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.
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 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.
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.
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
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.