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
Press Statement – 20thJune 2012.
NO RESPITE FOR SONI SORI.
AIIMS SENDS HER BACK AFTER 5 WEEKS OF TREATMENT.
CG GOVT DENIES HER FOOD AND MEDS ON HER WAY BACK !
Soni Sori continues to be ill-treated at the hands of Chhattisgarh government, after a brief breather during her treatment at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences at New Delhi. She is now back in the Raipur Jail after spending 5 weeks recuperating in AIIMS, and the Chhattisgarh government has made clear its intentions of continuing ill-treatment of her, by denying her food, water and medicines immediately after discharge from AIIMS.
Soni Sori was brought to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences on May 10th at the behest of the Supreme Court which ordered immediate and urgent treatment to be provided to her. Ms. Sori arrived in Delhi visibly weakened due to months of ill-treatment and improper medical treatment by the Chhattisgarh government. She was suffering from the continued impact –of the wounds inflicted on her during the inhuman sexual torture meted out to her in October, 2011 under police custody, which had been allowed to fester untreated in the jail. Consequently, she had grave secondary medical conditions, such as intermittent anal and vaginal bleeding, blisters on skin, difficulty in walking etc. at the time when she was brought to AIIMS
Over the 5 weeks of her treatment in AIIMS, she seemed to have recovered significantly, due to regular and expert medical care provided to her. But immediately after her discharge from AIIMS, Soni Sori has been denied her basic human rights yet again by the Chattisgarh government. Soni Sori’s counsel, Mr. Colin Gonsalves expressed his concern to the Chhattisgarh Government counsel, Mr. Atul Jha about no travel arrangements being made for her return to Chhattisgarh, to which Mr Jha assured Mr Gonsalves that every necessary precaution would be taken including, if need be, return to Raipur by flight (as she had been brought to Delhi). But despite these assurances, Soni Sori was taken to Raipur by train, in a crowded unreserved compartment. In scorching summer heat, Soni Sori was made to stand for most of the 24 hour long train journey from Delhi to Raipur, despite her fragile health condition. With daytime temperatures touching 45 degrees Celsius, she was denied water, kept without food for the whole day and not even given the medicines prescribed to her by the doctors at AIIMS.
It should be recalled that Soni Sori, an adivasi school teacher, had been subjected to brutal physical torture and sexual violence during her custody in the Dantewada police station on the night between 8th and 9th October, 2011. Her torture had been confirmed by an independent medical examination conducted by the NRS Medical College and Hospital in Kolkata, during which stones lodged deep in her private parts had been recovered. However, the medication prescribed by the NRS hospital had been discontinued by the jail authorities in Raipur Jail soon after her discharge, and Soni Sori had been denied any regular medical attention since the examination conducted by the NRS Hospital in October 2011. In the absence of regular medical care and attention, Ms. Sori’s condition had steadily worsened, prompting the Supreme Court in June 2012 to order her to be brought to AIIMS in New Delhi for immediate medical treatment.
It was sheer and deliberate negligence on part of the Chhattisgarh Government that led to such deterioration in Soni Sori’s health in the first place, that the Supreme Court had to order immediate medical intervention by AIIMS. The manner in which Soni Sori is being treated after her discharge from AIIMS once again raises serious concerns about the intention of the Chhattisgarh government in ensuring her health and safety. If her medicines are not administered with regularity, Soni will lose the little gains in health that she had made during her stay at AIIMS.
We urge the Chhattisgarh Government to ensure that Soni Sori’s health makes full recovery, and that the recommendations of the medical team at AIIMS regarding physical rest, nutrition and medication are followed diligently. We would like to remind the Government that undertrial prisoners such as Soni Sori are guaranteed basic human rights by the Indian constitution. Soni Sori has already suffered gravely at the hands of Chhattisgarh authorities, first through direct and malicious torture at the hands of the Chhattisgarh police, and then through apathy and negligence of the Chhattisgarh jail authorities. It is time for state violence against her to end.
Finally, Soni has been admitted in AIIMS -with two women cops and one male cop on duty at her room.
Her lawyer, Colin went to see her. He says she seems weak and anemic, and is complaining of burning and pain in her stomach, burning and blisters in her genital area, and complained that the Hospital in Raipur didn’t treat her properly as per the recommendations of the NRS Hospital Kolkata.
