On Sunday, it was the setting for the first International Women’s Day celebration in Bastar region. (Picture for representational purpose)
Amidst predominantly green foliage stands a blue three-tier structure in a clearing three kilometres from Sameli village of Dantewada district. The structure is a memorial built for a 16-year-old girl who allegedly committed suicide in 2018 after she accused two men of security forces deployed in the region of raping her earlier that year.
On Sunday, it was the setting for the first International Women’s Day celebration in Bastar region.
Bhime Kuri walked for three days from Bedma village in Narayanpur district to reach the memorial. “We were told by the activists that it was for women’s rights — a day meant for us women,” she says.
Villagers from across the Bailadila hills trekked for more than two days to attend the event, organised by the Bandi Rihai committee and Sarwa Adiwasi Samaaj, to commemorate the day and to remember the girl, who allegedly committed suicide in December 2018.
According to her parents, on September 14 that year, the girl had gone to the jungles to graze cattle when she went missing. “We found her sickle first, on the night of September 15. She carried that sickle since she was old enough to step out and we immediately knew something was wrong with her,” her father said.
She was found by relatives on the night of September 16, in an unconscious and injured state and taken to a hospital in Dantewada. Her mother told The Indian Express, “In the hospital, we were not allowed to see her, although police officials could go in and out of her room. They kept telling her that she had brought misfortune and shame to her family, her community and the police force.”
According to the family, the girl kept repeating that she was abducted and raped by two men from the security forces even as the medical reports found no evidence of sexual violence or injuries. The mother said, “The police kept harassing her. They took a statement from her while she was unconscious and then said that she had not been raped. Why would anyone lie about being raped?” Months later, the girl went missing again. This time she hung herself from a tree in the jungle close to her house, allegedly traumatised.
At her memorial now, her parents were both wary and sad. “The police have threatened us that they will not let the memorial stay. This is all that we have left of her,” her father says.
Local police officials refused to comment.
As the day’s events drew to a close, drummers of Gondi tribe, dressed in traditional headgear, played a solemn beat. They were joined by men and women, who linked arms and danced around the memorial, as friends of the girl performed rituals, tears in eyes.
Three kilometres away, in Sameli village, another Women’s Day celebration was on. Organised by district authorities and security forces, this celebration — also the first of its kind — was held in a primary school. “We are celebrating the beginning of Suposhan week and Women’s Day,” an official said even as women security personnel, dressed in costumes, danced to the tune of a local song.