Republic Day of India, 2013
Calls for investigation and punishment of police officials Garg and Kalluri and withdrawal of their presidential medals
On January 26th, 2013, India celebrates its 64th Republic Day. The anniversary of the Indian Constitution’s adoption is always a time for not just celebration, but for reflection; a time to take stock of how far the nation has come in securing, for all its citizens, justice, liberty and equality as enshrined in the Constitution.
Over the last month, the rape and subsequent death of a young woman in Delhi – a particularly brutal incident, yet only one in an endless series of similar crimes that are reported, month after month, if they are reported at all – triggered international shock and outrage. The incident served as a stark reminder that, decades after the adoption of the Constitution, the liberty to live our lives without fear remains unsecured. For women in many communities across the country, especially those on the economic and social margins, such as dalits and adivasis, this insecurity permeates the fabric of day to day life – sexual assault, violence, imprisonment and threats thereof are commonplace. In any discussion of the questions that the gang-rape in Delhi raises, it is to these women and to these communities that we must look: the truest measure of a society lies in how it treats those who have the least power. None of us is safer or freer than the most vulnerable among us.
In the last few weeks, there has been much discussion on how to make sure that survivors of rape and violence receive justice consistently and rapidly. It is worth remembering, as these discussions take place, the spectacular failure of our judiciary and democratic processes in delivering justice to Soni Sori, the adivasi school teacher and mother of three from Chhattisgarh who has been incarcerated since October 2011 . A year ago this January 26th, India awarded the Police Medal for Gallantry to an officer, SP Ankit Garg, despite compelling medical evidence that Sori was tortured and sexually assaulted while under his custody .
This is not an isolated case, but part of a pattern of such incidents. In a bizarre repetition of last year’s act of rewarding-the-perpetrator, the Government of India has decided to confer the President’s Police Medal for Meritorious Service this Republic Day, January 26th 2013, to Inspector General of Police S.R.P. Kalluri, who has well-documented rape accusations against him in Chhattisgarh [3, 4].
Sori’s petition in the Supreme Court as well as the cases in which Sori has been falsely charged have been subject to repeated delays. In the interim, neither the elected Government, nor independent bodies such as the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and the National Commission for Women (NCW), have instituted serious investigations into the indications that Sori was tortured- her fingers seem to have been blackened from electric shocks and doctors recovered stones that had been thrust into her vagina and rectum. Indeed, the NCW revealed last October that it had closed its inquiry into the case, and has remained silent since, apart from making an anodyne recommendation of providing psychological counseling to Sori . Although, on January 8th 2013, the Supreme Court granted Sori’s plea to be shifted to Jagdalpur jail, to be closer to her family , she remains in the custody of those who stand accused of torturing her.
Sori has spoken to a legal team of the humiliation and violence that she and other women prisoners are routinely subjected to. Besides this, jails in Chhattisgarh have an occupancy rate of around 256%, with 13,918 individuals incarcerated in space built to accommodate 5,430. The all-India rate is 110% . Between 2001-2010, an average of four individuals died each day in police custody .
What makes these statistics all the more disturbing is that a majority of those imprisoned are under-trials such as Sori, who have not been convicted of any crime. The prolonged detention of these individuals – often for years altogether, as their cases move sluggishly through the judicial system amounts to an unconstitutional deprivation of the liberty of lawfully innocent citizens.
Indeed, the state increasingly uses the process of trial as a punishment in itself, as in the case of Kartam Joga, a man who, for years, tirelessly sought accountability for human rights violations by state forces in Chhattisgarh. On January 7th, 2013, a trial court acquitted Joga of all of a panoply of fabricated charges ; an innocent man thus spent the past two and a half years of his life in jail. Lingaram Kodopi (Sori’s nephew), a 25-year old journalist who worked to document abuses by security forces, remains imprisoned, awaiting trial, even as local police officers have been recorded admitting that the charges against him are fabricated . Kodopi has also suffered custodial violence . Numerous others have been thus imprisoned on the weakest of grounds seemingly as punishment for criticising the state’s actions or for otherwise challenging local authorities. Although we welcome the release of Kartam Joga and others who have been put through similar ordeals, the state must cease its intimidation and harassment of those who seek to hold it accountable to its own people.
In the 2G spectrum case, the Supreme Court recently commented that “this court has time and again stated that bail is the rule and committal to jail an exception… The courts owe more than verbal respect to the principle that punishment begins after conviction, and that every man is deemed to be innocent until duly tried and duly found guilty” . This is a sound and practical principle; we ask that it be invoked not only in the trials of the influential but also in the trials of the weak and marginalized.
If we are to continue to place our trust in the rights that the Constitution upholds and seeks to guarantee every citizen in India, if we are to address the deep-rooted issue of violence against women, then we must be able to ensure liberty and justice to those who are the most vulnerable in our societies. To that end, we demand:
Ensure a speedy, free and fair trials for Soni Sori and Lingaram Kodopi.
Conduct an independent and impartial investigation of incidents of sexual violence against women, including Soni Sori, committed by the police and other security forces; prosecute the responsible officers and impose exemplary punishment on those found guilty. Withdraw the Presidential Gallantry Awards given to Police Superintendent Ankit Garg and Inspector General of Police S.R.P. Kalluri.
Grant unconditional bail to undertrials from socially and economically marginalised communites, languishing in jails in Chhattisgarh and across India.
Ensure that all cases, particularly those against individuals from marginalised communities, are disposed of in a timely manner so that the process of securing justice is not a punishment in itself.
Constitute a grievance redressal mechanism for individuals who have been wrongly detained or subject to custodial violence.
