Frustrated by the second such incident in just over a fortnight and the police’s refusal to register an FIR, the traditional adivasi leaders of West Singhbhum’s Bandhgaon came together on Monday to ensure an investigation began into the allegation that a CRPF jawan molested a woman during an anti-left wing extremist operation.
It was an extraordinary show of solidarity from the Manki-Munda Sangh of Bandhgaon block, whose 216 Mundas and nine Mankis – traditional leaders who inherit their titles – decided on September 16 to protest the molestation. It was also an act of reclaiming territory: no elected representative, even those of the panchayats, were given pride of place. The leaders succeeded in convincing police officials to attend the meeting and initiating the process of registering an FIR.
The incident in question took place on the afternoon of September 8 in Kudmud village of Jalasar panchayat. “I was at home when a CRPF man walked in, demanding water. I could see two of his colleagues standing outside,” said the 25-year-old woman, whose husband was away at the time.
The woman said the CRPF man handed her two bottles to fill water. “When I asked for caps to close the bottles, he began stripping himself and caught hold of me,” she said. The woman said when she screamed for help, the three jawans escaped into the jungle. The village elders had taken the woman to the police station on September 9, but police officers refused to file an FIR.
At the meeting held under a peepul tree within the Bandhgaon market, the villagers presented three youngsters who told officer in-charge of the police station K.K. Jha and Block Development Officer Mohd. Shahzad Pervez that they were beaten with batons the same day. Of them, Etwa Lomga’s case related to the molestation. “I was down with fever when the CRPF personnel started interrogating me. They beat me twice on the shin with a baton. When I got a chance, I asked to go to the toilet and used the opportunity to escape,” he said. Etwa said he had run into the forest behind the woman’s house and that three CRPF jawans chased him to the edge of the forest.
Mikhail Lomga, the Munda of Kudmud, said it was the first time security personnel had misbehaved in his village. “The operation had been going on for about a week before the incident. Forces were stationed at schools in two villages – Kahdiri and Podongir. They came to our village on September 8 demanding to know about the Jharkhand Liberation Tigers (JLT),” said Mikhail. The JLT, long extinct, was a left wing extremist organisation that was the forerunner to the People’s Liberation Front of India.
This is the second time in about 15 days that a case where an adivasi woman of Bandhgaon has alleged that a security personnel molested her. A resident of Tebo village, who was pregnant at the time, alleged in the first week of September that a jawan of the Jharkhand Armed Police molested her; an FIR has been registered into the matter.
At the meeting in the Bandhgaon market on Monday, villagers were angry that the incident had repeated. They were also worried that the police would file false cases against them. “If we gherao the thana, the police will claim we were sent by the MCC [Maoists],” scoffed Mani Munda of Karida.
“My job is not to trouble you. I will ensure that the perpetrators will be brought to justice,” said station in-charge Jha, after listening to what the woman had to say.