We hope that AIIMS will examine and diagnose her with due diligence and treat her accordingly.
It is long overdue for Soni to get good medical care. Next step justice. Besides that, things that have happened are:
- Dr T N Seema, CPI (M), Member of Parliament (Rajya Sabha) raised the question in Parliament on what basis the admission was rejected at AIIMS, in whose custody Soni has been, why there has been no enquiry into her allegations and instead a gallantry award given to the SP Ankit Garg, etc today. Tribal Affairs Minister Kishore Chandra Deo has said he will look into the matter. So its a good piece of action.
- It is also clear that she was kept in police custody last night – THOUGH she should have been kept in judicial custody
- A letter was sent to the Home Minister seeking an explanation, and demanding that she be brought immediately to the hospital and admitted, as per the SC orders.
- Delegations have met the NCW and NHRC seeking that they at least take her statement – since they have done nothing else so far. But they are hiding behind the excuse that the matter is sub-judice. NHRC said they will discuss and decide whether they can do so. NCW has said they will see what interventions are now possible within their remit. We will follow both up.
Meanwhile, see The Hindu. http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/article3403013.ece
Also, the PTI news piece (warning: it calls her a naxal sympathiser!): http://www.business-standard.com/generalnews/news/aiims-refusal-to-admit-naxal-sympathiser-to-be-probed-govt/6790/
– from concerned citizens
On 2nd May a bench of Supreme Court judges, Justices Altamas Kabir and Jasti Chalameshwar, directed the Chhattisgarh state to produce the Adivasi teacher, Soni Sori, in the All India Institute of Medical Sciences within one week. Reacting to descriptions of her continuing severe medical health problems in letters received from Soni Sori in Raipur jail and from her advocate who had met with her, the Supreme Court expressed deep concern about Soni Sori’s medical condition and recommended that she be brought to AIIMS at the earliest for a thorough medical examination and full treatment. The Director of AIIMS has also been directed to constitute a Medical Board comprising of Heads of Gynecology, Endocrinology and other departments who would examine Ms. Sori and treat her, and give their opinion on her condition to the Supreme Court by July 10th.
Ms. Soni Sori is the Superintendent of Jabeli ashram for tribal children in Dantewada. She had been arrested in Delhi on Oct 4 2011 for being a suspected Maoist sympathizer. Having faced police harassment for over a year while functioning in her government-appointed post, she was in Delhi at that time to file a complaint against the Chhattisgarh police and expose them in the media. Fearing torture at the hands of Chhattisgarh police after her arrest, she had appealed to the Delhi High Court to keep her in custody in Delhi and not send her to Chhattisgarh, but her plea was rejected. Subsequently, she was brutally tortured by the Chhattisgarh police while she was in their custody from 8-10 October 2011; torture that has since been corroborated by an independent medical examination conducted by NRS Hospital and Medical College in Kolkata.
The Supreme Court today made mention of the brutalization of Ms. Sori that was confirmed by the Kolkata Hospital which recovered three stones inserted deep inside the private parts of Ms. Soni, during the torture she was subjected to in her custodial interrogation. The Kolkata hospital had recommended that she be brought back for further treatment and examination at the end of 15 days — but more than six months have passed since her examination in Kolkata in October 2011 and not only has she not been taken back for treatment, even the medicines prescribed by the Kolkata doctors are not being given to her. The letters read out in court today described her worsening medical condition where she complains of intermittent bleeding, anemia, vaginal discharges, prolapsed uterus, difficulty in standing and walking, variably high blood pressure, numbness in limbs etc. In these letters, it was also described how the Chhattisgarh jail authorities are withholding Ms. Soni’s treatment despite court orders, and how Ms. Sori has to suffer their taunts for simply requesting medical treatment.
Taking note of all these, the Supreme Court expressed the need for urgent medical examination and treatment of Ms. Soni Sori. Even though the counsel for state of Chhattisgarh pressed that her treatment should be in a Raipur hospital, the Court categorically stated that it can only be done in an independent institution. Since the counsel for Chhattisgarh state expressed reservations about treatment at NRS Hospital in Kolkata, the court directed that Ms. Sori should be immediately brought and examined at AIIMS.