International Alliance for the Defence of Human Rights in India (IADHRI)
 Tehelka: ‘The Inconvenient Truth Of Soni Sori’
 The Hindu: ‘Soni Sori case: HRW wants PM to order impartial probe on torture’
 Statement of protest and demand for withdrawal of Meritorious Service award to S.R.P. Kalluri
 Ledha Bai’s Statement Against S.R.P. Kalluri
Tehelka: ‘NCW first shuts, then reopens Soni Sori’s case’
 Press Trust of India: ‘SC allows Soni Sori to be shifted to Jagdalpur Central Jail’
National Crime Records Bureau: http://ncrb.nic.in/PSI-2011/TABLE-2.1.pdf
Tehelka: ‘Four custodial deaths daily over the last decade’
Amnesty International: ‘India frees prisoner of conscience Kartam Joga’
 Committee to Protect Journalists: ‘In India, imprisoned journalist’s plea for help’
 The Hindu: ‘‘Respect principle that punishment begins after conviction’’
Complaint (Parivaad) C.A. No. 624/09 [Number not clear]
Witness no. …1… for (panjiyan poorva saakshya) Deposition taken on the …..27-6-07……. day of ……. Witness’s apparent age …..22…… States on affirmation ……………. My name is ……….Mrs. Leda…….wife of Ramesh…… Occupation ….housewife… address …..Village Tarangava, Police Station Shankargarh, Distt. Sarguja Chhattisgarh……..
- This happened around one year ago. I am illiterate. I do not know the date. Israel used to come to our village. His mother also belonged to our Oraon tribe. His mother was from our village. Israel loved me and I became pregnant from him. The foetus got aborted after I was beaten in the village. He always promised to marry me in one or two months. Thus I became pregnant again. He got that pregnancy terminated also. When he did not meet for one month, I enquired about him and came to know that he had married a girl from his own tribe.
- When I called Israel and talked to him, Israel assured me that in his tribe, one can have a junior wife and a senior wife (chotki-badki) and that he will me after five months. I kept quiet for five months. After five months, I called Israel again. He told me that he would not keep me and I could go wherever I wanted. I returned to my father and told him that Israel would not marry me now. Then I went with my father to Shankargarh police station where Nasar Siddiqui was the thana-in-charge. Israel had already met him because of which Nasar Siddiqui did not register my report and threw us out of the thana. We returned to our home. A boy named Ramesh used to come to our village. He asked my father what Israel had done to his daughter (me). My father told him to inquire from his daughter (me) instead. Later my father arranged my meeting with Ramesh. Ramesh asked me about everything. So I had told Ramesh whatever Israel had said and done. Ramesh told me that he was in touch with the Naxalites and after talking to them, he would get me married to Israel. After this, Ramesh started coming to my home quite often. In the meantime, one day Ramesh asked my father why we were so keen on my marriage with Israel while Ramesh himself was also a tribal and my father should get his daughter (me) married to Ramesh. When Ramesh talked to me about marriage, I agreed to marry him. Then during sarnapuja, Vikram baba of the village got me and Ramesh married.
- After the wedding, Ramesh came with us to my parents’ home and stayed there for two-three days. Then he said that he was going in search of some employment and that when he found some work, he would come and take me with him. One month later, Brijesh Tiwari from Shankargarh police station came to our house and asked him to accompany him as sahib had called me to the police station. In the Shankargarh police station, the thana-in-charge Nasar Siddiqui said about me that I was a Naxalite and if I were not sent to jail, then I would surely file a case against Israel.
- Thereafter I was sent to jail. At that time, I was pregnant. My child is very weak. After eight months, when my delivery was due, I was granted bail. I delivered my child at home. After my delivery, when I appeared in the court for hearing, I was again sent to jail. After six months, the judgment was delivered in my case and the court acquitted me. When I released from the jail, my lawyer advised me that I should inform the Shankargarh police station about my release. After three days, I went to the Shankargarh police station with my father. When I went there, I met thana-in-charge Sapan Choudhary who asked me if I knew Ramesh. I said yes, he was my husband. He asked me what sort of work he was engaged in. I told him that he said that he worked as a labourer and did some farming also.
- Shankargarh thana-in-charge Sapan Choudhary told me that Ramesh was a Naxalite. Before this, I did not know that Ramesh was a Naxalite. Sapan Choudhary advised me that I should make Ramesh surrender before the police and that if he surrendered before them, the police would help him and the government will also give him some money. Otherwise, one day he would come and kill Ramesh in front of me in my house.
- After one month, Ramesh came to our home. I asked him if he was a Naxalite. He said yes. I told him that the thana-in-charge had suggested that I should ask him to surrender. If he was made to surrender then the government will give us money for our living expenses. Ramesh said that he would be coming next month on leave and then he would tell me about his decision. Next month, Ramesh came to Sivildag and informed me through the secretary that he had arrived. After receiving the information from the secretary that Ramesh had come to Sivildag, my father and I went to Shankargarh police station to inform them that Ramesh had come to surrender. At that time, Sapan Chaudhary, thana-in-charge, was not present at the police station; the other policemen were there. We told the police men that Ramesh had come to surrender. The policemen told us to sit, the senior officer will talk to the SP and tell us. Then the policemen told us to go back home and return to the police station at the crack of dawn the next day. Next morning, I went to the Shankargarh police station where I met Mr. Kalluri who told me that I was lying that Ramesh would surrender. I told him with folded hands that I was telling him the truth and that Ramesh had come to Sivildag for surrendering.
- Then I was taken in a police van from police station Shankargarh to police station Kusumi. More policemen joined us at police station Kusumi and from there all of us when to Kasamaar. At Kasamaar, all of us alighted from the van and walked on foot. From Kasamaar, we reached Sivildag on foot. On reaching Sivildag, Kalluri sahib asked that Ramesh be brought. Then Ramesh was brought. Then the policemen beat Ramesh with lathis (sticks). After beating Ramesh, Kalluri sahib interrogated Ramesh and after interrogation, he told Ramesh and me that we should go to the house of the secretary and discuss with each other. We were talking in the room. At that time Ramesh told me that “the bag hung on the peg contained (saade lakh) rupees. These police men are going to take me to jail, you should use that money for my bail etc.” (The witness starts crying at this point.) Brijesh Tiwari came in the meantime and shot at my husband Ramesh three times. When Brijesh Tiwari shot at my husband, I started crying loudly. Then the policemen dragged me out of the room. (The witness is crying.) The policemen told Kalluri sahib that they should kill me also. Then Kalluri said yes, kill her. Then the villagers present there opposed it. Then they took me to police station Shankargarh in a police van. I was imprisoned in police station Shankargarh. At night, Kalluri sahib came to police station Shankargarh and warned me not to speak about this to anyone. “We took pity on you because of your child and let you go. If you complain anywhere, we will shoot you.” They let me out at noon on the next day. It was Monday. It was the day of the weekly market in Shankargarh. When they let me out of of the police station then I wondered where to go. Thinking this, I went to Shankargarh market. There I met Shankar. He told me that the policemen had shot Ramesh dead. I already knew about. I went crying to my home in village Sarangava. After reaching home, I told my parents about the incident. My father asked me to stay at home for ten days and not go anywhere, because in our community (after a death in the family) no one goes out anywhere for ten days.
