A decade ago I traveled as a journalist to Dantewada district of Chhattisgarh and met with several Adivasi women who had been continuously raped by the Indian police and the paramilitary for weeks and months and years. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) had decided to investigate. But that was a sham, too, as NHRC had sent police officers to investigate allegations against police officers. Obviously, the NHRC had failed its duty.
I wrote up the testimonies of these women and Tehelka published them as a cover story. More than any other story I thought this one would shock the readers; that, at the very least, women would react — surely women activists would. I was wrong. Hardly anyone reacted. My editors were as surprised as I was. After all, mass rapes by security personnel in a conflict zone not only violate civilizational norms and India’s criminal laws, but also international jurisprudence, even the Geneva Convention.
So one of my editors decided to speak with one of India’s best-known women journalists then employed with one of India’s best-known television news stations with a reputation for hard-hitting journalism. The said journalist passed on the story to a colleague of hers, also a woman, for a possible follow-up on their network. Days passed. Nothing happened. I asked my colleague to reconnect with the network to see if they were doing something about this story. The woman journalist from the network responded: “We will not run this story because we do not do pro-Maoist stories.”
I had met those unfortunate women thanks to efforts by Himanshu Kumar, who then lived in Dantewada as a social activist. Himanshu bhai had already been getting on the nerves of the district administration for a while with his outreach among the adivasis. My story proved to be the proverbial straw on the camel’s back and within weeks of its publication, the police demolished Himanshu bhai’s ashram, where he had lived for close on 17 years to work among the poor, and drove him out of Chhattisgarh.
It is possible that hundreds more women in Chhattisgarh have been raped since my story was published.
_ Ajit Sahi