Targeting women

Published : Sep 16, 2000 00:00 IST

Excerpts from a memorandum submitted by the All India Democratic Women's Association to Justice J.S. Verma, chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission, on September 5:

We believe that democratic rights are a basic human right and it is this basic human right which is being violated in Andhra Pradesh. As a women's organisation we are particularly concerned about the violence on women protestors. While on the one hand th e Government has made a public commitment to "women's empowerment including increased participation in the political process", on the other hand it has used brutal methods to coerce women into withdrawing from the public sphere, in this case in an agitat ion against a huge hike in electricity rates. The intervention of the NHRC, we believe, is essential not only to defend the democratic rights of the people of Andhra Pradesh but to send a wider message to the State, the police and governments that such a ttacks on women will not be tolerated.

We regret that the avenues of justice within the State have been blocked by the refusal of the State government to order a judicial inquiry into the entire incident. Indeed so one-sided has been the State government's approach and its defence of the poli ce, in spite of prima facie evidence of brutalities, that the conclusion is inescapable that the police were in fact acting on the instructions of the State government.

The procession started from a place called Indira Park and was to end at the Jagjivan Ram statue after crossing a flyover. About 200 metres away on the right side of the statue and under the flyover at Basheerbagh crossing, a second cordon was to be kept , so that the demonstrators could court arrest at two spots.

According to the statements of the women, who were at the head of the procession, they reached the Jagjivan Ram statue where they found the entire road blocked with police. In front of the police was a fencing of barbed wire. The police were also lining the roads. The women demonstrators started shouting slogans. Some women climbed on to an adjacent wall where they also shouted slogans. Suddenly the male police started throwing lathis at the women from across the barbed wire fence. Simultaneously the po licemen at the side of the road started pushing women onto the barbed wire fence. These were all male police. Several women were badly hurt on the wire. They suffered deep cuts on their arms, shoulders, back and thighs. When the women protested the male police started bodily lifting them. The women were badly manhandled. Several women who protested and tried to wrest themselves free of the male grip had their clothes torn. The clothes of at least two of the women, Devi and Mamta, were in shreds.

Some of the statements made by the women give a graphic picture of what happened. Mamta said: "The male police pulled my kurta right up and then tore it. I was lifted by them and thrown on to the wire." Devi said: "The men surrounded me and started pulli ng my clothes. I protested. They used filthy language and said we will teach you to come to demonstrations and tore my kurta and pulled my salwar. They lifted me and threw me into an open truck and started beating me. Some people saw it and surrounded th e truck and helped me to escape." Roja said: "I was pulled separately and beaten by men and women police. Three times they caught me and beat me." Praveena said: "The men caught my hands and pinned them back, while others beat me on the head. I pulled on e arm free and put it over my head and then they hit it with a lathi and severely injured it." Salma said: "When in front of my eyes they were beating up the women, I rushed to help but the police caught me and beat me on the back and the arms. They star ted the water cannon and aimed it at us. I was hit badly by the force of the water and started bleeding from the nose. But even after that the police did not spare me." Fatima said: "I reached the procession a bit late. The violence against the demonstra tion had already started. Suddenly the police came and started pushing me around. One of the men hit me hard on the knee and I fell down." There are scores of such statements.

The policemen also called for the women police and shouted at them to start beating up the women, which they did. All the while the most filthy, sexist, abusive language was used by the police against the women. They were referred to as sluts, prostitute s, bitches; obscene gestures were made. When the protestors still did not leave the site the male police resorted to repeated cane charges in which the women demonstrators were specifically targeted. This was immediately followed by water cannoning and t eargas shells being fired. Seeing the police brutality against women, Communist leader Ramakrishna, who was present, strongly protested and tried to save some of the women. The police caught him and beat him mercilessly on his head repeatedly. He is now in the intensive care unit of the Apollo Hospital where he is in a coma fighting death.

Meanwhile at the second spot in Basheerbagh, even before the procession could reach the cordon, the police started beating the veteran Left leaders who led the procession and also the women who were in the front.

Immediately thereafter, without any warning, even as the main body of the procession was on the flyover, the police started firing at the procession. At this spot there was no lathicharge or teargassing. The procedure laid down in the manuals is for the DM (District Magistrate) or his equivalent to give the order for firing after exhausting all other avenues. Even then the police are instructed to first fire in the air or below the knee. In this case the police fired to kill. Two died in the firing - Ba laswamy and Vishnu Vardha Reddy. The scores of those injured had bullet wounds in the stomach, the hands, the chest or the side of the head. The firing continued for half an hour.

The government put out the story that a policeman had been killed and several were severely injured for which reason the police had to open fire. This was a total lie. Not a single policeman died on August 28. Of the 28 persons admitted to the Osmania ho spital, only two were policemen, both of whom had injuries on their feet and one on his knee as a result of stone throwing. Other policemen who had been admitted in another hospital also suffered similar injuries. At the Jagjivan Ram statue spot, it was the women who were in front. The police, without any provocation, attacked them, beat them up, tore their clothes, used teargas and water cannons, injuring hundreds of protestors.

The Hyderabad incidents were the most brutal form of police repression. However, it was not the only example. Women demonstrators have been at the receiving end of political atrocities on them for the last three months ever since they joined the campaign to roll back the electricity price hikes. In district headquarters across the State, women were protesting during the government organised programmes, raising slogans and waving black flags. These are democratic means of protest, yet the police retaliat ed with vicious beatings. In every single one of these incidents it is the male police who were involved. Over 60 women have had false cases imposed on them.

Signed by Brinda Karat, general secretary, and Pramila Pandhe, vice-president, of the All India Democratic Women's Association.

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