- After ten days, I came to Ambikapur and told my lawyer about the entire incident relating to my husband’s murder. Then my lawyer prepared a petition on my behalf and sent it to the Chief Minister. After filing the complaint, I started living in Ambikapur. I used to work in Suresh’s house as a house maid. When I returned to my village around the time of panchpujai dussehra, my parents informed me that the police was looking for me. After consulting my parents, I went to Chainpur to stay with my sister. The next day, policemen from the Shankargarh police station arrested my father and brought him to the police station. My aya (mother) sent a message to my sister’s house that the Shankargarh police had taken my father into custody. Then I returned home. I reached my home in the evening. Soon after, the policemen from Shankargarh police station came in three vans and took me to the Shankargarh police station. When I reached Shankargarh police station, I saw Kalluri sahib who, upon seeing me, asked if I knew who he was. Then I said, “You are Kalluri Sahib. I made my husband surrender before you and you got him shot.” Then Kalluri slapped me twice. I was carrying my daughter. I fell on the ground with my daughter. Kalluri asked me to take off my clothes. When I refused, two policemen twisted my father’s arms and made him stand up, and started beating him. They beat my father mercilessly. Then Brijesh Tiwari unfastened my saree and took off all the other garments. When I was resisting the taking off of my clothes, they started hitting my father forcefully. I took off my clothes. They completely stripped me. They stripped me. My child was wailing uncontrollably on the ground. Then Kalluri said, “Take her inside the room, I will interrogate her.” In my nude condition, they took me inside the room in the police station. Then Kalluri raped me inside the police station. He brought me outside after an hour and got green chillies shoved into my vagina. Before leaving the police station, Kalluri told the policemen to rape me everyday. In the Shankargarh police station, the policemen used to rape me everyday. Dhiraj Jaiswal came with the policemen three times to rape me and once Brijesh Tiwari raped me.
- For ten days, my father, my mother and I were detained in the police station. My mother was also taken to the Shankargarh police station the same day when I was also taken there. After ten days, they took us to Ramanujganj police station. In the Ramanujganj police station, they made us sign some papers on the threat of shooting us. After releasing us, they put four policemen on duty to keep a watch on me. Even when I went for relieving myself or taking a bath, the policemen would accompany me. On the occasion of Chherta, the said policemen went away to celebrate Chherta. They started drinking liquor. Then I ran away on foot and reached Rajpur. From there, I caught a bus to Ambikapur. As I reached Ambikapur at night, I stayed in a dharmshala (resthouse). In the morning, I went to my lawyer’s place. When I reached my lawyer’s place in the morning, his wife informed me that he had gone to Bilaspur. The lawyer’s wife told me that he would return after two days, so I waited for two days for him. I had no money, so I went to Suresh’s house where I used to work earlier and took Rs 200 from him to go to Bilaspur. When I was in jail, a lady had visited me who had given me her contact number to me. I searched for her in Bilaspur. I looked for her in the Bilaspur high court and I asked about her from a male lawyer. When he enquired, I told him about the whole incident. That lawyer said he will take up my case, so I got him to prepare my case and file it in the Honourable High Court.
- One week ago, some people from Delhi had come to ask me some questions, so I told them about the incident. I told the people from Delhi that I had not visited my village since I had filed the case. I want to go to my village. Please arrange for me to go to my village. They assured me that they will make arrangements for sending me to my village in one week. I have presented papers in this case.
25th January 2013
We, the undersigned, are appalled at the conferment of the President’s Police Medal for Meritorious Service to SRP Kalluri, IGP of Chhattisgarh. Mr Kalluri raped a tribal woman, Ledha Bai, when he was the SP of Sarguja District, ordered her gang-rape by his juniors, and then terrorized her and her lawyer when she decided to file a complaint against him. Coming on the heels of the award of the President’s Gallantry medal to Ankit Garg, who had sexually assaulted another tribal woman in his custody, Soni Sori, it appears that sexual violence against women by the police is well tolerated, and even decorated, by the government. Is it any wonder then, that we are witnessing a spiraling increase in crimes against women?
Ledha Bai is a tribal woman who was married to Ramesh Nagesia, a member of the CPI(Maoists). Under advice from the police, she convinced her husband to surrender himself to the police. But, the police team, lead by the then-SP of Sarguja, Mr. SRP Kalluri, went to the pre-assigned meeting place and shot the unarmed Ramesh Nagesia dead, in front of his wife Ledha. Ledha was allowed to live, but with the caveat that she would not tell anyone about this episode. However, a few days later, Ledha, her 2 year old child and her parents were rounded up and taken to the police station. There, Ledha was stripped and raped by Mr. Kalluri, and green chillies were inserted into her vagina in front of her parents and daughter. Under orders from Mr Kalluri, SPO Dhiraj Jaiswal and others gangraped her in police custody for about 10 days. All this has been documented by several fact-finding teams and was also corroborated by Ledha’s statement in front of a magistrate.
When Ledha tried to lodge a complaint against Mr. Kalluri, she and her father were intimidated to the extent that they had to withdraw the complaint, and instead, false charges were filed against the lawyer who had helped her file the complaint.
