| Th. Manorama who was killed and allegedly raped by security forces |
Guwahati, Dec. 23: In the backdrop of the national outrage against the Delhi gangrape, woman activists here today questioned the “silence and complete denial” about sexual violence perpetrated by army personnel in the Northeast.
Demanding repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958, the activists, who were participating in a consultation — State, Sexual Violence and Impunity: Facts from the Field — held at Gauri Sadan here today, sought abolition of the legal immunity the act provided to the army and other central security forces for even heinous crimes like rape.
In the consultation, organised by Women in Governance (WinG) — a network of women “change agents” in a world dominated by patriarchal traditions, the participants also demanded scrapping of Section 197 CrPC, which stipulates that no court shall take cognisance of any offence allegedly committed by any member of the central armed forces while discharging his official duty, except with previous sanction of the central government.
They said laws like the army act and Section 197 CrPC gave sweeping powers to security forces and immunity from prosecution, which was one of the reasons for the rise in incidents of rape and molestation by security personnel in conflict zones like the Northeast and Jammu and Kashmir.
“In a democratic country, all are equal and the army should not have any privileges. Court martial infringes upon the victims’ right to justice. All cases of sexual assault must be tried before the ordinary criminal courts,” Supreme Court lawyer and rights activist Vrinda Grover said.
She said court martial proceedings were not impartial because many a times, those conducting these were found reluctant to take action against their colleagues. “Moreover, the court martial proceedings are not transparent and there is also a feeling in the army that punishing the guilty may lower the morale of others in the force who are in the field.”
She added that the army showed the worst form of chauvinistic behaviour. “Maybe they are trained that way.”
Some of the other demands raised by the activists at the consultation were ending arbitrary and proxy arrests and illegal detention of women and children during search operations; to stop intimidation and restriction of movement of women’s groups and other democratic rights groups while trying to ascertain facts about incidents of sexual and other form of violence in conflict areas and making institutions such as the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), the National Commission for Women (NCW) and corresponding state commissions more proactive.
Referring to a report prepared by a national-level independent fact-finding team on an attempted rape by a soldier at Dolopa in Assam’s Sivasagar district on July 13 this year, Anjuman Ara Begum of WinG said the chief judicial magistrate transferred the case to an army court on July 16 and since then, the army had interrogated the victim on five occasions. She said the victim was repeatedly harassed in the name of interrogation.
“The general officer commanding of the army’s 2nd Mountain Division had said in a press release issued on August 3 that the victim would get fast-track justice, but till today, justice is awaited,” Anjuman said.