COVER STORY CONGO
On the bank of Lake Kivu, in the southern quarters of Goma—the capital of the forested North Kivu province—is theNyiragongo camp of Indian FPU-2, home to some of the 3,871 soldiers from India who are deployed as United Nations peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). They are famously known as the formidable soldiers of Monusco, a French acronym for the UN Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the DRC, which was called Monuc till June 30, 2010. The Nyiragongo camp, like other Monusco bases in Goma, is a tantalising symbol of hope to a battered nation anxious to restore normalcy to North Kivu, a veritable cockpit of bloody armed struggles involving neighbouring countries and indigenous rebel groups arrayed against the Congolese army.
Nicole A sex worker, she says she was called for an assignation with one soldier. Once inside the camp, she was set upon by ten.
Trapped inside the camp, with no chance to flee, the nightmare for Nicole began—the first soldier was followed by another, then another...then came the tenth, the last. On her way out, she stumbled upon two other women who too had been whisked into the camp and similarly cheated. Ganging up, the enraged trio now threatened to call the local police and create pandemonium. A deal was hastily worked out—for their silent exit, the women received three boxes of chicken, 20 litres of cooking oil, a bag of rice, some cash.
The reprehensible phenomenon of sexual misconduct in Congo envelops not only the lowly jawan, but also includes Indian army officers who, because of their lavish salaries, violate the UN code of conduct with wily sophistication, in greater secrecy. This is evident from the experience of Mamy, who in 2007 often frequented the Karibu Hotel with her friends. It was there she met an Indian army officer based at the Monusco camp at the Goma airport. He chatted her up, told her about the stifling UN rule prohibiting officers from having relationships with local girls, and then inquired whether she and he could become friends, albeit in secrecy. Mamy gave him her contact number.
A series of calls, typical of any courtship, brought Mamy and the officer closer. She remembers the day—March 21, 2007—the officer summoned her to Goma's Caritas Hotel, where they had sex for the first time. He gifted her $100. The plusher Karibu Hotel later became the venue for their secret rendezvous. Mamy recalls, "We'd have sex in the garden or near the swimming pool. He never came home, advised me to never tell anyone, to never become pregnant, else both of us would be in trouble." The end of the affair was sudden—the officer announced he'd been transferred out and paid Mamy $350, perhaps a token of appreciation for the good times he had in Goma.
Mireille An Indian officer abruptly ended his affair with her mother Mamy, paying her $350 and saying he'd been transferred out.
But pregnant Mamy did become, countenancing severe opprobrium—the Congolese frown upon women who bear children out of wedlock, particularly those whose partners are foreign soldiers. Mamy and her family, however, decided against abortion. She told Outlook, "My family and friends helped to keep the baby safe. I named her Mireille. It's sad I won't be able to meet her father again." Mireille's skin is of lighter colour, unmistakably different from that of Congolese children, her innocent smile bewitchingly winsome.
Yet not all officers have been as discreet as Mamy's. For instance, Dada remembers the brazen ways of her partner, a major in his mid-thirties, who'd indulge in weekend romps with his colleagues. She particularly recalls a memorably passionate weekend. It was 2007. The major called her over to Le Chalet, a small hotel in Goma, told her he didn't have the time to rent a room for the night, that his friends were waiting for him in a car outside. He took her to a room and had sex in a chair. "The officer had confessed to having a wife in India, always said he couldn't marry me. I loved him so much. He once called me from India, but I haven't heard from him since then."
Yet, the dates pertaining to the investigation seem a tad confusing in different narrations. In contrast to the statement of the army spokesperson, a UN spokesperson said as early as August 12, 2008, that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was "deeply troubled" by the outcome of the OIOSs's investigation which had revealed prima facie evidence against members of an Indian contingent assigned to Monuc. Clearly, the UN had been aware of the allegations of sexual misconduct before December 2008. The UN spokesperson also articulated Ban's expectations that India would take "disciplinary action to the maximum degree permissible" under its law against those found guilty in an Indian investigation.
Cloudy Tour A UN contingent of Indian soldiers in Congo. (Photograph by AFP, From Outlook, August 08, 2011)
The unit of the Sikh Regiment was deinducted in July 2009, and a court of inquiry (CoI) was instituted after the OIOS, as the army spokesperson noted, handed over its investigation report of May 2010 to the Indian army in August 2010. Whether this report was of the investigation conducted in the 2008 or later incidents, Outlook couldn't differentiate, as the magazine was told that the OIOS as a rule didn't comment on its probe. Nor could Outlook confirm the widely reported news that the OIOS had conducted DNA tests on Congolese children with "distinct Indian features". The CoI is currently on in Meerut, near Delhi. Under scrutiny are 12 officers and 39 soldiers of the Sikh Regiment (see box). Sources say the CoI has decided in principle to recommend DNA matching of suspects and Congolese children with "distinct Indian features" for identifying the guilty.