Mr. Kalluri is well-known for the reign of terror he let loose in Sarguja district as its SP, under the pretext of fighting Maoists. Extra-judicial killings were frequent, such as the one of Narayan Khairwar, and anyone who raised a voice against this was victimized. Even a Rozgar Yatra led by the eminent economist Jean Dreze was subjected to a lathi-charge, on account of being constituted of suspected Maoists.
Later on, Mr. Kalluri was transferred to Dantewada as Senior Superintendent of Police. His authoritarian rule continued there, and activists and ordinary tribals were subjected to endless harassment under his orders. Himanshu Kumar, a well-known Gandhian activist opposing Salwa Judum, had his ashram demolished and was forced to flee from Dantewada. Mr. Kalluri held a press conference announcing the well-respected international organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross and Doctors without Borders, were helping Maoists. In another press conference, he announced that Lingaram Kodopi, a 20 year old journalism student in NOIDA who had addressed public meetings in Delhi talking about the reign of terror in Dantewada under Salwa Judum and Operation Green Hunt, was in fact a spokesperson for the CPI(Maoist) and had masterminded a Naxalite attack in Dantewada while sitting in Delhi. Linga’s aunt, Soni Sodi, another outspoken tribal woman, was harassed by having multiple false cases lodged against her, and her husband arrested in another false case. Any tribal activist, other than those working for the ruling party, were arrested and thrown into jail. Consequently, CPI was forced to write a letter of protest to the Prime Minister, complaining of the witch hunt of their party workers under Mr. Kalluri’s reign, more than a dozen of whom were arrested and many of whom still continue to languish in jail. Kartam Joga, an elected Janpad member of the CPI, who had filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court against Salwa Judum, was similarly picked up on spurious charges and has just been released after 29 months in prison.
In March 2011, SPOs torched three villages in Dantewada district. As Swami Agnivesh was attempting to deliver relief to these villages, police sealed off these areas and attacked the convoy along with Swami ji and accompanying journalists. The uproar created in the wake of this incident forced the Chhattisgarh government to transfer Mr. Kalluri out of this area.
In view of these crimes committed by Mr. Kalluri, we are unable to understand what constitutes meritorious service in the eyes of our government. We demand that the medal be immediately withdrawn.
Signed by -
Shabnam Hashmi, Social Activist
Sudha Bharadwaj, Advocate
Shalini Gera, Activist
Nandini Sundar, Academic
Himanshu Kumar, Gandhian activist
Bela Bhatia, Academic
Vrinda Grover, Advocate
Ram Punyani, Scientist and Activist
Mansi Sharma, Activist
Naish Hasan, Activist, Lucknow
Sheba George, Activist, Gujarat
Mahtab Alam, Activist and Journalist
Manisha Sethi, Activist-Academician
Sanghamitra Misra, Activist-Academician
Syed Zafar Mehdi, Journalist
Dr. John Dayal, All India Christian Council & Member, National Integration Council, GoI
Ahmed Sohaib, Activist-Academician
Aslam Khan, Activist, Delhi
Kavita Srivastava, PUCL
Navaid Hamid, member, Member, National Integration Council, GoI
S R Darapuri, former DGP Police
Annie Raja, National Federation of Indian Women
Zakia Soman, Bhartiya Muslim Mahila Andolan
Zulaikha Zabeen, Journalist, Raipur
Sucheta De, AISA
Asad Zaidi, Three Essays Collective
Vinay Bhatt, Activist
Shaheen Nazar, Senior Journalist
Harsh Dobhal, Human Rights Law Network (HRLN)
Kavita Krishnan, All India Progressive Women Association (AIPWA)
Reena Philipm, Activist, Kerala
Reny Ayline, NCHRO
Purva Bhardwaj, Activist and Researcher
Prof. Apoorvanand, Delhi University
Kumar Sundaram, CNDP
Lateef Mohd Khan, CLMC, Hyderabad
Jay N Jayram, Researcher and Journalist
Seema Mustafa, Senior Journalist
Dilip Simeon, Academician
Aijaz Zaka Syed, Writer and Columnist
Prakash K Ray, Researcher
Irshadul Haque, Editor, Naukarshahi.in
Iftikhar Gilani, Senior Journalist
Seela Mahapatra & Madhuresh Kumar, NAPM
Jawed Naqvi, Senior Journalist
Vineet Tiwari, Gen Sec, M P PWA
Meera Ahmed, University of Delhi
1. Fact finding report on Ledha’s custodial rape http://www.hrsolidarity.net/mainfile.php/2006vol16no02/2491/
2. Affidavit filed by Swami Agnivesh in Supreme Court http://www.swamiagnivesh.com/SwamiAgniveshaffidavit.doc.pdf
3. Account of attack on Jean Dreze and Rozgar Yatra http://www.frontlineonnet.com/fl2213/stories/20050701006013300.htm
4. Letter from CPI to the PM http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2010-07-17/news/28409499_1_cpi-general-secretary-maoists-s-r-p-kalluri
On the 10th of October, 2012, around a hundred women and student activists stormed the NCW office on Delhi’s Deen Dayal Upadhayay Marg, protesting against its year-long inaction.
More information available here.
I have never deceived my homeland. I never overlooked the questions raised by the Jharkand people. The flowing water of the Koyal, Karo and Chata rivers is a witness to this. I learnt to write with my fingers in the mud and sand of this land. On the banks of the river Karo, while grazing my sheep, I learnt to bathe and swim. The shade of grass and trees covered with dew filled in the sky, gave me love; how can I sell this? How couldn’t I make the pain and suffering of the society which taught me how to live, a part of myself?
To protect the interests and rights of these people is our (everyone’s) responsibility. And I think this is the only way for the persons who try to fulfill this responsibility. Only dangers and troubles are written in their fate, this is the reality of life. I tried to tell the government that their system is not fulfilling its responsibility towards its citizens.
When the villagers of Anagda took out a rally demanding job cards under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Gaurantee Act (MGNREGA), which was started to prevent the migration of people from rural areas by providing them work for 100 days, a case was lodged against them. Many of my friends were present in that rally. The MGNREGA scam is clear before everyone. The truth is that the poor rural people did not get anything except that they were declared as culprits.
