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Sexual abuse of tribal girls in South Gujarat; "involvement" of well-organized mafia of politicians, cops, officials

By Nachiketa Desai*
A month ago, a tribal girl in Vyara, the district town of Tapi in South Gujarat, was molested by her employer, and a video of the act was circulated widely on social media. The person who captured the video was another tribal girl in the employ of the accused, who runs a non-government organization (NGO), which receives grants from the state government for running Mahila Sashaktikaran (women’s empowerment) programmes.
In a separate incident, last week, a 14-year-old lodged a first information report (FIR) with the Vyara police station against her 45-year-old employer for having raped her several times and threatened to kill her entire family if she opened her mouth. Initially the cops refused to act against the accused, who belongs to the family of a well-connected politician. The accused was finally arrested following complaints in Gujarat capital, Gandhinagar, which led the authorities to order action.
To any common person unfamiliar with the current goings-on in tribal areas of Gujarat, these two incidents may appear to be isolated cases. However, according to activists of an upcoming people’s organization among tribal farmers in South Gujarat, Adivasi Kisan Sangharsh Manch (AKSM), this is just a “tip of iceberg.”
AKSM, which has become a formidable force in the tribal districts of Tapi and Chhota Udepur, has been taking up tribal rights and environmental issues affecting the forest dwellers of the region. It has gained popularity for the fight which it has put up against the river sand mafia in Chhota Udepur and refusal to pay up tribal farmers’ dues for sugarcane sold to a cooperative sugar mill, run by powerful local politicians.
Say AKSM sources, a well-organized racket has come to stay in the tribal areas, whose sole is to push tribal girls into flesh trade. The racket has the support of several local politicians in connivance with government officials, including police, forest and those working in the tribal and social welfare department.
Says Romel Sutaria, AKSM president, flesh traders target teen-age tribal girls, who out of poverty come to towns in search of employment as house maids and in small business establishments.
“We have come across and exposed several cases whereby these hapless girls are supplied to local politicians for their ‘entertainment’ by the flesh traders, who operate under the cover of doing contract work for various government departments”, he alleges.
Often, say activists, the flesh trade mafia also finds tribal girls pursuing their studies residing in government-run hostels as their soft target. There have been cases when hostel wardens, mostly non-tribals from an urban centres, turn a blind eye to this, with a few of them even colluding with the mafia.
“The local police are not only reluctant to take complaints from the victims but in most cases treat the victims as criminals,” Sutariya says. “In both cases of molestation and rape in Vyara, the police harassed the girls by making them wait in the police station for hours before taking down their FIR,” he adds.
Says Sutariya, AKSM activists are “harassed because they seek to expose the established interests in the region”. Also running a campaign against the sand mining mafia, in Chhota Udepur district, the police sought to implicate Sutariya in criminal cases, which were set aside as false by the local district courts.
“The district officials even tried to paint the AKMS as an outfit of Maoists, though without much success. They have planted reports in local Gujarati newspapers about AKSM’s involvement in Naxalite activities, even though we believe non-violent methods of struggle,” Sutariya complains.
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*Senior journalist based in Ahmedabad

Comments

Pascal Tirkey said…
This is a very serious issue not only in Gujarat but all over country. in most of the cases police either support the perpetrators or indifferent. I wonder how would they feel and react if their daughters and sisters, mothers are raped?

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