Yet, the examples of Nicole, Mamy and Dada—as well as other cases cited later in the story—show Indian soldiers had been misbehaving before the unit of the Sikh Regiment was deployed in North Kivu, and even following its deinduction. Indeed, the sexual escapades of Indian armymen are perhaps even more rampant than what the UN believes, extending beyond Kiwanja. Outlook began its investigation in Congo on receipt of photographs of women and children, with their names and addresses, by its Delhi office, which routed the information to its writer in Goma. It took him six weeks to track the women and record their tale of woes and betrayal.
Julian, died aged 1 Cecile, his mother, seen here with his photo. An Indian who always turned up in civvies wooed her with chocolate & money.
As the CoI readies its recommendation to the government, it's debatable whether DNA testing can unravel the precise magnitude of the misconduct of Indian soldiers. This is because some Congolese children with distinct Indian features are likely dead; also, the Indian inquiry is confined to the months the unit of the Sikh Regiment was deployed in North Kivu.
For him to go scot free would be a travesty of justice, especially because Cecile says his betrayal left her with no other option but to become a sex worker. This is the plight peculiar to some Congolese women who have had Indian peacekeepers as their partners. Wooed at the time when they were 19-22 years of age, smitten by gifts and romance, and hoping to persuade their Indian lovers to change their mind about marriage, they'd willingly become partners, only to discover, after betrayal, that neither their family wanted them nor did any local wish to marry them. Bereft of any skills, they could hope to make a decent living only by selling their body.
Faida is one of the lucky few who evaded this dark fate. A student of a secondary school in Katindo, in the western area of Goma, she and her friends often passed the compound of TMK, a transport company which had rented its premises to Monusco, on their way from school. It was in 2005 that an Indian officer and his translator approached her. The translator told Faida the trooper was a lonely bachelor who wished to befriend her. They began to meet at a restaurant near the university in Katindo; gifts of dollars followed every meal and hours of chat. The transcontinental lovers soon began to meet in Nganda la Virunga, a small hotel, where they took to making love over the weekends. Then one day, Faida announced to the Indian that she was pregnant. He became visibly upset, handed her $150 and importuned her to terminate the pregnancy. "I, unfortunately, agreed. But he never met me after that, never even said goodbye before returning to India," says Faida. Perhaps the early termination of pregnancy saved her from a sordid fate. She was to tie the knot within months of the Indian vanishing.
Children with "distinct Indian features" testify to Indian soldiers having unprotected sex in Congo, thus raising the spectre of them having contracted HIV. But Mimmy's story reveals at least one Indian who took the necessary precaution—he and Mimmy underwent an HIV test before they began to have sex. She was still in secondary school and the soldier would spirit her into the Monusco base. Their rendezvous was known to at least a few. "I was 18 then, and when I'd go inside the camp, other soldiers in his tent would promptly leave. We'd have sex in his small bed," she recalls.
Mimmy's Indian seemed exceptional for another reason—he was delighted to learn she was pregnant and said he'd take the child with him to India. But her father nixed the plan, threatening to report him to the police. But he didn't carry out his threat, advised that he couldn't possibly win against the UN. The 18-year-old girl was taken out of school and packed off to her uncle's house.
So what happened to her baby? Mimmy says, "I had a motorcycle accident four months later, I lost the child." She's now back in school—there's no age limit —learning sewing and hoping to make a living on her own. What about her man, the Indian? "I have lost contact with him. It fills me with sadness remembering him, for he brought me bad luck. My education was interrupted. Whenever a boy comes to see me for marriage, he never returns. Pushing 24, I'm still unmarried."
(Inset) Angelle's mother Chance, her Indian partner
Angelle Her mother has a photograph of a man she says was her Indian partner and father of Angelle. He'd wanted a boy.
The last example in this story is of Chance, whose photograph is the only one among those we have featuring her Indian partner. Quite interestingly, the Indian wanted her to beget a male child. In a twist, Chance realised she was pregnant within days of the man returning to India, and she delivered, months later, a girl, Angelle, whose photo is on this week's Outlook cover.
No doubt, the sexual misconduct of Indian soldiers have sullied India's exemplary record in UN peacekeeping missions. Nearly 50 years ago, Maj Gurbachan Singh Salaria was posthumously awarded the country's highest gallantry award—the Param Vir Chakra—for his role in the peacekeeping operation in Congo in 1961. The charges against the Indian soldiers today insult his memory and the country he so gallantly served.
The Underbelly Of War And Peacekeeping
- Following the Lusaka Ceasefire Agreement in July 1999 between the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and five regional states, the UN Security Council establishes the United Nations Organisation Mission in DRC (Monuc, a French acronym). Its task: observation of the ceasefire agreement.
