‘It was only when they realised I would die, did they give me some water’
Story of brutality | Kawasi Hidme, who was released after eight years in Dantewada jail, addressed the media to draw attention to her plight, which resonates with the experience of many others
Kawasi Hidme, a tribal woman from Dantewada’s Borguda village was arrested in January 2008 for the attack on a police patrol party in Bastar’s Errabore village. (Saumya Khandelwal/ HT Photo)
New Delhi: When Kawasi Hidme, a young adivasi woman from Sukma, Bastar district, Chhattisgarh, was released after eight years in Dantewada jail as an undertrial on false charges, her lawyer told her that Bastar’s IG, SRP Kalluri had ordered all his men to look for any case in any thana with the name Hidme on it. Allegedly, the name was all he needed to send her back to jail, the very day she was released.
Hidme’s story is one that encapsulates the war on adivasis that seems to be going on in parts of India, where adivasi communities are slowly being driven out of their lands and forests. And Kalluri plays a big part in that, given his alleged involvement in assaults, murders, kidnappings. Hidme was picked up when she was 15, shuttled between thanas in Sukma, Dantewada, Bhansi, beaten relentlessly, raped, and after eight years acquitted when the charges of ‘naxal activities’ against her proved false. In jail, Hidme befriended adivasi activist Soni Sori, who has also borne the brunt of state brutality, and post her acquittal has been staying with, which is how she could be in New Delhi on Tuesday, accompanied by Sori and the latter’s nephew Linga Kodopi, to tell the mainstream press just what has happened to her. A writ petition with her video testimony is also being prepared to present in the Supreme Court.
In 2008, on her way to a fair, Hidme was picked up by the police in a case involving the killing of 23 policemen. Senior lawyer, Vrinda Grover, part of the panel that spoke on Tuesday, said that the initial FIR did not have Hidme’s name in its long list of suspects. Her name was added five months later. Hidme says that it was given by a woman from her village was had been with the Salwa Judum. On arrest, she was taken to the local thana, then to Dantewada thana, and the next day to Bhansi thana. In Bhansi, she was kept tied, blindfolded, her sari and gold ornaments were taken away. She was raped by the policemen and then beaten for six days relentlessly. “It was only when they realised I was going to die, did they give me some water,” said Hidme.
She was hit on the head, her body swelled up so much so she could barely walk, and, she narrated, she was left only in her petticoat, without a sheet to cover herself with or lie down on. She was tortured by electric shocks. “Only when she was sent back to Sukma, was she given her clothes. The policemen there helped get her treated but warned her to not tell the magistrate. She was not the only one by far. Numerous other women were and are systematically abused in jails, said Hidme, who came across cases similar to hers behind bars. For years, Hidme was transferred between the Raipur and the Jagdalpur jail, her health deteriorated rapidly, with multiple operations required to treat her. Getting each operation was a task, by her account, as often jail authorities would say they didn’t have enough guards on duty to the hospital.
Grover told the press that this excuse, of a lack of armed guards is also used to make undertrials miss their dates in courts. “The actual conviction rate in Chhattisgarh for undertrials is 1 per cent to 3 per cent. A majority of cases are then proved to be false,” said Grover. She added, “one the police puts the tag of a ‘naxal case’, which is not a legal term, on a person, they can carry out any sort of extraordinary treatment without anyone questioning them. Right now, Chhattisgarh’s jails are the most overcrowded according to NCRB data, 260 per cent over crowded.”
On her acquittal, Hidme was received by Sori at the Dantewada jail. However, Sori was first stopped by a strange man, who insisted he had been sent by Hidme’s family to collect her. By the time Sori stalled him, went inside to bring Hidme out, the man had disappeared. The involvement of Salwa Judum in such cases is especially pertinent. Arundhati Roy pointed out that all this is driven by the agenda to acquire land for industrialisation. She was backed in her claim by activist Himanshu Kumar, who said that Kalluri once told a lawyer that he was doing what he did to get land.
“Kalluri told this lawyer that he would shoot people if he had to, but he would not stop,” Kumar said. This loss of home is perhaps, the most heartbreaking part of Hidme’s story. “I need to give her strength again,” said Sori, “I want her to fight.”