Then I was put in jail. Violating the laws of the land, the government was forcefully acquiring 227 acres of agricultural land from the villagers of Nagdi. I tried to tell the government that they are doing a wrong thing. On the basis of law and human values, I asked them to leave the agricultural land alone. You are welcome to build the Law College and IIM on an infertile and unproductive land, I said. My crime was this, because of which four of my people were already behind bars, many lost their hands and today I am behind bars. Today, looters of the state have become well wishers in the sight of the government and its institutions. On one hand, the exploiters of state’s resources and human rights violators are being given protection by the government, and on the other hand the sons and daughters who are the well wishers of the land are being declared as criminals. Every well wisher of the country is being treated in the same manner as Birsa Munda, who was termed as a criminal when he fought for the people.
What is right and what is wrong I am not able to understand. But I Know this much that I have turned into a stone today. The whole world is sleeping. It is 1’o clock in the night and the captives are sleeping in the women’s ward of Birsa Munda Central Jail. I am sitting alone. I have never kept myself away from the pain and suffering of others, whether it be day or night. Even the darkness of the night could not stop me from wiping the tears of others, but today my legs have been tied. Every hand which used to wipe another’s tear, has been chained. My sister-in-law’s dead body is lying in my house, my family is engulfed with fear and I am lying in the jail both helpless and speechless. I cannot shed tears even though I have tearful eyes. Today, on 6 November 2012, I have to go to the court. I have a feeling that a new case will be lodged against me, for which I will be taken into custody or be remanded or a production warrant will be issued against me. I am losing trust on trust itself.
I thank all my friends, near and dear, who have extended their support to me in this time of sorrow. All my jail inmates are persuading me to fight this battle from outside the walls of this jail. I will try my best to be as steadfast as the mountains, rivers and forests which stand firm in the villages and towns, elevating the voice of this struggle. We will not give even an inch of our ancestral land. We hope that this moment will not be the end of our lives because until the streams of Koyal, Karo and Chata continue to flow, we will fight this battle.
(This letter was written to Faisal Anurag and was also first published in the Hindi Newspaper ‘Prabhat Khabar’)
New Delhi, Nov 1 (IANS) Condemning the arrest of woman tribal-activist and journalist Dayamani Barla in Jharkhand, rights activists here Thursday demanded that the “false cases” against her be dropped and that she be immediately released.
Members of Indian and international organisations said the reason for this incarceration is to intimidate Barla, who is one of the leaders of the peaceful struggle of people against the acquisition of fertile land at Nagri, a village situated near Ranchi for setting up a law university and an Indian Institute of Management (IIM).
The members of Association for India’s Development, Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha, People’s Union for Civil Liberties, International Alliance for the Defence of Human Rights in India and others demanded her release.
“As per some estimates, at least 500 tribal families will be displaced and their livelihoods will be destroyed if the land is acquired for the said institutions. In January, the state bulldozed farms just when the winter crops, mostly potatoes and pulses, were to be harvested,” the groups said in a joint statement.
“We find the Jharkhand government indifferent and (their) unjust response to this peaceful struggle appalling. We support these institutions in the state but not at the cost of the main source of villagers’ livelihood,” they said.
Barla was granted bail by a local court in Ranchi Oct 18, in a case related to a protest held in 2006 demanding job cards for rural labourers under the Rural Employment Guarantee Act.
However, on the day that she was supposed to be released (Oct 19), jail authorities announced that she had been re-arrested on a second warrant, for “obstructing government work”.
“She was denied bail on Oct 29 and remains imprisoned. We demand her immediate release,” the activists said.
Today afternoon, activists from women’s groups and several peoples’ organisations stormed the National Commission for Women (NCW), protesting against the continued inaction for an year in the Soni Sori case. It has been one year since the arrest of 36-year old Soni Sori, an adivasi school warden from Dantewada, Chhattisgarh, and her custodial torture at the behest of the then SP of Dantewada, Ankit Garg. Soni Sori’s right to life and dignity have been violated by various jail and police authorities several times over – from foisting false cases against her, sexually torturing and humiliating her in the police station, denying her medical attention, and most recently, humiliating her by publicly stripping her in prison in the name of conducting physical search. It is also one year since women’s groups first met the NCW to seek their intervention.
Since the first meeting last year, these organizations have approached the NCW on several occasions to take steps against Soni Sori’s custodial torture and continuing ill treatment. Every single instance of illegality by police and jail authorities was brought to the attention of the NCW. Soni Sori herself wrote to the NCW seeking their help. But all this has fallen on deaf ears.
On 27 September 2012, when the NCW was once again approached regarding this case by representatives of some women’s organisations, Hemlata Kheria, the Member-in-Charge of Chhattisgarh was not even aware of SoniSori’s case. It took two hours for her file to be dug out, and it was then discovered that a reply of the Chhattisgarh police had been lying in the NCW office since 17 February. The NCW has neither taken cognizance of this reply, nor forwarded it to the complainants.
Today, to the shock and consternation of the protesting organizations, they were informed by another member secretary Charu Walikhanna that the Soni Sori case had been closed on 4 Oct 2012, that too once more without informing the complainants! Clearly, the NCW had satisfied itself by reading a “report” by the accused in the case, the Chhattisgarh Police. The closure report says, “at our end, nothing seems more to be done”. Various members of the NCW came up with frivolous excuses of not having the “power” to take up a case which is pending before a court. The activists were then forced to read out the provisions of the NCW Act, which give the commission the power to intervene or/and assist in any pending case.
After prolonged discussion, the NCW finally relented and has reopened the case. Also, the NCW has given in writing that within a week it will “consider intervention in the Supreme Court case” and carry out a fact-finding.
NCW has frequently denied reports of sexual violence by security forces in several parts of the country, instead of seeking to investigate and end impunity granted in such crimes. It’s apathy has been criminal – it refused to get involved in the Shopian case where Nilofer and Aasiya Jan were sexually assaulted and killed; it remained a mute spectator when the Chhattisgarh police whisked away Sodi Shambho, the crucial witness to Gompad massacre, from right under its nose in New Delhi to some place where she still remains untraced three years later; it is still to take any action on a 15-month old petition asking the NCW to investigate the human rights violation of Irom Sharmila, who is being illegally detained by the Government.
