Violation is the norm here

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illustration: Rishab Arora

A soaring number of crimes against women has earned Delhi a dubious distinction of being the country’s ‘rape capital’. However, if numbers are anything to go by, Betul district in Madhya Pradesh is perhaps an equally strong contender for the moniker. In the past five years, Madhya Pradesh has reported maximum number of rape cases — 3,406 cases in 2011 alone, which means nine women were raped here every 24 hours. Betul, a city near Bhopal, has contributed significantly to this malaise. The police records for the past six months suggest that a rape is reported every second day here. Situated in the hilly terrain of Satpura, Betul is believed to be one of the most backward and poverty-stricken places in the country. Korku and Goud tribals migrate for six months to Harda, Hoshangabad and other areas in search of livelihood. Their women are often sexually abused by farm owners. In the Vidhan Sabha elections of 2008, this issue was raised by Suresh Pachauri of Congress, but took a backseat soon.

This year, the media spotlight fell on Betul once again when a tribal woman, Imarti Bai, was shot dead by a youth on 23 March. Reason? She reported the kidnapping and rape of her minor daughter to the police. Nine months later, her family is yet to muster courage to return to their dilapidated hut in the Hamalpur (on the outskirts of Betul). This is not quite as worse as it gets.  Recently, the local dailies reported a case where two elderly tribals, believed to  have practiced witchcraft,  from the neighbouring Arul village were forced to run naked by the local strongmen. Though these incidents took place in different localities, they have one strand in common — the victims, in both cases, were tribals. Confirming these estimates, the Home Ministry’s data indicates that across the country, 24 percent of the crimes against tribals are reported in the state.

The police officials, however, argue that the situation is not as bad. Geetesh Garg, joint commissioner of police, says, “Betul is infamous because more rape cases are reported here.” A claim that begs a question — what about the cases that go unreported? For instance, in 2007 10 women from Pardhi community of Multai were raped and cases were not registered for several months. Four years ago, when Urmilabai, a Dalit woman who became panch of Dongrai Panchayat, protested against the scam in MNREGA funds, she was raped twice by the sarpanch’s son. She committed suicide when the police did not register the case.

The Tribal Welfare Police Station of Betul has a different position altogether. “Woman allege rape to get compensation,” says Section Officer Vimla Chaudhary. She argues that the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities, 1989) Act offers a tribal woman a compensation of Rs 50,000 if rape is proven and, therefore, a lot of women register rape cases. “You should write in Betul rape is big business,” Chaudhary adds.

The tribals, however, see this claim as an evidence of tribal welfare police’s apathy towards them. They say it is not easy for a tribal woman to report a rape and then pick up the money the next day. In short, no tribal woman wants to get embroiled in the lengthy process of the courts.

One wonders if the number of cases of rape are so high in Betul, why are the conviction rates not going up? According to Rekha Gujre, a social worker in Betul, “Here from gram sabha to constitutional bodies, crimes against women are irrelevant.” She says womern are pressured from all quarters to not stand up for themselves. But then there are some who do not give up. Nanibai (name changed) was allegedly gangraped by policemen in Amla police station. Her case is going on because even after three painfully long years she is still fighting, a fate shared by thousands of women in Betul.

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