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.
It was this camp 27-year-old Nicole, a sex worker, was propositioned to visit one May night of 2010. She recalls, “They send kids to look for women to have sex with. Each deal gets the kids food. A boy approached me, and I agreed to have sex with a soldier.” Outside the Monusco compound, in the fading evening light, a soldier asked Nicole to wear the army uniform he was carrying. She was then showed the spot from where she could slip into the camp, a sprawling area of tents, dark spaces and the mysterious chirpings of the night. “The deal was to have sex with just this soldier,” Nicole says.
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.”
Whispers about sexual misconduct involving Indian soldiers have always swirled around North Kivu; they rose to a steady murmur after the deployment of a unit of the Sikh Regiment in January 2008. An Indian army spokesperson, in a written reply to Outlook, said, “In December 2008, the Investigations Division of the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), UNO, received an allegation of possible misconduct, implicating members of the Indian military contingent...based in Kiwanja, Rutshuru Territory, North Kivu.” The spokesperson said the allegation pertained to four females who had been sexually abused near the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp of Kiwanja. The concerned unit had promptly conducted an internal inquiry in July 2008 and concluded “allegations of sexual abuse were false and intended to malign the peacekeepers”.
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.
Take Cecile, for instance, whose child, Julien, is now dead. A divorcee, Cecile was befriended in 2007 by an Indian trooper based in the Monusco camp at the Goma airport. He’d visit her residence at night, bring her chocolates and money, and was always dressed in civvies, she suspects now, because he wanted to conceal his rank, even his real name. Like other Indian armymen, he too warned her of the perils of pregnancy. So when Cecile told him she was pregnant with his child, he abruptly called off the relationship, giving her $200 as a parting gift. “Julien died of diarrhoea a year later. His father does not know about his death.” Perhaps Julien’s father would be relieved to hear the news, for there exists no possibility of confirming his sexual misconduct through DNA matching.
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.
Readers of the story might wonder why consensual sex and paid sex are taboo for the blue helmets. In an e-mail to Outlook’s queries, the UN’s Department of Peace Keeping Operations said consensual, paid sex, and fathering of children are violations of the non-fraternisation policy the UN peackeepers are supposed to pursue in the field. The DOPK further says any misconduct reflects poorly on the UN. Perhaps another reason is that illegitimate children born out of relationship between a blue helmet and a local woman in a conflict zone renders the UN susceptible to blackmail. As Nicole, the first example in this story, told Outlook, “Since I have had sex with Indian soldiers, I might as well have had a child from them. Such a kid is the mother’s Western Union. I could have gone to Monusco to ask for food ration.” Considering the footprint India wants to have in Africa, New Delhi should perhaps think of compensating Congolese women who have given birth to children with distinct Indian features. After all, Indian courts have ruled that even fathers of children born out of wedlock are liable to pay maintenance to their mothers.
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