Alarming reports about rising atrocities against women in Tripura received from various sources led to the visit of a Committee with representatives from the following national women's organizations/institutions - All India Democratic Women's Association, Mahila Dakshita Samiti, National Federation of Indian Women, and Centre for Women's Development Studies - to Tripura to investigate the situation. The six- member Committee visited Agartala on 24th and 25th October and interviewed 70 women, who (or their family) had been victims of such atrocities and received their written representations. On the request of the Committee, the Chief Minister, the Director-General of Police and the Leader of the Opposition in the State Assembly also held discussions with the Committee. The Committee also received a memorandum from the Ganatantrik Nari Samiti of Tripura, which contained reports of 173 cases of atrocities against women in the State during January 1988 and October 1990. (Appendix 1). The Nari Samity's memorandum and discussions with us emphasized that women had become the major target of attack by the ruling Congress (I)-TUJS alliance. Fundamental rights, democratic rights to participate in the political process as well as laws for the protection of [women] ceased to operate.
We were not able to visit any of the districts in the interior, unable to visit rural areas (in which majority of such atrocities particularly took place) because we were informed that after the visit of the National Front Parliamentary Delegation in July-August (See Appendix 6 for Report) to some rural areas, women who testified before the team were subjected to severe reprisals. 14 out of 70 women (20%) we interviewed had been attacked during August to 20 October 1990. Several of them linked their misfortune with their (or their family members) having testified before the Delegation. One of them said a gang of Congress (I), hoodlums entered her house and after failing to get hold of her school going daughter, repeatedly raped her.
It was possible for us to meet some of the victims from these regions only through the efforts of Ganatantrik Nari Samiti. We also received copies of two Memoranda submitted earlier to the President in October 1989 and to the National Front Parliamentary team in July 1990, which described the situation in Tripura as one of 'semi-fascist terror'.
The Committee's findings
The atrocities are of various kinds. Rape, including gang rape of adults, minor and handicapped girls, abduction, murder, physical assault, molestation, and attacks on the women's homes which frequently lead to burning them down are matched by intimidation, molestation - including stripping in public places - disruption of their livelihood, family life, security and forcible prevention of political activity. Certain patterns are clearly visible
- A large majority of the cases are of sexual assault - gang rape, rape, brutal molestation and stripping of women in public places. Of the total number of 223 cases of atrocities (data for which was gathered by the Committee) nearly 79% fall into this category. Of the 70 women whom we met, 25 had been victims of rape or other forms of sexual assault. 8 were minors. In several cases the victims' children and other members of the family were forced to watch these brutal assaults. We met some of these children who have not yet recovered from the trauma. The assaults frequently included a deliberate intent to brutally injure the victims. Many of the victims were hospitalized for weeks after incident.
- A large group of women we met came from families where either their husbands/sons/daughters had been murdered. We met two children (age 4 and 6) with their paternal aunt. Both parents had been killed in the presence of the children. We met a mother who watched her son being deliberately drowned by a gang of Congress (I) goondas right in front of her house. The police outpost was only a hundred and fifty yards away. Some of the murder victims had been dragged away from their homes, houses where they had taken shelter, or from public places. In several of these cases, police outposts were located nearby.
In many cases the murdered victims were hacked into pieces. One mother whose son was killed inside a polling booth in this manner, was asked to identify him from one severed limb.
- In the majority of cases, attacks are carried out by armed gangs. Arms include lathis, iron rods, spears, choppers and firearms. According to the DG of Police, these must be country-made pipe-guns, but the women called them pistols and revolvers. In some cases, bombs are used, resulting in death and/or mutilation.
- With the exception of a very few cases, the women have identified some or all of the culprits. The gangs include some outsiders whom they do not know but the leaders are people from their own neighborhood or village. Almost all the women whom we interviewed identified the culprit as supporters/members of the Congress (I).
- The overwhelming majority of the women belong to the poorest section of the population, coming from families of laborers, marginal peasants and small shopkeepers.
- The majority of the victims are tribals, scheduled caste and other backward classes, including minorities. (See Appendix 5.)
- Attacks followed by continued intimidation - threats of worse to follow, have forced a large number of these poor families to leave their homes and villages, thereby disrupting their livelihood and reducing them to still greater poverty with loss of work, earning members, homes and other possessions. In the case of three Anganwadi workers, pay has been withheld for several months. They have been told not to come to work but no dismissal letter has been issued.
- Though almost all the cases were reported to the police and the culprits identified, no arrests, except in 4 of the cases, were made by police. The police have not properly investigated the cases. In fact in not even a single case has the challan been filed by the police in Court. The culprits are still at large, free to continue their intimidation until the women are forced to leave the area or withdraw their charges. In several cases they informed us that as no action was taken on their previous reports and they had not been given any protection from the Goondas/anti-socials they were afraid to report cases of subsequent attacks. In some cases we were informed that the women did not lodge reports of subsequent attacks/ intimidation.
- The inaction or failure of legal processes, coupled with the deprivation of their livelihood and the dislocation of their family lives (in several cases, surviving members of the family are scattered in different places) and livelihood have created an acute sense of insecurity and powerlessness among the women, which is spreading even to other women, who have not been directly affected. Mothers who have lost their children are terrified of losing the one or two survivors. One of them, whose son's body has never been recovered, is mentally disturbed and has spoken only rarely since the incident. She did not speak before us initially and her case was presented by one of the Nari Samiti members, who accompanied her. Suddenly, she broke down to say that she had not found even one part of his body to perform his last rites. Several of the elderly women cried, "There is no law and no justice in this State". Mothers, who had tried to prevent the rape of their daughters and daughters-in-law had been attacked with lathis or gagged and forced to watch the incident helplessly.
