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’’
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.
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.
View and sign the petition here.
Nov 16, 2011: We, the International Alliance for the Defense of Human Rights in India (IADHRI), strongly condemn the wrongful arrest of and the subsequent torture of Soni Sori, an adivasi (indigenous) school teacher from Dantewada, Chattisgarh. On October 20th, 2011, the Supreme Court of India ordered the government of Chhattisgarh to send Sori to a hospital in Kolkata in the neighboring state of West Bengal for independent medical examination, after credible reports surfaced of her torture and mistreatment by the Chhattisgarh police . The medical examination reports sent by the hospital did not reach the Court by Nov 15th as ordered. The Court has again ordered the reports to be sent by the 17th. Sori has been sent back to a prison in Chhattisgarh where there is grave danger of continued torture and a threat to her life.
The complete statement is available here.
Soni Sori was handed over to the Dantewada police on Saturday, October 8, 2011. The following Monday, she could not be produced before a magistrate by the police as they were required to. The following video shows her writhing in pain in the District Hospital Dantewada where she was taken for a medical examination that afternoon.
Amnesty International has called upon the Government of the State of Chhattisgarh to drop all charges against Soni Sori and Lingaram Kodopi and has declared them prisoners of conscience.
Soni Sodi, a 35-year-old school-teacher was arrested on 4 October in Delhi. Her 25-year-old nephew, Lingaram Kodopi, was arrested on 9 September in his native Sameli village in Dantewada district of Chhattisgarh. The Chhattisgarh police have charged Soni Sodi and Lingaram Kodopi with aiding Maoist armed groups; one of the charges against them is that they had acted as couriers and transferred funds amounting to 1.5 million Indian Rupees (US$300,000) from a mining corporate firm, Essar, to the Maoists. Amnesty International believes that Soni Sodi and Lingaram Kodopi are prisoners of conscience as they have been arrested solely for criticizing human rights violations by the police and security forces in Chhattisgarh. The charges against them are false and politically motivated.
In October 2009, Lingaram Kodopi resisted an attempt by the state police to forcibly recruit him as a Special Police Officer to fight the Maoists. He was arbitrarily detained for 40 days in a police station and released only after a habeas corpus petition was filed in the courts. In April 2010, at a public hearing in Delhi he detailed violations committed by the security forces against Adivasis in Chhattisgarh, following which the state police announced that he was the prime suspect in a Maoist attack on a local Congress party leader’s residence.
Lingaram Kodopi also highlighted the killing of three Adivasis by the Central Reserve Police Force and the state police during a confrontation in three villages – Tadmetla, Timapuram and Morpalli. During the attack, two persons went missing and at least five women were sexually assaulted. Lingaram Kodopi was eventually arrested in September on false charges of aiding the Maoists.
The complete statement is available here.