Thousands of Adivasi women staged protests outside the Burhanpur Collectorate in Madhya Pradesh on Wednesday demanding an enquiry into an instance of violence against women from the tribal community women in December last year.
The incident occurred in the afternoon on December 31 at Devra village where a mob of between 25 and 30 people who were armed with sticks attacked the home of 35-year-old Sardar Vaskale, thrashed its residents and hurled abuses suspecting that the family had converted to Christianity. After the violence, Leela Bai – an eight month pregnant tribal woman – reportedly miscarried her after a group of men attacked and kicked her in the stomach.
Two months have passed since the violence and an enquiry is yet to be initiated in the matter, with protesters alleging they had faced threats and harassment to withdraw their movement.
Over a thousand Adivasi women gathered in Barwani to demand the arrest of the men who had barged into an Adivasi home falsely accusing them of organising religious conversions, molesting young girls and attacking Leela Bai.
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Raising slogans of “Leelabai ko nyay do!” (Justice for Leelabai!) “Doshi Gundo ko Giraftar karo!” (Arrest the Hooligans!), women from several Adivasi organisations – including Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sangathan, JAYS (Jai Adivasi Yuva Shakti), Adivasi Ekta Parishad, Adivasi Chhatra Sangathan, Shehari Mazdoor Sangathan – strongly opposed the “protection” that the mob had been receiving from the government as well as the police.
“The police officers were well aware of the law (Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989), which requires the immediate registration of an FIR and other action. They deliberately and repeatedly violated the law. The police should be prosecuted under Section 4 of the Atrocities Act,” the protesters said.
Speaking to Newsclick, Laya Bai, one of the protesters said: “So many women are enraged as to how violence is being inflicted on us, that too in the name of religious conversion. Close to two months have passed and even an FIR has not been registered. Instead, we are being told to curb our movement or we will be attacked too. We have been demanding that the police take action against the accused. They know the law and we need them to act now.”
The Adivasi community has alleged that the attackers were mainly non-adivasi and upper caste men from nearby villages and that they were affiliated to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The accused have been identified as Gaurav Sharma, Shriram Rathod, Ravi Khanna, Raja Rathod, Ramesh Rathod, Mangal Patel, Tilak Patel, Arvind Patidar, Rajesh Dhangar, Nilesh Patel, Vishal Koli, Amar Kamble, Gajendra and others. An investigation is yet to begin in the case.
The community has asserted that such attacks are a direct assault on all Adivasi women and all of Adivasi society. Protesters in Barwani demanded that the accused be arrested under the Atrocities Act and relevant sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). They also demanded action against the police for allegedly protecting the perpetrators, adding that no religion permits such violence and that religion could not be used as a “pretext” for atrocities.
Nasri Bai, another protester, said that it was only after “400 to 500 of us surrounded the police station that the police assured us of an investigation, which is still pending. Section 18 of the Atrocities Act directs the police to register an FIR and arrest the accused in the case of an atrocity immediately. Instead of carrying out an investigation the police has recorded the testimonies of the accused to suppress the case itself! This is an attack on the entire Adivasi society, which is why we gathered here in the thousands to demand that the accused be arrested and action be taken against police officials,” she alleged.
“The district police are seeking to justify its inaction saying they are ‘investigating’ the matter. But, it may be noted that the failure to arrest the accused is in blatant violation of the Section 18 (A)(1)(a) of the SC/ST (Prevention of) Atrocities Act which clearly states that ‘preliminary enquiry shall not be required for registration of a First Information Report against any person’. By violating the Act, the officials have invited prosecution under Section 4 for willful neglect of duties. Further, the Barwani police is in violation of multiple Supreme Court guidelines which state that the police cannot refuse to register an FIR claiming they have to complete a preliminary investigation or finding the claim,” the Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sangathan (JADS) has said.
The women have pledged to intensify the agitation if the police does not act immediately. JADS has also submitted a memorandum to Chief Minister ShivRraj Singh Chouhan, but cognisance of the issue has not been taken yet.
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