Legal hassles: a 'secondary victimization' enhancing culture of silence in army rape cases
Source: Hueiyen News Service / Thingnam Anjulika Samom

Imphal, November 27 2014: Thetmang had spent most of his life tending to his ginger and plantain plantations in the hills of Veitum Khullen in Saitu Gamphajol sub-division of Senapati district.

When the Naga-Kuki ethnic clash occurred in the early 1990s in Manipur, he was happy that an Assam Rifles Post had moved in next door to guard the adjoining villages.

It was a short-lasting happiness.

"Soon, they walled their area and put up a gate on the main road.

We can go through this gate only with permission.

Since then we have to develop this small footpath perched on the side of the hill to reach our fields and other areas," he says as he guids us through the one foot or so wide path zig-zagging up and down at the foot of the Assam Rifles post wall.

Newborn puppies and posters of Kuki films on the mud wall greeted us into his house.

His sons and daughters are crowded near the household fire.

"Our village does not get much sun and is cold the year round.

That is why it is named cold village in our language," he explains.

Two young boys are busy baking earth pellets on an open pan on the fire.

"For the slingshot," they inform.

Violence against women
Violence against women

Thetmang's eldest daughter Boinu (not real name), the third amongst his eight children, maintains a stony silence, preferring to award us with a hesitant smile once in a while � the smile however does not reach her eyes.

"My sister was a quiet and obedient child, happy to do household chores than roam around talking to neighbours," says Boinu's sister Kim (not real name), leading me down a grassy and steep path.

"We don't use this path or the spring much these days," she informs, pointing to a small circle of water bubbling up from the ground.

Though the spring is just about 3-4 minutes away, the hill slope and the overgrowth hides it from view from the house as well as from the path above the hill.

On 13 March, 2007, Boinu had walked down to the spring to wash clothes as usual.

Her father and brothers had gone to the fields.

Soon after Namthuipou Gangmei, a jawan posted at 38 Assam Rifles posted in Kotlein, came up and grabbed her.

When she resisted, he picked up a large stone and hit her on the back and head.

"I blacked out.

When I came to, he had taken off all my clothes.

He tried to stop me but I managed to run back home in that naked condition," she recalls.

The accused Namthuipou, which a PIB statement later declared as 'deserter' since March 12, 2007 was court-martialled on three charges � rape, absenting himself without leave (from post) and intoxication.

The army court found him guilty of deserting his post and intoxication, and dismissed from service and given two years of rigorous imprisonment.

However he was ruled not guilty of rape, but "guilty of using criminal force to a woman with intent to outrage her modesty" .

For Thetmang, it was a life-changing event.

"I used to spend most of my time in the fields, but now I found myself making frequent trips to the lawyers and the court," he explains.

The new role has taken an expensive toll.

"Every time we go to Imphal to consult the lawyer or for some paperwork, it means money.

We were lucky to have well-wishers and civil society organisation members who were keen to help.

We wanted to pay for their travel fares too.

But we are just farmers, that too working on the hard rocky soil of the hills.

What we earned was just about enough to sustain my family.

When the case dragged on and on, how could we possibly sustain the travel, food and other expenses related to the case?" he points out.

"We first entrusted the case to a prominent lawyer from Imphal.

Initially he said we will get some money and asked us to come to his place.

But he didn't give the money.

Every time he would set a new date and we went again with a group of well-wishers thinking we will be getting the money, hiring a separate vehicle.

It went on three-four times, and after that we gave up, unable to bear the expenses and the torture of not knowing.

We still don't know whether there was any money given, and if there was, where it has gone," he says.

Cupping the glass of tea with both his hands to warm them up against the morning chill, he whispers, "I ran into debt trying to get justice.

And when I see how people look at my daughter or talk about her, my heart breaks all over again.

We wanted justice; we still want justice.

But we could not afford that justice anymore" .

The disenchantment resulting from the hassles of the legal system in dealing with rape cases, especially those committed by the security forces who are protected by the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958, the resultant denial of justice and the recurring stigma of 'rapehood' is what psychologist Prof.(Dr.) Rebecca Campbell of Community Psychology and Program Evaluation at Michigan State University, terms as "Secondary Victimization" .

Dr.Campbell's research focuses on violence against women, specifically sexual assault and how the legal, medical, and mental systems respond to the needs of rape survivors.

She is also part a collaborative research with Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) programs�a community-based intervention designed to provide comprehensive post-assault services to pediatric and adult victims of sexual assault.

In her article "The psychological impact of rape victims' experiences with the legal, medical and mental health systems" published in American Psychologist in November 2008, she quotes her earlier writings and says, "�When victims reach out for help, they place a great deal of trust in the legal, medical, and mental health systems as they risk disbelief, blame, and refusals of help.

How these system interactions unfold can have profound implications for victims' recovery.

If victims are able to receive the services they need and are treated in an empathic, supportive manner, then social systems can help facilitate recovery.

Conversely, if victims do not receive needed services and are treated insensitively, then system personnel can magnify victims' feelings of powerlessness, shame, and guilt.

Postassault help seeking can become a "second rape," a secondary victimization to the initial trauma..." .

Perched on the edge of her mora, quietly huddling herself into a tight ball, Boinu concludes, "I have spoken about it over and over again, but there have been no results.

Now I am tired of speaking; I just want him in jail for life" .

The wish to become silent is echoed by other women who were raped by security forces in Manipur.

"My children are all grown up now.

It doesn't feel right to talk about it again and again," the Lamdan housewife conveyed when contacted for an interview.

On July 19, 2000, a group of personnel of 112 Bn CRPF rounded up her village in Bishnupur district and started beating up the males, believed to be a retaliatory action of an ambush by unknown persons on a CRPF patrol party near her village two days earlier in which four CRPF jawans were killed.

The housewife herself was gang-raped in front of her own father-in-law by two CRPF personnel, while another housewife and her teenage daughter from the same village were molested.

Even though the Manipur Human Rights Commission (MHRC) registered a case in connection and referred the same to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), the CRPF denied the charges and justice is still awaited.

Another victim of the security forces, the young housewife of Luwangsangbam in Imphal West district said gruffly, "What is the use talking about it now? When you people come, my children and neighbors ask the reason for the visit.

It has become a headache to even answer to that query when I myself want to forget it.

My children are grown up, we want to focus on them now" .

On October 6, Ram Singh Rawat a jawan belonging to the 25th Assam Rifles post situated just across the road from their house had broken into her house, wielding an AK-47, kidnapped her in front of her husband and sister-in-law and raped her by a nearby pond.

According to a PIB (Defence Wing) statement, Ram Singh Rawat was tried by a summary army court martial on 26th October, 2003 and found guilty.

He was dismissed from service and sentenced to seven years of rigorous imprisonment.

Though the Luwangshangbam housewife had filed for compensation in Gauhati High Court, Imphal Bench in April 2004, the case remains inconclusive as they were informed that the accused had died in custody at District Jail, Dhemaji (Assam) in 2005 .

Her husband sighs, "We tried our best.

But we are daily wage earners.

When the case drags on, from where do we get the money to feed the case and also feed ourselves? Now only our anger, shame and frustration remains.

Getting justice is only meant for those who has money and also has powerful connections" .

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