- Subsequent UNSC resolutions expanded Monuc's duties to include, among other things, the supervision of the implementation of the ceasefire agreement, protection of civilians, countering threats of violence, joint patrolling with the local police.
- From July 1, 2010, Monuc was renamed Monusco or the United Nations Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the DRC.
- The total sanctioned strength for Monusco is 22,016.
- Currently, India has 3,871 uniformed men posted with Monusco.
- The United Nations received complaints of sexual misconduct against a unit of the Sikh Regiment deployed in Congo.
- The company was based in Kiwanja, which is in Rutshuru, a region in Congo's eastern province of North Kivu.
- UN's Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) investigates the charges and reportedly conducts DNA tests on Congolese children with "distinct Indian features". OIOS establishes prima facie evidence of sexual misconduct.
The Indian army's court of inquiry
- An army court of inquiry, based in Meerut, has been investigating charges of sexual misconduct against 12 officers and 39 soldiers belonging to a unit of the Sikh Regiment for two months now.
- It's headed by Brig M.M. Masru, who has two colonels assisting him.
- The CoI has decided in principle to recommend matching of DNA samples of suspected armymen and Congolese children with distinct Indian features. This will help identify the guilty.
Justice for Congolese women must include...
- Exemplary punishment to those found guilty of sexual misconduct in Congo.
- Monetary compensation for mothers of children born with "distinct Indian features". Courts in India have repeatedly ruled that those who have fathered children out of wedlock are liable for their maintenance.
What Outlook has found
- Indian soldiers have been guilty of sexual misconduct both before and after the one-year stint of the Sikh Regiment.
- Instances of sexual abuse are not confined only to Kiwanja, Rutshuru.
- Some children born with "distinct Indian features" are already dead. Their fathers can't be identified through the DNA matching technique.
(The names of women and children have been changed to protect their identity.)
By Bally Mutumayi in Goma, Saikat Datta in Delhi, Ashish Kumar Sen in Washington
|ALSO IN THIS STORY|
AUTHORS: BALLY MUTUMAYI | ASHISH KUMAR SEN | SAIKAT DATTA
TAGS: UNO-UNITED NATIONS ORGANISATION | SEXUAL HARASSMENT & MISCONDUCT | DEFENCE |PEACEKEEPING FORCES | CHILDREN
SUBSECTION: COVER STORIES
PLACES: AFRICA | CONGO
JUL 30, 2011 06:54 PM
Which organisation in India investigates allegations of wrongdoing by its members and punishes the guilty? The Indian Army. Would those who believe the army is an out of control rogue outfit please produce evidence of any other body in the country which has a record of dealing with wrongdoers which is even close to that of the army.
As a matter of coincidence, I came across the following comment made by someone who is Chairman of a well known think tank. It is regarding the Lokpal Bill, but the sentiment expressed remains valid.
It is no one's case that allegations of misconduct should be brushed under the carpet, and the record clearly demonstrates that this doesn't happen. Even the cases mentioned in this article indicate that the army has initiated action to investigate, long before the issue hit the media spotlight.However, there seems to be a concerted drive in some quarters to portray the Indian Armed Forces as some kind of criminal organisation.
I have come across a website whose stated aim is to :
This website publishes articles on the Indian Armed Forces lifted from other publications. Far from being "cutting edge news" the articles deal exclusively with some controversial event or unsavoury news. The latest sample of headlines:
If one depends on this site for "cutting edge news" on the Indian Military, what impression would a gullible person take away. The authors obviously have an axe to grind.
JUL 30, 2011 06:41 PM
I wonder what is the aim of this article. To me it seems an attempt to raise a malcious finger towards our armed forces and drag them into some thing that does not need any attention. Even if we presume that what is being touted is correct then does it mean that having sex with a prostitute on agreed returns is forbidden or is a crime. Please, before raising fingers on the officers touch your heart and ask how many tourists go abroad for this purpose only. It is surprising that such an article finds a place in highly respected magzine like "OUT LOOK'
JUL 30, 2011 05:30 PM
Are we willing to accept this charge or not.Atleast investigate
JUL 30, 2011 05:10 PM
Should I be surprised that the media covers sexual (mis)conduct when men are the perpetrators and women or children the victims are? When women abuse men and boys sexually and physically it is trumpeted as liberation and emancipation. Abuse of sons by mothers and aunts are religiously ignored and termed as love. This is a shame, an atrocity and a scandal.
JUL 30, 2011 02:58 PM
Military misbehaviour is often cordoned using special rights given to them in the name of patriotism and with the same patriotism the public refuses to accept that the divine soldiers could also be criminals sometimes.