The protesting groups today also pointed out that Members and Chairpersons of the NCW are chosen not by virtue of their involvement in and championship of women’s rights and struggles, but by their participation in and patronage by the ruling political parties.
“ANYTHING BUT THE TRUTH”
We are deeply shocked and dismayed at Ashutosh Bhardwaj’s (AB) report “Soni’s Story” published in the Sunday Express on 5th August. The reporter has not bothered to cross-check any of the “facts” given to him by his unnamed sources, and relies entirely on innuendo and unproven assertions to discredit a woman who is currently imprisoned and in no position to clarify and defend herself. AB employs dubious techniques to gain access to sensitive information, yet ends up completely missing out on the real story unfolding in Dantewada, where a dysfunctional criminal justice system, coupled with a vicious law enforcement machinery, is criminalizing an entire community and generation of adivasis.
The reporter takes great pains to cast doubts over Soni Sori’s claims of custodial sexual torture at the hands of Chhattisgarh police. And this is done without having talked to the victim herself.
1) First, he suggests that the X-ray images taken in Chhattisgarh hospitals right after her torture show that there were no stones in her vagina or rectum. It should be noted that the State of Chhattisgarh itself makes far more modest claims in its defense before the Supreme Court than these clumsy ones made by AB. Quoting the Head of the Radio-diagnosis of the Raipur Hospital where these tests were conducted, the State has admitted before the apex court that “In the CT scan, the vaginal part is not included…” All the Chhattisgarh state has claimed in court is that “No foreign body is visible for the part of the rectum for which the CT scan was done.” [Annexure 5, Submission on behalf of the Respondent State of Chhattisgarh in Writ Petition 206 of 2011, Supreme Court of India]. Elementary knowledge of human anatomy would suffice to illustrate that CT spinal scans do not cover the majority of the rectum; they leave out the lower rectum.
2) AB deliberately downplays the horror of the discovery of stones in Ms. Sori’s private parts by the NRS Hospital in Kolkata by suggesting that the report sent by the hospital, described as “four-page confidential report, a copy of which is with The Sunday Express,” does not confirm torture charges. It may interest AB to know that hospital did not file a 4-page report, but a 39-page report, which was made available to Ms. Sori’s lawyers by the Supreme Court. Which 4 pages of this report were read by AB is impossible to guess, but his conclusion that the hospital did not confirm the torture charges is absurd. The medical board not only conducted a thorough gynecological and rectal examination – the first since Soni Sori was taken into police custody – but uncovered physical evidence in the form of stones from her private parts, which were physically sent to the Supreme Court along with the report. Shoving of stones into one’s private parts may not conform to Mr. Bhardwaj’s definition of “torture”, but it does seem to satisfy the Supreme Court of India.
3) Mr. Bhardwaj then seeks to discredit the Kolkata hospital’s report further by suggesting that even the Supreme Court entertains doubts about the accuracy of this report, and hence has ordered Soni Sori’s re-examination at AIIMS. Again, if he had only bothered to read the Supreme Court order of 2nd May 2012, publicly available on its website, he would have easily learned that the examination and treatment at AIIMS was ordered by the apex court to provide Soni Sori with medical treatment that was deliberately being withheld from her by the Chhattisgarh authorities. It was not at all to “re-examine” the torture evidence. In any case, what medical evidence of torture does AB imagine would still be present in the body eight months after the incident?! The problems of abnormal vaginal discharge and other associated gynecological, urological problems, raised by a private practitioner whom AB has talked to, which AB insinuates in his article as being mysteriously absent, have all been painstakingly documented before the Supreme Court, if only Mr. Bhardwaj had bothered to acquaint himself with the documents of this case. In fact, it was on the basis of these that urgent medical treatment was being repeatedly requested by Ms. Soni’s counsel in three different interim applications to the Supreme Court, and it is this prayer of Ms. Sori’s counsel which the Supreme Court answered in its May 2nd order.
4) What is perhaps most distasteful in the report is the zeal with which AB attacks the authenticity of Soni’s letters from prison. Again, he has no tangible argument to show any kind of discrepancy, and indeed, even the State of Chhattisgarh has not challenged the authenticity of these letters filed before the Supreme Court. When AB confronts Soni herself with these letters, she also affirms that she is indeed sending them from prison. Undeterred, AB tells the reader that he is unable confirm that these letters are indeed in Soni Sori’s handwriting, and he cannot find how they are being sent from prison. One wonders whether this has more to do with Mr. Bhardwaj’s competence as an investigative journalist, rather than the authenticity of letters. For instance, did he try to get a handwriting sample of Soni to compare the various letters? Did he know that on 5/10/2011, the day after being arrested in Delhi, Soni Sori had submitted IN PERSON a handwritten letter to the Saket Courts, which is now an integral part of the court record and a public document, which can be easily used for the purpose of comparing handwritings? If AB had only bothered to do some primary research, maybe his investigative abilities would have improved dramatically. Further, it is unclear why he expects either Soni or anyone else to give him specific information about how the letters are being sent to Delhi. Does he not know what happened to Dr. Binayak Sen charged with similar allegations of carrying letters for an alleged Naxalite?
Questionable Ethics of this “Journalism of Courage”
It has been brought to our notice that in his zeal to find out how these letters are being sent from the prison, AB accosted her young children and badgered them to find out whether they could recognize Soni’s handwriting in the letters, whether Soni was passing off the letters to them when they visited her, and whether they knew how she was sending these letters to Delhi. AB never once approached either Soni’s lawyers in Delhi, or any of the doctors who examined her, or the women’s rights and civil liberties activists, who he insinuates are “using her” (to what ends and purpose only he can shed light on). Instead, he tried to obtain sensitive information out of children, clearly violating all ethical boundaries of “investigative journalism”. Considering that the youngest of Soni’s children is only 6 years old, we strongly protest at this highly questionable and rather “courageous” way of trying to elicit information from children about their mother.
