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Jharkhand gangrape: Seeking to "tarnish" Pathalgarhi tribal rebels, 1000 cops raid seven villages

By Our Representative
A fact-finding team, constituted by the Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression and Sexual Repression (WSS), on gang rape of five adivasis women on June 19 in Kochang village of Jharkhand’s Khunti district, where they had performed 16 street plays on anti-trafficking, has accused the police of focusing “entirely on a campaign to tarnish the Pathalgarhi movement” of the region instead of investigating the rape incident itself.
Pathalgarhi is a rebel movement, seeking to “demarcate” the tribal territories and “tell outsiders (government officials) that the law of the land does not apply here”, insisting, they are “the real inhabitants of this country” and “jal, jungle, jameen (water, forest and land)”.
Efforts to tarnish the movement, says the team in its report, is clear from the fact that “on June 27, a 1,000-member strong force of CRPF, RAF, JAF and personnel from other units raided Ghaghra (a village with a population of around 300) and neighbouring seven villages.”
It adds, “Out of these seven villages, Pathalgarhi had only been declared in three or four villages. Out of the two villages where Pathalgarhi had been initiated, the 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 of the residents.”
It adds, “One person died in the lathi-charge, a minor girl suffered fracture, and between 150-300 persons, including women in substantial numbers, were arrested. After the raids, residents of all eight villages have fled to the forest and nearby areas out of fear and terror.”
The fact-finding team, which visited the affected villages from June 28 to 30, attempted to meet the five survivors, currently under police custody, but was not granted access, nor was it given appointment to meet with the district collector and district police chief.
The street plays the five victims were performing were a collaborative effort between a home for rescued women, managed by the RC Mission in Jharkhand, and a troupe belonging to an NGO.
“The incident occurred on June 19, but two FIRs were filed on the incident, one at the Khunti police station, and the other at the Khunti Mahila police station, only on June 21”, the team says, adding, the delay took place even though the police “had already received information of the offence at least on June 20.”
The FIRs identify Father Alphonse and “other unidentified persons/Pathalgarhi supporters” as the accused, says the team, even though “there is videographic evidence of the incident.”
A week later the police released the photo of one of the accused from this video, one Baji Samant, “who is not a Pathalgarhi supporter, but a resident of a different village, Sarai-kela”, says the team, adding, “All other sources we spoke to including those form near by villages said that the four men who came on bikes (the suspects) were not from the area.”
The team further says, “While it is being projected in the media that Father Alphonse was arrested for not doing enough to prevent the incident, and for failing to report the case to the police, in the FIR he is accused of a range of very grave offences, most of which are non-bailable”, including “wrongful restraint, wrongful confinement, voluntarily causing hurt, disrobing, gang rape, kidnapping, kidnapping with intent to wrongfully confine and conspiracy.”
While the police claim that three other co-accused “are leaders of the Pathalgarhi movement”, the team points out, “On asking whether the identity of all five identified accused and their claims have been verified by the five survivors, we were told that only the SP office would respond to all the queries”.
Wondering why, despite “surreptitious medical examination” on the night of June 20, followed by “full medical examination” of all five survivors on June 21, they are still in police custody, the team asks, why are they not even allowed to speak to “anyone except the National Commission of Women (NCW) team”.
Also wondering as to “who is head of the NGO which was a part of the troupe and who has filed the first FIR”, and where has he “disappeared after filing the FIR”, the team accuses “the Jharkhand police and administration” for “maintaining utmost secrecy in the actions and proceedings subsequent to the incident.”
“In the name of pursuing unidentified suspects, the police has artificially linked those associated with the Pathalgarhi movement with the gang rape, and has unleashed targeted persecution, harassment and arrests on them”, the team opines.
It adds, “There is sufficient evidence to suggest that the four bikers who committed the crime were not localites. One of those from the video has been identified as Baji Samant, resident of neighbouring Sarai-Kela. Yet, instead of pursuing these identifiable accused, the police, with the support of security personnel, is targeting Pathalgarhi leaders as the prime suspects in the case.”

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