11, May 2018 | Sushmita
In a shocking case of human trafficking, a minor Adivasi girl was held hostage by an Assistant Sub Inspector and his wife in Bilaspur, Chhattisgarh. ASI, Shailendra Singh and his wife Shashi, allegedly brought the girl from her village after promising her family that they will give her a better life, but instead forced her into domestic service, held her captive and tortured her both, physically and mentally.
The girl Munni Punem, who has now attained the age of majority was still a minor at the time she was brought to Bilaspur from her native village Gangaloor in Bijapur and kept hostage for two years by the ASI, who is stationed in Bilaspur’s Civil Lines thana. Based on the available records on ground, it appears that ASI Shailendra Singh, assisted by his wife, Shashi Singh, a teacher at a school in Chakkarbhata, Bilaspur, brought Munni to Bilaspur under “false promises” of giving her a decent life. They then kept her under confinement and reportedly engaged in “brutal physical and mental violence” against her.
This episode of human trafficking is yet another example of the structural violence faced by Adivasis, especially Adivasi women. The survivor in this case was a child when her torment began. This makes her suffering threefold. CJP stands with the survivor in her struggle for justice. This is a part of our larger campaign to uphold and defend the constitutional rights of children, women and Adivasis. CJP believes it is time to put an end to atrocities against them. To support CJPs campaigns to empower and protect some of India’s most vulnerable people, join CJP. Donate Now.
Her father, Sannu Punem, also lodged a complaint with the Superintendent of Police, Bilaspur, Chhattisgarh alleging that he and his brother-in-law, Lachu Hemla were “abducted” by the ASI, his wife and his brother-in-law between May 4 to May 8. He was made to travel and sign various documents at different places such as Kawardha, Durg etc. Because Sannu cannot read or write, he could not verify the contents of these documents, and only said that they were “stamp papers”.
Held hostage, tortured and abused
On May 3, 2018 local newspapers in Chhattisgarh reported that a whistle-blower named Hemlatha had called a women’s helpline, which in turn called Sakhi one stop centre, a short-stay Government women’s shelter home and the Children’s helpline, informing them about a young Adivasi girl who was illegally confined in Bilaspur. When Munni was rescued, she was reportedly in a grave physical condition with a bent finger, a giant bruise on her cheek, red splotches on her eye and other marks of physical torture on her body. As per the people who rescued her, she was crying profusely at the time of the rescue.
The police which cooperated initially, it seems that eventually started to influence the rescued girl and white wash the incident, but on account of the unwavering courage and stand taken by Munni and the support of lawyers and social activists, the FIR could be the registered on May 4 under IPC sections 342, 294, 506, 34, 323 IPC and sections of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.
Torture in the name of Promises for a Better life
The Singhs brought Munni to Bilaspur after allegedly promising to educate, feed, clothe her, as well as pay her for domestic work. Her family, on account of their economically marginalized and vulnerable background, a condition not uncommon to the Gond Adivasis in the area who often struggle to make ends meet, took these promises in good faith. With their other three children still in school, they allowed Munni to be taken to Bilaspur, unaware of the fate that was to befall her.
The Singhs allegedly not only battered Munni often, they even kept her locked up, as mentioned in the FIR. She was reportedly beaten for small reasons such as leaving a speck of dust, and was also attacked by a knife by Shashi, the ASI’s wife.
Human trafficking angle
Currently, the FIR does not include Sec. 370 (7) (Human Trafficking by a public servant) and does not mention the Juvenile Justice Act. ASI Shailendra Singh has been suspended as per an order of the SP, after persistent efforts by activists and lawyers. The police contends that the charge will be added only after the statement of the father establishes the charge.
Munni is currently staying at Shashkiya Balika Gruh (a shelter home for minor girls established under the Nirbhaya fund) against her wishes as she is now an adult and doesn’t want to stay in the shelter home because of the allegedly deplorable living conditions prevailing there.
Advocate Nikita Agarwal, Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group (JagLAG), has filed a complaint with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), highlighting this episode as part of the structural exploitation of Adivasis, saying,
It is mostly respectfully submitted herein that this is not an isolated incident of violence in this area but is a continuum of an unspoken nexus of exploitation of poor adivasis who are lured by false promises of economic sustenance to work as domestic workers in urban areas. It is also submitted that this incident is a symptom of an ideology that seeks to dehumanize the adivasi and has been deeply violative of the victim’s right to freedom and life as are fundamental to the tenets of the Rule of Law”.
The JagLAG has asked the NHRC to ensure the safety of Munni and her family, ensure an unbiased investigation that can be monitored, and grant the whistle-blower, Hemlata, human rights defender status.
A sense of impunity surrounds the entire episode, because the accused Shailendra Singh held an important position within the police and kept misusing his power to abuse the girl. Activists have also alleged that similar complaints against the ASI were lodged in areas such as Dantewada in Chhattisgarh, where he was stationed earlier. Right now Shailendra Singh is absconding and was suspended from his duties on May 9. His brother in law, who played a significant role in the abduction of father was arrested yesterday and the FIR regarding abduction is likely to be registered today.