It is common knowledge that most instances of custodial torture, especially sexual torture, go unpunished and unrecorded simply because it is nearly impossible to establish the claims. This is what makes it all the more shameful for The Sunday Express to go out of its way to discredit the one solitary instance of brutal torture that has actually been corroborated by hard, incontrovertible medical evidence – by employing the dubious techniques of innuendos and mis-statement of facts. By questioning the sexual torture claims, this report ends up giving credence to the similar line of arguments of the State. Is it really that difficult for IE’s editors and journalists to understand why an imprisoned adivasi woman, from a conflict-ridden region, whose husband and nephew are also imprisoned by the police, and who has herself been threatened with even more dire consequences to her family, may take a few days to overcome her fear and the trauma of her brutal sexual torture, and only then be able to talk of the gory details?
While appalling factual inaccuracies and selective presenting of pieces information does great damage to the reporter’s credibility, what is perhaps most worrisome and reprehensible in this story is the story he chooses to ignore, to not to report on.
AB mentions in an off-hand manner that there is evidence to show that neither Soni, nor her husband (who has been in jail for over two years now) were involved in the attack on Mr. Avadhesh Gautam’s house, in which both of them are charged. He also reports that even the police admit that the other cases against Soni (eight of them altogether) are all false cases. But then does not highlight or discuss the grave implications of this explosive piece of information.
He probably knows that the FIR lodged by Mr. Avadhesh Gautam after the attack on his house, in which he named Soni and her husband, also named 65 other adivasis of the local villages. As in the case of Soni and her husband, it is open knowledge in the villages that the other 65 names are also figments of someone’s overactive imagination. Yet dozens of them continue to be in jail even today, as their trial drags on endlessly and they are unable to obtain bail. But somehow, AB, in possession of all these facts, could not be bothered less in reporting on this epidemic of coerced criminality that seems to be sweeping across the adivasi belt.
AB also fails to inform the readers that in this case, the reason why so many adivasis are languishing in jail in an admittedly fabricated case is that for over a year Mr. Avadhesh Gautam, the main complainant, has not answered his summons to appear in court to give testimony. For over a year, the court has been making (half-hearted) attempts to get him to come so that the trial can proceed. But for over a year, the deliverer of summons simply cannot find Avadhesh Gautam in the village. But Avadhesh Gautam is not in hiding– he lives in his house, attends to his business, everyone in the village knows his whereabouts, and even AB had no problem nailing him down for this story. Only the court cannot seem to find him to deliver summons to him.
But this does not seem to bother Mr. Bhardwaj. In his enthusiasm to get Mr. Gautam’s opinion on Ms. Sori’s character, he conveniently lays aside the *real* story–that so many adivasis continue to languish in jail for over two years simply because Mr Gautam cannot take the trouble to appear in the court to give his testimony, What makes Mr. Avadhesh Gautam, who has admittedly falsely implicated Soni and her family in a criminal case, the ideal person to provide insights into Ms. Soni’s condition escapes us. But what is even more distressing is that AB does not find it worthwhile to investigate why a whole generation of adivasis is being put behind bars on the basis of such false cases, why it is taking years and their entire family’s savings to get them out. Instead, his way of “responsible journalism” leads him to cast aspersions and doubts on the custodial torture of one woman, who has dared to question this dismal state of affairs in a constitutional democracy, and on the concerns being raised by democratic rights activists.
Indira, Kalpana, Kavita S, NIdhi, Vani, on behalf of Saheli and WSS
That the media often compromises its integrity for corporate interests and the political elite is not news any more. The recent Sunday Express report titled ‘Soni’s Story’ is symptomatic of a belief that if a lie is repeated often, it becomes the accepted truth. The report talks of Soni Sori, the Adivasi school teacher from Dantewada, Chhattisgarh, who has been arrested and accused of being a Maoist conduit. With a clever sprinkling of truth, a report can seem unbiased- the reporter appears to be the warrior fighting to find facts and settling for nothing less. It is, however, imperative that fallacies be broken down, and the casual picking and choosing of facts be exposed for what it is. Let us use the same structure that the story uses.
1. Sori, the police and the Maoists
- The report paints a picture of Soni Sori, a vocal, educated school teacher with an influential family. It mentions that “Villagers in Palnar say Sori was not a Maoist, but like most people in these parts, she had links with the rebels.” [Why do we have to mention this? -UK]
- However, in the quest for truth, the reporter does not remain satisfied, and to substantiate charges of Sori’s Maoist links refers to the incident where Maoists shoot her father in the leg but spare her as a subtle insinuation that there is something wrong brewing underneath. How exactly one’s father being shot is a sign of camaraderie we will never know, but the Sunday Express seems to have some ideas[I think this can be explained - he talks of links, not camaraderie, right?].
- The report does not stop at this, but cites an unnamed Palnar-based journalist and family-friend who says that “Madam was a bridge between Maoists and the local company contractors. She helped them levy taxes and was also close to the police,” which of course is sufficient evidence to incriminate Sori as a Maoist.
- The report exonerates Sori of the attack on Avdesh Gautam’s house, stating that “Evidence suggests both Sori and Futane were not involved in the attack. But curiously, while Futane was arrested and continues to be in jail, Sori remained free. She was slapped with several offences in a series of cases from July to September 2010—all false, say her lawyer and even the police.” Curiously, this does not prevent the reporter from quoting the same Gautam saying that “She was playing to both sides. She could not have managed it for long.” This begs the question: how does one take Gautam’s words to be credible when it was his FIR that led to charges being slapped against Sori for the first time in 2010?
- The report does reinforce the claim made by activists that Lingaram Kodopi (Sori’s nephew – a co-accused in the Gautam case and also arrested for being a Maoist conduit) was not arrested at Palnar market when handing over 15 lakhs to BK Lala, an Essar contractor, as suggested by the police. Relatives have confirmed that Kodopi was arrested from Sori’s father’s house, and Sori fled. What the report fails to inform readers is that after fleeing to Delhi, Sori sought out the office of Tehelka magazine and helped conduct a sting operation- the recorded conversation clearly suggests that she was framed through the conspiracy of SP Ankit Garg and a constable by the name of Mankar. It was also here that Sori spoke of repeated harassment by the Chhattisgarh police and their attempts to coax her to implicate her nephew Kodopi as being a Maoist.
