This article has been published on OutLook Magazine India.
The author of this article Nandini Sundar is also the author of Subalterns and Sovereigns: An Anthropological History of Bastar 1854-2006.
If the security forces can treat dead women like hunting trophies, not only trussing their bodies to poles, but taking pride in displaying their kill, is it surprising that their behaviour towards the living is so atrocious?
"After every deadly attack by the Maoists, ‘civil society actors’ are summoned by TV channels to condemn the incident, substituting moral indignation for news analysis. And yet, the same media is strangely silent on police or paramilitary atrocities against civilians."On June 9, The Hindu published stories of rapes in and around Chintalnar in Dantewada by special police officers (SPOs) of the Chhattisgarh government. To my knowledge, no one’s asked P. Chidambaram, Raman Singh or the Chhattisgarh DGP to condemn these incidents or even asked what they are going to do about it. These are people in positions of power, who are elected or paid to uphold the Constitution, and the ‘buck stops with them’, not with ordinary citizens.
If channels can run all-day programmes on justice for Ruchika Girhotra, why not for the adivasi girls who were raped and assaulted in and around Chintalnar between May 26-28? Is it because they are not middle class and their plight will not raise TRP ratings? Or because they are considered ‘collateral damage’ in the war between “India” and the “Maoists”—who, not being part of “India”, are presumably from outer space—that TV commentators advocate?
While rape is often described as a weapon of war, it is not uniformly practised, and indeed nothing distinguishes the two parties in a guerrilla war more than their attitude to rape. In her careful analysis of sexual violence during civil war, the political scientist Elizabeth Woods points out that while it was common in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Rwanda and Sierra Leone, sexual assault was less frequent in El Salvador, Sri Lanka and Peru. In the latter cases, the vast majority of rapes were committed by the government or paramilitaries, this also being a primary reason why women were motivated to join the insurgents. The rebel armies—who carried out other violent acts, including the killing of civilians—almost never committed sexual violence, including against female combatants in their own ranks. In Mizoram, women recalling the regrouping and search operations of the 1960s described only rapes by Indian soldiers and none by the Mizo National Front. One said to me, “It is as if the vai (outsider) army was hungry for women.” Today, despite government claims that the Maoists sexually exploit young women, the distinction between insurgent and counter-insurgent is clear for the women of Dantewada. They are safe from one army (the PLGA) but not from the other (the Indian paramilitary and SPOs/police). And in any war to win hearts and minds (‘WHAM’), surely this is not an unimportant distinction.