25 October, 2013
On Monday, 28th October, the Supreme Court of India will take up the bail petitions of Soni Sori and Lingaram Kodopi, adivasi prisoners in Chhattisgarh who have been incarcerated for more than two years. The arrest and the subsequent torture of Soni Sori in October 2011 drew international condemnation . Much less widely known has been the arrest the previous month of Sori’s nephew, Kodopi, who was also subjected to torture by the Chhattisgarh police .
False charges were subsequently foisted on both of them, with Sori being implicated in eight cases and Kodopi in two cases. Sori was acquitted in all but two of the cases and Kodopi in one of the two cases. Sori was also granted bail in one of the two remaining cases . The one remaining case against both of them relates to allegations of acting as a courier between Essar, a business conglomerate with steel manufacturing operations in Chhattisgarh, and the outlawed Maoist Communist Party of India. Though two other accused in this case, the general manager of the Essar operations in the state and a contract worker, were granted bail within months of their arrest, the trial court and the state High Court have denied Sori and Kodopi bail earlier this year  and it is their appeal against this decision that the Supreme Court is expected to hear on Monday.
Sori was arrested on October 4, 2011 in New Delhi, where she had gone seeking legal help, and taken by the Chhattisgarh police to Dantewada. As detailed in her letters from prison, she was tortured in police custody and sexually abused. Her allegations were substantiated by independent medical examinations conducted in Kolkata under the directions of the Supreme Court. While imprisoned in Raipur, she continued to face abuse and denial of medical care from the police and the jail authorities until the Supreme Court ordered that she be taken to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences for treatment [5,6].
Sori’s husband Anil Futane died last August 2nd, soon after being released from jail . He was arrested in July 2010 and accused of involvement in the attack on the home of Congress politician and contractor Avdesh Gautam. Sori, Kodopi and 14 others were also falsely implicated in this case but all of them were acquitted. According to other jail inmates, Futane was beaten so severely in the prison that he was paralyzed. They attribute his death to health complications resulting from torture and the failure of prison authorities to give him medical care.
Kodopi himself has undergone serious abuse and torture since his detention without charges in 2009, when he was locked up inside a toilet in a police station for 40 days. He was freed the following year only after the intervention of the Chhattisgarh High Court responding to a habeas corpus petition. Facing continued threats from the police and the Maoists, he went to Delhi where he studied journalism for a year. During his time in Delhi, he spoke out against the atrocities committed by the police on the Adivasi communities. Soon after he graduated from his journalism program in April 2011, he returned to Chhattisgarh where police and paramilitary forces had burnt down the villages of Morpalli, Timmapuram and Tadmetla, killed three people and raped three women. He documented the scenes of these crimes and recorded video testimonies of the survivors .
The cases of Sori and Kodopi are not isolated. Especially (but not exclusively) in Chhattisgarh, thousands of other prisoners are known to be held for years on spurious charges. The draconian provisions of the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act enable the state police and other security officials to arrest and imprison anyone on dubious grounds, often to silence critical voices. Many of these prisoners are also known to undergo torture, sexual and other abuse at the hands of police and prison officials.
During her more than two years of incarceration, the Supreme Court of India has been the only institution from which Soni Sori has been able to get any judicial relief. We are hopeful, therefore, that this time too, the Supreme Court would decide in her and Kodopi’s favor and grant them bail. However, as we have pointed out many times and as corroborated by human rights organizations and groups such including PUCL, PUDR, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, Soni Sori and Lingaram Kodopi deserve to be free. Now bereft of their father, Sori’s three young children need to be urgently reunited with their mother. Therefore, we reiterate our demand that the Chhattisgarh government
- Drop all charges against Soni Sori and Lingaram Kodopi
- Compensate them for all the suffering and cruelty inflicted on them,
- Conduct an impartial and expeditious investigation of all the cases of prisoners in the state and release all those facing spurious charges, and
- Punish the police and other officials responsible for carrying out torture and for filing spurious cases against them.
 They dared to speak up, but that’s not done in Chhattisgarh, Tehelka, 30 June, 2012. http://www.tehelka.com/they-dared-to-speak-up-but-thats-not-done-in-dantewada/
 Activist Soni Sori gets bail in one more case. The Hindu, 31 May, 2012. http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/tp-newdelhi/activist-soni-sori-gets-bail-in-one-more-case/article4767974.ece
 Soni Sori, Lingaram Kodopi denied bail by Chhattisgarh High Court, The Hindu, 8 July 2013. http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/soni-sori-lingaram-kodopi-denied-bail-by-chhattisgarh-high-court/article4895096.ece
 The Government will kill me, Tehelka, 7 April, 2012. http://www.tehelka.com/the-government-will-kill-me/
 Reading Soni Sori’s Letters from Prison: An International Women’s Day Video Montage. https://iadhri.wordpress.com/2012/04/27/reading-soni-soris-letters-from-prison-an-international-womens-day-video-montage/
 Soni Sori’s Husband, Anil Futane, Passes Away, Tehelka, 3 August, 2013. http://www.tehelka.com/soni-soris-husband-anil-futane-passes-away/
 The very right of living in this country has been snatched from me, Tehelka, 4 May, 2012. http://archive.tehelka.com/story_main52.asp?filename=Ws040512country.asp
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’’
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.
