Men claiming to be police officials from Bardi police station in Nagpur conducted a “rescue operation” at an advocate’s office on Saturday. The operation targeted two Adivasi women who had alleged that they had been raped in Gadchiroli last fortnight by C-60 commandos of the Maharashtra police.

“It was almost a filmi style abduction,” claimed advocate Nihalsingh Rathod, from whose office the five people were detained at around 4 pm. “Sainu Gota [one of the five arrested] had gone downstairs for the loo and they just grabbed him into a vehicle and went away.”

The plainclothes men returned at around 4.30 pm to take Shila Gota, who is Sainu Gota’s wife, and the two Adivasi women into custody. At 7.30 pm on Saturday, they returned again and arrested activist Mangesh Hodi, who had come there with two other women activists to help translate the Adivasi women’s statement from Madiya into Marathi.

Police Inspector Satyavir Bandiwar of the Bardi police station in Nagpur told that this was a rescue operation conducted by Gadchiroli police after one of the Adivasi women filed a kidnapping complaint in Etapally in Gadchiroli.

One of the women, the police now claim, has filed an abduction complaint against Sainu Gota. The complaint states that Sainu Gota had threatened to kill her brother if she did not file a false complaint with the police about being raped by the commandos.

Allegations of rape

The so-called rescue in Nagpur has its roots in an incident on January 20, when two Adivasi women were travelling from Gonawara village in Chhattisgarh’s district of Kanker to visit relatives across the state border in Gadchiroli in Maharashtra. That afternoon, they alleged, commandos belonging to the C-60 battalion detained them overnight.

“A patrol in Gadchiroli found two women wandering and found they were not able to answer questions properly,” Bandiwar said, describing the Gadchiroli police’s version of events. An unidentified Adivasi man was said to be accompanying the women.

Since night was falling by the time the commandos had finished questioning the women, the commandos claim to have shared their food with them and escorted them to their destination the next morning. It was here, Bandiwar said, that the commandos found that the women had given them false names.

But advocate Rathod claims that the police released the two women on the morning of January 21 after having raped them. The police allegedly gave them Rs 100 each and warned them not to tell anybody of what had transpired.

That morning, the women told Shila Gota, a former sarpanch of Gatta, and others of the village they were travelling to that the commandos had raped them. Around 30 women went with them to the police station, demanding action. The police took the two women, one of their mothers and two unrelated elderly women into custody overnight, assuring the crowd that they would perform a medical examination and hand the five women back to them on the morning of January 22 at 10 am, said Rathod.

All five women speak only Madiya. Rathod said the police did not permit anybody who could translate from Madiya into Marathi to be present.

On January 22, the women of the village gathered again outside Gatta police station. A police official, said Rathod, read out a notice saying that “Nirbhaya 1” and “Nirbhaya 2” had been sent to Gadchiroli for a medical examination.

The two women later stated to Rathod that doctors only took four blood samples in front of around 50 police officers. The doctors did not speak Madiya and did not ask them once about what had happened, nor examine them for any injuries. The police did not permit any of their relatives to be present at the examination. Bandiwar said that the result of the medical examination was negative. It was during this examination, Bandiwar said, that one of the women said Shainu and Shila Gota had forced them to file a complaint against the police.

That same day, as there was no sign of the women, Shila Gota and her husband Sainu Gota, a retired elected director of the Tribal Development department of Maharashtra, along with Ashwini Meshram and her husband Jagdish Meshram, a human rights lawyer, went to Gadchiroli to enquire after the women. The police filed a case of public indecency against the four of them. They were released only at 3.30 am on January 23, Rathod said.

Additional Sub Inspector Shriram at the Gadchiroli police control said that the police had filed charges against several people, including Shila and Sainu Gota, for attacking women, chanting threatening slogans and attacking the Gatta police station in Gadchiroli. He was unable to provide further details.

Shift to Nagpur

The two women were in hospital until at least the evening of January 23. Meanwhile, Shila Gota, Sainu Gota and the brother of one of the Adivasi women came to Nagpur on January 24 to meet Rathod, who filed a habeas corpus petition the next day. The bench was not available that day and the matter was deferred. That evening, however, they received a call from the village saying that the two women had returned.

Rathod asked the women to come to Nagpur to file an affidavit to see whether they should take the case further or withdraw it. It was when they were discussing whether to have the women examined by a gynaecologist that people in plainclothes claiming to be police representatives of Nagpur’s Bardi police station abducted the two women, Shila Gota and Sainu Gota.

According to Bandiwar, these were not Bardi police officials, but from the Gadchiroli district police who had come to “rescue” the women after they had allegedly been forcibly brought to Nagpur by the Gotas. The police transferred the two women to a shelter home in Nagpur. Bandiwar said the Bardi police station played only an assisting role in the operation and so was unable to connect to the women or estimate when they would be allowed to leave.

The police officials returned at 7.30 pm on Saturday to detain two women activists who had come to the office to translate the adivasi womens’ statement from Madiya into Marathi. After Rathod informed them that women could not be arrested after sundown, the officials relented, but instead arrested anti-mining activist Mangesh Hodi. Bandiwar denied any knowlege of Hodi’s arrest and said no charges had been filed against him.

On Sunday morning, the court ordered the Additional Government Pleader to ensure that the women could not be contacted at the shelter home by the police.