Press Release issued by Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS)
Image Courtesy: Neeraj Sinha
Residents of Ghaghra and neighbouring villages, Khunti district in Jharkhand, and women’s rights activists have approached the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) with 9 complaints against the establishment of security camps inside primary schools and panchayat bhawans in the village, in contravention of Supreme Court guidelines. The complaints state that 9 schools and 2 panchayat bhawans in Khunti, Murhu, Arki, Badgaon of Khunti and Chaibasa districts have been continuously occupied by security forces since June 2018. As a result, schools have been shut down affecting the right to education of adivasi children, who are living under a constant environment of fear and intimidation. Further, no meetings have been held in the panchayat bhawans because of the occupation.
On 20 December 2018, during a 2-day visit of the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) in Ranchi, Jharkhand, the Chairperson Shri Nand Kumar Sai also called upon the Jharkhand state government to vacate the security camps from schools. The NCST delegation, including the Chairperson and Vice-Chairperson Ms. Anusuya Ukil among others, met with the state Minister for Women and Child Development Ms. Louise Marandi, and asked for the relocation of security camps as they adversely affect students and local residents. This comes in the wake of a previous complaint by women’s rights group, Women against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS) submitting complaints to the NCST against the non-partial investigation into the gang-rape of 5 adivasi women in Khunti, Jharkhand in June, which was followed by targeted raids in neighbouring villages.
In September 2010, the Supreme Court had held in Exploitation of Children in Orphanages in the State of Tamil Nadu v. Union of India & Ors. that “school buildings are not allowed to be occupied by the armed or security forces in future for whatsoever purpose”. Previously, the Supreme Court had also directed the state of Chhattisgarh to release schools from the occupation of paramilitary forces in the ongoing Salwa Judum case.
The camps had been set up following security raids in Ghaghra and 7 neighbouring villages in June 2018.The fact-finding visits of WSS and CDRO in June and August uncovered that, on 26 June 2018, the police claimed to have raided Ghaghra village in order to arrest three Pathalgarhi leaders falsely implicated in the gang-rape of five adivasi women the preceding fortnight, as the real culprits identified by the villagers are still at large. The police lathi charged the villagers and drove them back using several tear gas shells and firing. One of the villagers, Birsa Munda, died on the spot after being hit on the head with lathi, and his family has still not been provided with a post-mortem report.
This was followed by full-fledged security raids on 27 June 2018, as 1000-member strong force of CRPF, RAF, JAF and personnel from other units raided Ghaghra (a village with a population of around 300) and neighbouring 7 villages. In 2 villages, security forces unleashed brutal violence in the form of beatings and atrocities on men, women and children, lathi-charge, tear-gassing and rubber pellet shootings, and also raided the homes, and destroyed the belongings of the residents. Women who were fleeing from the violence were caught and assaulted, with at least one woman having been raped and another disrobed here, and several other instances of sexual violence in neighbouring villages. One woman who was pregnant was verbally abused, physically assaulted, lathi-charged and beaten up due to which she fainted. The security forces continued to camp outside the villages for at least two weeks, and patrolling continues until today.
Apart from the NHRC and NCST, victims have also sent a petition to the Chief Justice of India, National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights, the state Department of Women and Child Welfare, the District Collector and Chief Secretary, Jharkhand. However, till date except the NCST, no other agency has taken action on these complaints.
These complaints raise issues of atrocities and human rights violations during and following the brutal security raids,including the death of Birsa Munda, and assaults against women. The complaints demand vacation of security camps from schools and panchayat bhawans. They also demand an impartial investigation into the gang-rape of five adivasi women, security raids, use of tear gas and lathi-charge, and death and sexual violence against the villagers. Finally, complaints demand compensation, as there has been criminal inaction by the police in registering FIRs and pursuing necessary investigations.
WSS stands by the complainants and their demands and urges:
-The NHRC to take immediate cognizance of and action on the 9 complaints submitted by the residents of Ghaghra and neighbouring villages, Khunti district in Jharkhand, and women’s rights activists.
-The National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights take immediate action in the matter of occupation of schools by security forces and ensure continuation of children’s education in an environment free of intimidation and fear.
Courtesy: Indian Cultural Forum