“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.
International Alliance for the Defense of Human Rights in India (IADHRI) strongly condemns the recent killing of 17 adviasis, including 7 minors, by Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel on the 28th of June in villages Rajpenta, Kottaguda and Sarkeguda in Bijapur district, Chhattisgarh.
Contrary to the claims by CRPF and the Home Minister of India that the deaths were the result of an encounter with Maoists, credible reports from independent fact-finding teams and the media suggest that the CRPF killed, without observing basic precautions, villagers who had gathered to plan for an upcoming seed sowing festival. These reports have been reinforced by testimony from villagers and eyewitnesses from outside the village, including media persons, who saw the bodies, before they were cremated, as having been brutalised with deep hacking cuts on the chests and foreheads.
The CRPF, rather than being the disciplined force it seeks to be, has shown little hesitation in killing unarmed villagers, dismissing these killings as encounters and those dead as Maoists is unacceptable. The prevarication by the Home Minister and the DIG of the CRPF regarding the authenticity of the killings is not only morally reprehensible, but should be culpable under the laws of the country as a dereliction of duty. While security forces have been given a license to kill people with impunity, the Home Minister of the country seems to treat innocent villagers as expendable, acceptable ‘collateral damage’, and shows little indication that he considers the continued violence that adivasis face at the hands of security forces, as an issue that needs to be fixed. By perpetuating this lack of accountability, the Home Minister is doing nothing less than encouraging extra-judicial killings. This should be criminal in a society that values human life.
It has become modus operandi for the state to use the claim that it is fighting Maoists to justify indiscriminate killings, quell dissent, displace communities, and pave way for the grab of land and mineral resources by powerful vested interests. The Home Ministry of India has been colluding with the administration of Raman Singh on this loot of public wealth (be it land, minerals, rivers or other vital resources), in the name of maintaining law and order. On the contrary, the denial of justice in cases such as the Bijapur massacre, does profound damage to the constitutional rights of all citizens of India and to prospects for peace in Chhattisgarh.
IADHRI demands that the State and Central Governments put an immediate halt to the “combing operations” that offer a cover for killing innocent people and destroying their villages. We demand that those responsible for such reckless and indiscriminate killings, as well as those responsible for granting a carte blanche to security forces, face trial and be held answerable for their crimes.
We ask that the Governments of India and Chhattisgarh resume peace talks to secure justice and the well-being of all their people.
Press Release: Women’s Delegation Meets President Pratibha Patil on Custodial Sexual Torture of Soni Sori
A delegation of women comprising of, Brinda Karat (M.P.), Annie Raja (NFIW), Uma Chakravarty, Vrinda Grover and Indira C, met with President Pratibha Patil today (14th May), and handed over a memorandum, detailing the gross violation of the human rights of tribal teacher, Soni Sori. The memorandum was also signed by Aruna Roy (MKSS), Kavita Srivastava (PUCL) and Vani S. on behalf of Saheli.
The delegation drew the attention of the President to the brutal custodial sexual torture inflicted on Soni Sori by the Chhattisgarh police and the medical report of Kolkata Hospital which had confirmed the same. The President expressed surprise when she heard that S.P. Ankit Garg, under whose direction the custodial sexual violence was alleged to have been inflicted, had received the President’s Gallantry award. The delegation suggested that an independent enquiry be initiated into the gallantry award given to S.P. Ankit Garg. The delegation also expressed apprehension that many other tribal women prisoners in Chhattisgarh jails had suffered similar violations.
The President heard the delegation attentively and assured them that she would write to the concerned governments and authorities.
The Memorandum submitted by the delegation is available here.
Soni Sori was taken in the early hours of 9th May from Raipur Central Jail to be brought to AIIMS, following the SC orders of 2nd May. However, she was not admitted there and as of late night of 9th, there was no information about her whereabouts!
Hospital authorities have cited various reasons for not admitting her: that their medical review board had not yet been constituted, that she was produced at AIIMS after 4.00 PM and therefore could not be admitted, etc. None of these are convincing because the Supreme Court order clearly states Soni Sori should be admitted, evaluated by the review board and treated as required at AIIMS itself, and all necessary arrangements for her stay be made.
Of course, concerns for Soni’s safety and well-being run very deep, because of the horrific experiences she has had with the Chattisgarh Police.
The government should ensure that Soni is brought to AIIMS immediately and the authorities at AIIMS should admit her. The authorities need to demonstrate firmly that they respect, and will abide by, the order of the Supreme Court without any further delay.