carried out by a different wing of the state police. Activists, lawyers, and journalists have also chronicled women’s accounts of physical and sexual violence in the three cases.

“In all the cases, the state police refused to file a First Information Report at first, and only agreed to do so after a delay. Under Indian law, refusing to file an FIR in a case of sexual violence is a criminal offence. The police must be held accountable for their inaction,” said Gopika Bashi.

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Nazia Erum
Email: [email protected]