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Stripped, Paraded, Assaulted: The Story of Lali Devi

Lali Devi, a tribal farmer from Jharkhand was allegedly stripped, paraded, and assaulted in her village. Despite her unyielding persistence, she has been met with a disheartening consistency of closed doors and widespread indifference.

By Sagnik Majumder and Aryan Saini
New Update

Aryan Saini of The Probe speaks to Lali Devi, a Jharkhand tribal woman and farmer who was allegedly stripped and paraded in broad daylight. 

"I was stripped, paraded through my village, and assaulted. They even attempted to do the same to my daughter, but I managed to protect her," states Lali Devi recounting the harrowing experience. She still shudders from the fear that enveloped her family last August.

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A tribal farmer from Ghasilari village in Jharkhand's Simdega district, Lali Devi lived through her darkest moments in August last year. Simdega, identified by the Ministry of Panchayati Raj in 2006 as one of the country's 250 most backward districts, was the backdrop of this nightmare. Lali was working on a piece of land she had leased from a landlord when she allegedly faced harassment first.

Lali Devi and her husband, parents to two daughters, were farming on a piece of agricultural land when they were allegedly attacked for the first time in February last year. "A large group, including officials from the district administration, arrived with a bulldozer, a pickup truck, and were accompanied by influential local figures, members of the Panchayat, journalists, and police officers. They announced their intention to raze our farmland. I protested, explaining that we were lawfully farming the land, having leased it from the landlord, and even had documents to support our claim. Despite this, they verbally abused us, physically dragged me, and assaulted both me and my daughter. My daughter and I got injured that day."

Lali Devi shared with The Probe that on the day of the attack, she was unable to file a police report due to her daughter's exam the next day. “I had to prioritise my daughter's health and give her moral support and take her to Ranchi for the exams amidst the chaos that was unfolding in our lives. Upon my return from Ranchi, when I attempted to file a report, the first response from the police was to question my two day delay. They refused to register my complaint, arguing that I should have come earlier. Instead of taking cognisance of my complaint, the police sided with the opposing side as they were more influential and filed a case against us”. 

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Following the assault, Lali Devi ceased farming on the land, which significantly impacted her family's livelihood. Given their reliance on farm income, this decision led to severe financial difficulties. Several months passed without any farm income which nearly brought the family to the brink of collapse. However, she later learned from her lawyer that she had the legal right to continue farming on the land until 2025. "In the last week of August, after several months, we returned to the farmland to resume work, only to be confronted once again by district authorities. Then, on August 29th, as my husband and I were returning from a temple, we found ourselves surrounded by a crowd."

What followed is a deeply distressing account. Lali narrates, "I was encircled and forcefully dragged by my hair, subjected to physical assault and verbal abuse. They stripped me, leaving me naked in front of district officials, police officers, journalists, members of the Panchayat, prominent local leaders, and the villagers. In this state, I was paraded around the village for half a kilometre before being brought back to my house. They also wanted to strip and parade my daughter and said that if the mother and daughter do not cooperate then they would burn us alive in our home”.

Lali's nightmare continued even after she managed to protect her daughter. She told The Probe that she was again taken back to the farmland and assaulted. "In a desperate attempt to save myself, I ran to a police vehicle that was parked nearby and took refuge inside it. I overheard them saying that even my panties should be removed and I should be paraded again. I began to beg and plead with them to let me go. Despite the presence of district authorities, police, and media, no one intervened to help me. Ultimately, I was taken to the police station in the same state of undress."

Lali adds, "I wept and pleaded with the police to take action against those who had robbed me of my dignity. The police urged me to reach a compromise. They noted that the next day was Rakshabandhan, August 30th, and told me that I should consider those responsible for my humiliation as my brothers, tie a Rakhi around their wrists, and forget the incident. The police pressed me to compromise, to relinquish claims to the land, and to forget the incident. I explained to them that this matter is not a fight for land anymore, it was about my dignity. I couldn't erase the memory of being stripped and demeaned. The police warned that filing a complaint could lead to a countercharge against me. They insisted repeatedly that I should act as if nothing had happened."

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In the aftermath, Lali Devi and her husband started moving from pillar to post for justice, navigating through various bureaucratic hurdles. They visited the police station, the women's police station, and the SP's office, only to find their efforts fruitless as her case remained unregistered. Lali was informed of the absence of a functional Women's Commission in Jharkhand, but her persistence eventually led to her complaint being acknowledged by the SC/ST Commission. "Those were our bleakest days. We had no food at home for two days. Overwhelmed by shame, we couldn't leave our house, and there was no rice left. My daughters were hungry. My daughter, in despair, suggested we should end our lives together. I assured her there must be another way out, believing in the hope that God would not abandon us to such cruelty."

When we approached the SHO of Kolebira police station for comments on the apparent lack of a thorough investigation into Lali Devi's case, the officer responded with noticeable irritation. He informed us that an FIR had been filed under the SC/ST Act, and that was all he could disclose about the case. Additionally, we spoke to Simdega SP Saurabh Kumar, providing a detailed account of the situation. He mentioned he does not recall the case.

We also reached out to Kolebira MLA Naman Bixal Kongari, a member of the Congress party. Despite the seriousness of the incident occurring within his constituency, he stated that he couldn't remember the case. Nonetheless, he casually remarked that he would look into the matter.

"I have been actively working in Simdega. This incident took place in August. The crux of the matter is that she has repeatedly approached the SP, Kolebira police station, and Vanitha police station. The authorities there are well-acquainted with the case. After she failed to seek justice in Simdega, she then went to Ranchi with the intention of appealing to the State Women's Commission, only to find out that it's non-operational. The only progress made in such a sensitive case so far was the registration of an FIR under the SC/ST Act. However, the investigation has not been proceeding in the right direction," says Taramani Sahu, a social activist from Jharkhand.

Sahu remarks, "The real tragedy of this case lies in the authorities' consistent attempts to misrepresent it as a property dispute. However, this is not about property. It's about a woman who was stripped and paraded in broad daylight. What's particularly shocking is that during these events, there was a video showing a woman, who is the Zilla Parishad head, dressed in a red suit, standing by as a silent spectator. Despite the presence of police, they took her to the police station in the same state and pressured her to reconcile with the perpetrators, citing that the next day was the Raksha Bandhan festival."

In the face of such grave injustice and a system that appears indifferent at best and complicit at worst, Lali Devi's fight is no longer a personal struggle. Her fight is emblematic of what many women in rural India go through. While the authorities we reached out to either feigned ignorance or outrightly refused to discuss the case, their silence speaks volumes about the challenges faced by victims of such heinous crimes in seeking justice.

Tags: SC/ST Crime Jharkhand Paraded Stripped