2. Sori and the activists
- This is perhaps the most intriguing part of the Sunday Express report. The journalist seeks to discredit activists for bringing attention to Soni Sori’s medical report, furnished by the NRS Medical College and Hospital in Kolkata. Sori was examined there between October 26th and 28th and it was through this report that Sori’s torture became evident after stones were recovered from her private parts. The medical report, contrary to what is mentioned in the report, was never “leaked”. The report was only made available after being produced before the Supreme Court. (It is also worth noting here that after the medical report was dispatched by speed post, it took a good two weeks for it to reach the Supreme Court.) One does not know what to make of the story’s suggestion that there was a “selective leak” of the medical report. What parts of the report that were of relevance were omitted by the various petitions? The report goes on to say, “While the four-page confidential report, submitted to the SC, a copy of which is with The Sunday Express, recorded in detail her medical condition and did not confirm the torture charges, only a sentence about the “foreign bodies” was leaked.” Is the Sunday Express trying to suggest that Sori inserted these foreign bodies into her body herself?[I think rather the point should be made that even if the matter about the foreign bodies was a sentence, it was an affirmation of the allegations of torture - UK] If one were to also carefully read the four page medical report, it can be seen that the only sentence the Sunday Express chooses to mention is in the summary of the report. The foreign bodies are mentioned along with other details, throughout the rest of the report. The recovered stones themselves were also submitted to the Supreme Court by the hospital.
- The other means of discrediting the NRS medical report is to cite the medical report from hospitals in Dantewada and Raipur, where no foreign object was discovered. [The initial report from the Dantewada hospital on 10th of October had mentioned about the other signs of torture (contusion on her head, tenderness in the lumbar region, black marks on her toes), though the mention of these are selectively omitted in the article. SM]. It is also worthwhile to note that the scans from Raipur have not been made available to Sori’s lawyers despite repeated appeals for the same. To ward off the charges made by activists that these reports were “doctored” (no pun intended), the Sunday Express interviewed a private practitioner Dr. Rakesh Gupta who finds the NRS medical report to be contradictory. One is of course supposed to ignore the fact that Dr. Gupta has not examined Sori himself [good point! - UK]. But to lend credibility to his claims, the report cites that Dr. Gupta is the “state president of the Naagrik Sangharsh Samiti who which supports “social and economic causes of Maoists”. We are now being coaxed to believe an alleged Maoist sympathizer! Ironic one would say, but irony is only every bright morning that Soni Sori spends in darkness behind bars in prison.
3. The case of the letters
- The Sunday Express seems more interested in learning how the letters came from prison and were released through Himanshu Kumar rather than the contents of the letters themselves. It leaves no stone unturned in attempting to discredit these letters[I think this allegation/attempt has to be challenged and countered more effectively. By discrediting the source(s) of the letters, the author is trying to prove the detailing of torture by Soni as false. It is an attack on Soni’s credibility and that of all the activists rallying for her]. At first the report attacks the handwriting, citing Himanshu Kumar as not recognizing the handwriting. Himanshu Kumar, in a response to this piece, has categorically stated that he recognizes the handwriting as that of Sori’s [What about the specific allegation that Himanshu denied recognizing the handwriting the first time - has Himanshu countered that?]. It is not surprising that no one would confess to being a courier for Soni’s letter, considering that Dr. Binayak Sen spent two years in jail on similar allegations [Good Point!].
- While questioning Sori’s letters, the report had no problem in quoting a purported letter from Sori’s husband, who is currently in jail, without explaining how they got hold of it. Curiously, no one other than the Sunday Express seems to have seen this letter.
4. The waiting family
- The journalist somehow manages to summon all his compassion for this last section to sign off on a sympathetic note. To show the readers that it really is the all-powerful “jholawalas” that are playing Sori. To do this again, the uncredible Avdesh Gautam is quoted as “feeling sorry for her”. Mr. Gautam could perhaps be more concrete in his sympathy if he drops Sori’s name from the FIR he filed. But perhaps that is wishful thinking.
5. Anyone who speaks up has Maoist links
- The article mentions “Himanshu ran an NGO in Dantewada for nearly 20 years till the police evicted him for allegedly supporting Maoists a few years ago. He has since been living in Delhi.“ Who “alleges” this (except for the author) remains a mystery. Certainly not the Chhattisgarh police.
- Himanshu Kumar’s Ashram, from which he ran his NGO, was razed to ground one fine morning in 2009, and the reason that was given was that it was an illegal construction. The land had been given to him to set up the Ashram when he first moved there. After the Ashram was demolished, for a while he was living in a rented house in Dantewada. He had to leave that (and also leave Dantewada) because his landlord suddenly decided not to rent out the house any longer, and nor was anyone else willing to do so in the entire city. No one had mentioned about any Maoist links.
- In fact, were the police able to “allege” such links, they could have filed a charge-sheet and sent a team to Delhi to arrest Himanshu, like the police teams they had sent for Soni and Lingaram Kodopi. In his haste to cast doubts on anyone who opposes the state line, the author is forced to resort to unnamed “allegations” in the total absence of fact. SM]
At the end the story, one if left wondering what primary purpose such a report serves. Whether or not Sori is innocent (and indeed, the report itself questions some of the charges against her), why not question the administration and the judiciary that places thousands of Adivasis in the conflict zones behind bars, prolonging their detention and often refusing them any trial at all? It has been almost a year since Soni Sori was arrested. Months have passed since the Supreme Court expressed its anguish over the NRS Medical Report. No investigation has been initiated against those accused of this custodial torture, no response has been forthcoming from the government of Chhattisgarh.
If the purpose is only to malign individuals who raise their voices against these injustices, the Sunday Express has served the purpose very well.