- A large number of cases relate to forcible prevention of the women and their families from exercising their vote during the Lok Sabha election in 1989 and the recent elections to the Tripura Tribal Area Autonomous District Council. A startling statistics that needs to be highlighted is that 11.43% of the women we met were assaulted on the 8th July 1990, the polling day of the T.T.A.A.D.C election. Of the victims, 87.5% were tribals, SC or OBC. The 8th July cases make up nearly 7% of the total number of 223 atrocities against women. 18.57% were attacked in the week ending 8th July, that is just prior to the election. One woman reported that she was raped on 7.7.1990 by 3 persons who told her not to vote. Four tribal women told us that they were stopped and gang raped in the jungle on their way to the polling booth. One woman informed us that her entire village was attacked by hoodlums, their houses ransacked and looted and the villagers threatened that worse would follow if they tried to cast their votes. The village still continues to be under 'a siege' by the same anti-socials.
- Except in two cases, the women invariably give one reason for the attacks - that either they themselves or some members of their family were supporters, sympathizers or activists of the Left Front. Three women reported large scale arson, looting and killings of Left Front supporters in their village on the day that the Chief Minister was addressing a meeting there.
- There is a tremendous fear of reprisal. Women, who registered the complaints directly with the Police, have had to face subsequent attacks. Many who testified before the National Front Parliamentary delegation, have been attacked subsequently and have been compelled to leave their homes. In a few recent cases the families were too terrified to report..
- The geographical distribution of the crimes suggests an intensification of atrocities in particular regions. (See Appendices 4, 4A, and 5 for analysis of cases during the period January 1988 to 20th October 1990).
The Committee found that there has been a complete breakdown of the law and order machinery in the State of Tripura.
Crimes including the most brutal and heinous crimes of murder and rape against women have been committed with impunity by known criminals who enjoy political patronage.
We are compelled to report utter failure on the part of the police to bring the culprits to book. Though the majority of cases were reported to them, only in very few (4 out of 70 we interviewed) were any arrests made. Even these were released promptly. Though rape is a non-bailable offence identified culprits in rape cases were released on bail immediately. In consequence, the culprits remained free to intimidate, harass and threaten the victims and their families, forcing some to withdraw the charges, and many to flee from their homes. Not a single conviction in any case was reported to us though some of the crimes were committed in 1988 and 1989.
There is no doubt that this failure of the Administration to enforce the law has contributed to the sharp increase in the number of atrocities against women. Of the total number of 223 reported to us, 114 took place in 1990, (See Appendix 4) despite the enactment of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, in August 1989.
These facts make it impossible for us to accept at its face value the claims made by the Chief Minister and the DG of Police that normal legal procedures were being followed in all cases brought to the notice of the Government.
Still more inexplicable is the fact that the Union Government which enacted the SC&ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act in August 1989, failed to take any action on the Memorandum submitted to the President by two MPs and two Opposition Leaders from Tripura in October 1989. This Memorandum listed 88 cases of Rape and Molestation of women. The Leader of the Opposition has, from time to time, submitted lists of cases of atrocities against women to the State Government.
The large number of homeless and helpless women, dislocated from their normal lives, have forced the Left Front authorities into playing the role of providing shelter, food and legal aid in virtually all cases. In our opinion, any questioning of the authenticity of these atrocities against women merely on the ground that they have been brought to the notice of the Administration by a political party would be grossly unfair.
The geographical and class, caste, community distribution of these atrocities leaves us in little doubt of the intentions behind this attempt to create a political and social atmosphere of terror. The overwhelming majority of women, whom we interviewed came from the sub-divisions of Sabroom, Belonia and Sadar from the two districts of South and West Tripura. The percentage distribution of population belonging to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes are also substantially high in these districts (See Appendix 3). In South Tripura, tribals constitute nearly 36%, while Scheduled Castes constitute nearly 16%. In West Tripura, tribals constitute 35%, while scheduled castes constitute nearly 16%. The intention is obviously to force the tribal population to leave their land, homes and livelihood and not participate in the Tripura Tribal Area Autonomous District activities. This conclusion gains strength from the extraordinary pressures mounted against these families to prevent them from participating in the recent elections. Women taking part in the Bharat Bandh (30 August 1989) and Jail Bharo Movements (4th March 1990) were stripped on the streets and beaten. Doctors giving them First Aid suggested that it was shameful for women to take part in such activities.
The Committee is compelled to conclude that these planned attacks on women's rights to life and livelihood, to live with dignity and to have a peaceful family life, are related to an attempt to destroy their democratic rights as citizens. Terror has been used in the past to enforce the power of one group over the other, but events in Tripura represent a crude example of the criminalization of politics and the use of atrocities against women as an instrument of political action, which have become unfortunate characteristics of our recent political life.
The women whom we met made it clear that they had no expectation of any justice from the present Administration. We are compelled to conclude that in effect the fundamental and democratic rights guaranteed by the Constitution have ceased to operate in Tripura.
- A judicial enquiry by persons of unquestioned probity, should be instituted by the Central Government to look into the administration of law and justice in the State of Tripura, with a special focus on atrocities against women. National Women's Organizations should, however, be consulted regarding the composition and terms of reference of the Enquiry Commission.
- On the conclusion of the enquiry, all guilty parties including persons within the administration responsible for violations of the law should be punished appropriately.
- The Central Government should undertake special measures for rehabilitation of the women and their families including the provision of adequate means of livelihood.
- The Central Government should take adequate measures to ensure protection of women and others in Tripura from such attacks in future.