Conflict zone

The rape of a minor girl shows how justice is sought to be compromised in Dantewada

Officials appear to have attempted to effect a compromise for the accused, an assistant constable in the Chhattisgarh Auxiliary Armed Force.

Sanmati is sitting in the back room of the Dantewada police station. Subdued and silent. A white scarf with flowers in black draped over neatly combed hair, bare feet tucked under the stool, slim hands resting on the navy blue school-uniform skirt. She reminds me of the freshly-sprouted plants on the Bastar earth after the first rains.

A woman in her thirties stands protectively besides her. Sushila is the anganwadi teacher of the village and has known Sanmati since her childhood, she says.

Sanmati Veko has just entered Class 7 in school. On June 8, 2016 when the incident occurred, she was two days away from her 12th birthday.

Sanmati, at the hospital before the medical examination.
Sanmati, at the hospital before the medical examination.

"I was visiting my sister during the summer break," she relates in soft tones. "My sister and brother-in-law run a small grocery store in my village."

She is from Pondum village, about 12 kilometres from Dantewada town. There is a Central Reserve Police Force camp in the neighbouring Jaram village, about a kilometre away. The camp was set up around two years ago and since then the security forces have been regular customers.

"On Wednesday I was alone in the shop when the call came," she continues. The caller was a young policeman from the camp. She knew him as RR Netam. "On one of his visits to the shop in April, he had asked my sister, Kumli, for a notebook saying he needed to write something. He wrote his name and mobile number on one of the pages and gave the notebook to me."

He started calling frequently on the store's mobile number. "Whenever he managed to speak to me he would tell me: 'Mai tumhe chahata hun (I want you).' I told him I was engaged. But he would say that even if I had another relation, 'mai tumhe utha kar le jaonga (I will abduct you).' He said he wanted to marry me."

So that evening when he called, Sanmati told him that she was about to close the shop. But he came soon afterwards. "It was around 5.30 pm when he arrived," she said. "I was attending to other customers. He hung around. He was still there when I was getting ready to leave. I thought he would go, but suddenly he pushed me in the smaller room inside the shop and switched the light off. He silenced me by clamping his hand on my mouth, threatened me with dire consequences if I made a noise or told anybody." In the dark hours that followed, his movements were slow but intention firm. He stayed all night, leaving at first light. He could not leave unnoticed, however, and was chased, but managed to escape.

Sanmati's humiliation, confusion, and fear were such that she stayed indoors for most of the next two days without food except for a brief visit to the handpump behind the shop for water. Her neighbours and relatives, however, had realised that something untoward had happened and sent word to Kumli and Aaitu Mandavi, her brother-in-law.

Aaitu was ill and away for treatment. Upon return on Saturday morning, they realised that some cash, about Rs. 35,000, was also missing. An angry Kumli first took out her frustration by subjecting Sanmati to a beating. More upset after that, she headed to the jungle with suicide in mind. Aaitu was able to contain the situation and contacted an Aam Aadmi Party worker in the village, who contact AAP leader, Soni Sori.

In the next few hours a police complaint was made. Medical examination was conducted that evening and an FIR registered at the Dantewada police station.

Compromising justice

Unlike many cases where the name of the perpetrator is unknown, in this case there was a name – RR Netam. On enquiry, the Town Inspector said that there was no such person on the Jaram camp records.

But a section of the police force had realised that the wanted person was DR Netam, who was on the register. He was however not arrested until the following evening. In the meantime, it seems that the police attempted to effect a compromise.

Sunday mid-day saw the arrival of the accused along with a dozen or so other men from his village to Soni Sori's house at Geedam. Aaitu, who had also come, said that they had first come to Pondum that morning but he had refused to talk to them. He said that there was talk of samjhauta (compromise) and that he was adamantly against it.

Indeed, that was the flow of the conversation where it was revealed that the full name of the accused was Dashman Netam. He was 32-year-old. He was educated till Class 10, and employed as sahayak arakshak (assistant constable) in the Chhattisgarh Auxiliary Armed Force, since 2011. This force, we may recall, was formed after a Supreme Court order in July that year that SPOs (Special Police Officers) be disbanded. In the ongoing anti-Maoist counter-insurgency operations, SPOs had become notorious for committing various acts of arson and violence, including rape. That they enjoyed a certain impunity was well known.

Dashman is married and has two children. "He got involved with another woman once before and we had to prevail upon him not to bring home another wife," said his father-in-law, who had come with Dashman's brother, a few other relatives and the sarpanch of their panchayat, Maniram Murami. They were from Jodatarai village, that falls under Barsur police station of Dantewada district. They said that the police had come to Jodatarai the previous evening, and taken Dashman with them to the Additional Superintendent of Police. From what they said, it seemed that the effort at "compromise" had some approval from higher-ups.

However, when the Assistant Superintendent of Police was asked about this on the phone, he denied having met Dashman on Saturday evening, emphatically stating that had that been the case, he would have been arrested immediately. However, the presence of the sarpanch, a government functionary, cannot be undermined.

In the face-to-face meeting that ensued, Dashman sat quietly. Questions were asked. He admitted that he had spent the night there but denied rape. He said that he had informed a friend in the camp before leaving that evening. Later, when he had not returned, his friend had called, and he told him that he was sleeping close by. Sanmati also outlined her side of the story. As did Aaitu who recalled the number of times he had scolded Netam to correct his behaviour, pointing out that Sanmati was a minor.

It was impressed upon the group that there was no question of compromise. The Town Inspector arrested Dashman Netam that evening.

This is a simple story. But one that shows a consequence of militarisation – especially for those living in the vicinity of police stations and camps – that does not often come to light. The power of a man in uniform, the gallant admission of love, the promise of marriage, the inability to hear a "No". The attempt at a compromise indicates that compromises happen – that other such instances may have been suppressed in a similar vein.

The purported aim of militarisation is to provide security, but the people of Bastar have been forced to live lives clouded with insecurity on an everyday basis.

The name of the girl has been changed to protect her identity.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.