The tragice ordeal and ultimate death of Jyoti Pandey in Delhi has turned the eyes of the world to the 'rape problem' in India. It is no secret that shocking deficiencies exist with respect to the prosecution of rapists and the treatment of victims in India. A recentblog in the Washington Post correctly stated that India's rape problem is also a police problem. Not only are police unwilling to investigate and prosecute sexual crimes, they also often punish the victims with insensitive questioning and invasive examinations.
But the problem is greater still. Indian Police and security forces are often themselves implicated in sexual violence. Shockingly however, they enjoy impunity from prosecution in rape as per Section 197 of India’s Criminal Procedure Code and Section 6 of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act of 1958.
As a result, rape and sexual violence have become an interrogation tool used by the Indian police, most often in 'disturbed' areas when dealing with 'anti-nationals'.
The BBC, in a piece titled "The rapes that India forgot", outlines some recent examples of this problem:
In 2004 in Manipur, 32-year-old Manorama was taken away from home by the soldiers of Assam Rifles who accused her of helping insurgents. A few hours later, her mutilated body was found by the roadside, her pelvis riddled with dozens of bullets.
Last year, 14-year-old Sonam was raped and killed inside a police station in Uttar Pradesh.
During the 2002 riots in Gujarat, a number of Muslim women were gang-raped, and campaign groups routinely accuse the security forces in Indian-administered Kashmir and the troubled north-east of using rape as a weapon to punish the entire community.
In May 2009, Indian-administered Kashmir witnessed 47 days of violent protests and strikes after two young women were raped and murdered, allegedly by police, in Shopian town.
And in Chhattisgarh, Soni Sori has been in police custody since October 2011 when she was arrested on charges of being a courier for the Maoists. She has alleged in the Supreme Court that while in custody, she has been raped and stones have been shoved inside her vagina.
Most of these victims are still waiting for justice, sometimes years after the crimes have been committed.
Atrocities against Sikh women were also routine in the Punjab in the 80s and 90s. In addition to the brutal rape and murder of hundreds of Sikh women in November 1984, in the decade that followed, the Punjab Police and Indian security forces routinely used rape as an interrogation tool. Punjab's International Human Rights Organisation has documented many instances of such abuse in their publication "The Rape of Punjab".
One case that is particularly shocking in its brutality is that of Amandeep Kaur. Amandeep Kaur was the sister of Harpinder Singh, a suspected 'militant'. She was only 20 when she was tortured, raped and then killed by the Punjab Police.
What makes this story unique however is that shortly before her murder, Amandeep Kaur recorded a statement with human rights workers.
Her story in her own words is below:
My Marriage & Arrest
"Jaswinder Singh Sraa son of Surjeet Singh of Jassowal village Ludhiana dst. was born and brought up on the UK. He presently lives in Mississauga Canada.
He came to India on October 12, 1991 for marriage on October 24th. We along with my father Jaswant Sngh, village Headman Bhag Singh and Member of Panchyaat Meet Singh went to the office of the sub-registrar, Rampura Phul, for registration of the marriage. As we came out of the courtroom, the SHO of Phul, picked up three of us, me, my husband and my father. We were taken to Phul Police Station where SSP Kahlon, SP Mohkam Singh, DSP Aulah and SP of Operations were present.
The SSP on seeing us, promptly ordered that my two male relations be stripped naked in my presence. He then took out the picture of his slain son and addressing them remarked that he had taken the revenge for the murder (by dishonouring me).
Kahlon then started abusing my husband and father. He took hold of a lathi to beat the two. It was then the turn of his subordinates who beat us with their leather belts. The SSP ordered that my husband and father slap each other.
After this cruel exercise, we were blindfolded. I was relieved of my two wedding rings, a pair of ear-rings and one golden chain. From my husband, the SSP snatched $500 and a bracelet of 3.5 tolas and his wedding ring. My father was similarly robbed of Rs. 2500. I and my husband were put into our van PCL-8433. We heard the SSP directing his staff to set our house on fire and bring the wife and younger daughter of Jaswant Singh (my mother and sister) to the police station for similar treatment.
After Kahlon left, we were brought back to the police station. While my husband and father were put in the lock-up, I was kept out for maltreatment [i.e. for sexual assault].
Early next morning we three were taken to Sardulgarh by our van. On October 27, my mother Surjeet Kaur was brought to us. She told us her story of dishonour [rape], torture and maltreatment. She was kept in a Rampura police station and at the head office of CIA Bathinda.
In our absence, the police from Rampura Phul ransacked our house and removed all our belongings. The village panchayat was not let anywhere near the house. No seizure report was prepared and handed over to the panchayat or anyone else.
12 Days of Terror
I, my mother and father were kept in Sardulgarh police station for 12 days. But my husband was moved to Phul police station on October 29. The SSP was present there. He ordered my husband's release on October 30, telling him to forget about his marriage to me and leave India immediately, which he did the next day. In the meantime, the village panchayat came to know of our detention at Sardulgarh and they came there to rescue us but we were removed stealthily to Boha police station.
At Boha, I was not given even water for washing under SSP's order. We were maltreated there [Amandeep Kaur was reluctant to give details of the 'mistreatment'].
After eight days, the three of us were removed from Boha to CIA Bathinda. My mother and I were released from three weeks of illegal detention. My father was kept in CIA Bathinda and at Phul and was produced in a court on November 30. A case was registered against him.
KP Gill ‘Helpless’
While we were in custody, Jaswinder Singh, who happens to be brother of my father, telephoned DGP KP Gill at telephone No. 753-546840 requesting him to intervene but Gill told him that Kahlon did not listen to his advice.
We have learnt that the SSP had picked us up because on October 23, 1991, some millitants had abducted six traders of Phul and the police suspected my 16-year-old brother Harpinder Singh Goldy aka. Pamma's hand in the abduction. My brother had gone underground in the wake of police harassment in August 1991 when he was studying in class 10 + 1 .
I have gone underground to escape further humiliation and torture because the SSP Harkishan Kahlon is after me, for unknown reasons. Because of the "treatment" given to my husband, he has left me and does not wish to keep me as his wife any longer.”
Amandeep Kaur stayed in hiding until January 21 1992. The police then sent a message asking her to return to her house, returning all her property and insisting they would not harass her any more. They also bailed her father the day before the message was sent. Jaswant Singh did not trust the police so he did not return home. Amandeep Kaur returned to her home, with the faith that she would be allowed to collect the pieces and resume her ordinary life. When her mother was out, two gun men with masked faces came on behalf of SSP Bathinda, Kahlon, and shot Amandeep Kaur dead on January 21st at 7:30pm.
The perpetrators of these crimes have never been prosecuted, despite having clearly been named. In the calls for justice for Jyoti Pandey, these victims of police rape must not be forgotten.
Until India cracks down on its security forces and prosecutes police officers responsible for sexual crimes, the Indian "rape problem" cannot be solved.