Five young women were allegedly gangraped by half-a-dozen men when they went to Kochang village in Arki police station area of Jharkhand’s Khunti district to stage a street play against human trafficking. The incident occurred in a village where Patthalgadi had been performed and senior police and administrative officials said Patthalgadi supporters were suspected to be involved.
The police said that they have registered a case of gangrape against unidentified persons. Patthalgadi, a traditional practice among tribals in which they put up stone slabs with names of their ancestors, has of late taken the form of a protest, with patthalgadi supporters urging people not to allow government officials and police to enter their areas. They have also said that they intend to run their own schools and set up an “adivasi board”. They have argued that Constitution has given them the right to maintain their own systems in Scheduled Areas.
According to police, the five women had gone to the village to stage a street play against human trafficking. Some men, police said, objected to their performance and allegedly raped them following an argument. Khunti SP Ashwani Kumar Sinha said, “An FIR has been registered. We have spoken to the victims. They have told us that the accused asked questions like why they had not come when they (patthalgadi supporters) staged a programme. They also questioned their presence as it was related to the government’s initiatives. The men then allegedly assaulted them sexually. Efforts are on to identify the culprits. We have also formed a medical board for examination of the victims.”
Police sources said the women were hired by an NGO to stage street plays against human trafficking.
Khunti has been witnessing Patthalgadi protests for the past many months. Stone slabs installed outside villages entrance announce that the writ of the government did not run there and the “gram sabha was all-powerful”. The supporters of Patthalgadi keep a watch and do not allow government servants to enter villages without permission.