Release of “Bearing Witness: Sexual Violence in South Chhattisgarh” A Book by Women against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS)

March 10, 2017
Bastar Solidarity Network-Mumbai

invites you for the release of

Bearing Witness : Sexual Violence in South Chhattisgarh”

A Book by Women against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS)

Speakers :
Shreya K- WSS activist and one of the authors of “ Bearing Witness : Sexual Violence in South Chhattisgarh”
Yug Mohit Choudhary- Human Rights Lawyer
Ilina Sen – Academician and activist, Author of “ Inside Chhattisgarh : A Political Memoir”

on 10th March, Press Club-Mumbai, near Azad Maidan, 5 pm onwards.

Concept note :
Far from the battlefield and bereft of any shield or bulletproof vest, it is the bodies of extraordinary women and men, unarmed and within the sanctity of their homes and fields, that have become the sites of conflict and war in Bastar, Chhatisgarh. Increasingly across most of the modern world, war is waged not between armies in designated battlefields but on the bodies of unarmed civilians. In this changed landscape, women’s bodies bear witness to the bloodiest and most abject travesties of a state sponsored war. A woman’s body has always been seen within the confines of patriarchy and understood to embody the honour of the fathers and husbands who claim her as property, and has therefore been an easy target to establish state and social dominance and reassert political control. This is systematically borne out by repeated instances of mass rapes in conflict zones. During the Rwandan Genocide approximately half a million Tutsi women were raped by the Hutu militia in an operation of ethnic cleansing. In Serbia the Kardazic leadership ran institutional rape camps in order to cleanse the Muslim and Croat population. The war zone of Bastar is of course no different.
In the mineral rich land of Chhatisgarh, the state is happy to sacrifice rich agricultural land, forests and water resources and the adivasi way of life to the altar of Jindal’s glass airport and the shining Naya Raipur. Issues of mass displacement and distribution of resources have been deliberately ignored. Industrial practices of illegal land grabbing and acquisition of mining licenses in violation of land and forest laws have been repeatedly condoned by the state. And even the slightest resistance has been met with a vicious barrage of violence, practised with appalling unconstitutional impunity
Over the last year alone, in Bastar, there have been multiple instances of mass sexual assaults by security personnel of more than forty women including minors in the areas of Pedagellur in Bijaur (October 2015), Nendra in Bijapur and Kunna in Sukma (January 2016) and Gangalur (May 2016). On 7.01.2017, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in a press release observed that it had found the allegations of sexual assault on 16 women to be true and were still in the process of recording further evidence and statements of the other victims. While the NHRC directed the State Government to grant the women compensation of Rs. 37 lakh little has been done to identify and prosecute the perpetrators.

The violence in Chhattisgarh is not restricted to the act of rape alone. It includes the pillaging of homes and food resources, the razing of farms and the stamping out of a way of community life. The government’s response to activists and lawyers highlighting such incidents has been only to increase militarisation, burn effigies of prominent activists and attempt to intimidate and threaten them through acid attacks, the passing of illegal bar council resolutions, and strongly shielding them under the shadow of civilian vigilante groups. The militarisation seen in Bastar post 2014 and the non-chalance with which the Chhattisgarh Chief Minister, Raman Singh and Bastar IG, Kalluri, ignored the summons issued by the NHRC regarding the complaints of mass sexual assault conveys a fairly clear message. There is only one narrative in Bastar- that of development. And no institution and literally no ‘body’ will be allowed to stand its way.

In the villages of Bastar one finds that during raids by security personnel, the men and boys are known to flee to save themselves from being arrested as naxals, while the women are left behind to face the wrath of the State. . Women have therefore been the source and the strength of resistance movements; in the timeless struggle for justice, gritting their teeth and bearing the dull, monotonous, never-ending wait for any sort of institutional response to their efforts. The incredible bravery shown by these women in persisting in their attempt to file a FIR and initiate prosecution against their rapists and assaulters in the face of a criminal justice system that has stone-walled them at every stage is surreal. In the face of a rapidly increasing number of false encounters in Bastar, women have begun to guard the bodies of their dead and have refused to bury them until the state concedes to filing a FIR and conducting a recorded post mortem. Thus, we find strong collectives of extraordinary women coming together every day with new forms of resistance against the state’s unabated assault.

It is therefore apt for ‘Bearing Witness’ a book recording the experiences and incidents of state sanctioned sexual violence against Adivasi women in South Chattisgarh to be launched on the occasion of International Working Women’s Day. The celebration of International Working Women’s Day has historically not been limited to the question of gender but is deeply rooted in socio-political movements and deeply committed to socio-economic and political justice.

If indeed the struggle of a woman against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting there is no better time than the occasion of International working woman’s day to bear witness to the experiences of these incredibly brave women from Bastar. For they continue to actively resist the ravaging of their bodies, their homes, their land and their culture and keep the struggle for justice alive, despite the apathy of a nation, whose people and institutions have long forgotten their value, their existence and even that they are human.

Please do grace us with your presence on this important occasion !

PS: We are a voluntary group and we would like to request you to contribute generously to make this program a success.

Shraddha, Sushmita, Meghana, Baljeet, Rossi,
Bodhayan, Payoshi, Tathagat, Shrujana  and others
from Bastar Solidarity Network