SUVOJIT BAGCHI, The Hindu
At the peak of his career, Surya was accused of several cases of murder, rape and arson, though no formal complaint was lodged. He was made an accused, legally, by one of the women of Shamsetti who now has withdrawn her statement. The villagers claim that he used to visit Shamsetti often, carrying firearms, and threaten the residents quite openly.
A short but sturdy woman, wearing a golden nose ring and a white scarf came out of her mud house and looked straight at this correspondent. “Why have you come here,” she asked in a tone that was anything but polite. “To figure out why rape victims are retracting their statements in court,” we, a reporter from the local press and this correspondent, explained.
She was also told that there are reasons to believe that her name is Mira (name changed) — one of the six women who have retracted their allegation of rape against the Sukma SPOs.
“I have changed my statement,” she nodded in agreement. Asked why she did so, the woman said in almost flawless Hindi that “nothing ever happened” to her. “Because, I am not Mira, I am Madbi [name changed] and I do not know anything about Mira,” the woman said while moving away from us. But her recent statement identifies her as Mira alias Madbi and moreover, the 2009 statement in Konta court has her photograph on it, which establishes her identity, she was told. “How many more times will you people come to ask the same questions! Go away,” her voice choked as she disappeared into the room.
Her husband, Lakshman Soni (name changed) and the father in-law remained unmoved. A middle- aged man, who identified himself as the uncle of Mr. Soni, tried to calm things down. “It was a 2006 case; we had no plans to revive it. The human rights activists asked us to record our statements. Once the statements were recorded in 2009, everyone disappeared leaving us to deal [with the SPOs],” said a relative of the family.
The father of Era, another rape victim, also acknowledged that his wife and daughter went to the court to retract statements.
The villagers, however, did not deny that the entire village and the victims in particular were under ‘severe pressure’ for registering statements against the SPOs. The village next to Shamsetti, Misma, belongs to Kartam Surya — the most dreaded SPO-turned-constable of the area — who was killed in early 2012. At the peak of his career, Surya was allegedly involved in murder, rape and arson, though no formal complaint was lodged. He was made an accused, legally, by one of the women of Shamsetti who now has withdrawn her statement. The villagers claim that he used to visit Shamsetti often, carrying firearms, and threaten the residents quite openly. “He convinced the girls to withdraw their statements but he got killed,” said a villager who helped the women file the complaints.
His task has been taken up by Kwashi Mangalram, the former SPO who is now with the education department. Mangalram, himself an accused in the Shamsetti rape case, lives in another village adjacent to Shamsetti and ‘takes a stroll every now and then’ in the neighbourhood. Mira told The Hindu that she was ‘picked up from Shamsetti’ by Kwasi Mangalram to testify in court and retract her allegation. Other villagers corroborated her and said that he took the witnesses to court. Mangalram denied the allegation.
However, what Mangalram did not deny was his access to senior police officials in the district. Recently, to mark Kartam Surya’s death anniversary, Surya’s statue was installed in the town of Dornapal in the presence of Sukma’s SP Abhishek Shandilya. Video footage available with The Hindu establishes Mr. Shandilya’s presence at the installation programme, with Mangalram standing next to him.
Undisputed leader, says Sukma SP
Mr. Shandilya told The Hindu on phone that he felt there was “nothing wrong” in installing the statue in Dornapal. “He was the undisputed leader of the area and do not forget that anybody can be made an accused and slapped with false cases. However, the statue was financed by Surya’s family, but I was present at the programme,” he said.
He also said that Shamsetti women’s allegations are ‘false and motivated.’ “Four months back, I held a meeting in Misma, where people from other villages participated. They told me in clear terms that the allegations are false. It seems so to me as well.” Mr. Shandilya denied that the former SPOs were ‘pressurising’ the Shamsetti women to retract their statements.
“At the peak of the [Salwa Judum] movement if they [women] could go to court and file complaints [against SPOs], what stops them from fighting the case now, when there is complete calm in the area,” he asks. According to Mr. Shandilya, the women were “telling the truth now” by retracting their statements.
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