Republic Day of India, 2013
Calls for investigation and punishment of police officials Garg and Kalluri and withdrawal of their presidential medals
On January 26th, 2013, India celebrates its 64th Republic Day. The anniversary of the Indian Constitution’s adoption is always a time for not just celebration, but for reflection; a time to take stock of how far the nation has come in securing, for all its citizens, justice, liberty and equality as enshrined in the Constitution.
Over the last month, the rape and subsequent death of a young woman in Delhi – a particularly brutal incident, yet only one in an endless series of similar crimes that are reported, month after month, if they are reported at all – triggered international shock and outrage. The incident served as a stark reminder that, decades after the adoption of the Constitution, the liberty to live our lives without fear remains unsecured. For women in many communities across the country, especially those on the economic and social margins, such as dalits and adivasis, this insecurity permeates the fabric of day to day life – sexual assault, violence, imprisonment and threats thereof are commonplace. In any discussion of the questions that the gang-rape in Delhi raises, it is to these women and to these communities that we must look: the truest measure of a society lies in how it treats those who have the least power. None of us is safer or freer than the most vulnerable among us.
In the last few weeks, there has been much discussion on how to make sure that survivors of rape and violence receive justice consistently and rapidly. It is worth remembering, as these discussions take place, the spectacular failure of our judiciary and democratic processes in delivering justice to Soni Sori, the adivasi school teacher and mother of three from Chhattisgarh who has been incarcerated since October 2011 . A year ago this January 26th, India awarded the Police Medal for Gallantry to an officer, SP Ankit Garg, despite compelling medical evidence that Sori was tortured and sexually assaulted while under his custody .
This is not an isolated case, but part of a pattern of such incidents. In a bizarre repetition of last year’s act of rewarding-the-perpetrator, the Government of India has decided to confer the President’s Police Medal for Meritorious Service this Republic Day, January 26th 2013, to Inspector General of Police S.R.P. Kalluri, who has well-documented rape accusations against him in Chhattisgarh [3, 4].
Sori’s petition in the Supreme Court as well as the cases in which Sori has been falsely charged have been subject to repeated delays. In the interim, neither the elected Government, nor independent bodies such as the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and the National Commission for Women (NCW), have instituted serious investigations into the indications that Sori was tortured- her fingers seem to have been blackened from electric shocks and doctors recovered stones that had been thrust into her vagina and rectum. Indeed, the NCW revealed last October that it had closed its inquiry into the case, and has remained silent since, apart from making an anodyne recommendation of providing psychological counseling to Sori . Although, on January 8th 2013, the Supreme Court granted Sori’s plea to be shifted to Jagdalpur jail, to be closer to her family , she remains in the custody of those who stand accused of torturing her.
Sori has spoken to a legal team of the humiliation and violence that she and other women prisoners are routinely subjected to. Besides this, jails in Chhattisgarh have an occupancy rate of around 256%, with 13,918 individuals incarcerated in space built to accommodate 5,430. The all-India rate is 110% . Between 2001-2010, an average of four individuals died each day in police custody .
What makes these statistics all the more disturbing is that a majority of those imprisoned are under-trials such as Sori, who have not been convicted of any crime. The prolonged detention of these individuals – often for years altogether, as their cases move sluggishly through the judicial system amounts to an unconstitutional deprivation of the liberty of lawfully innocent citizens.
Indeed, the state increasingly uses the process of trial as a punishment in itself, as in the case of Kartam Joga, a man who, for years, tirelessly sought accountability for human rights violations by state forces in Chhattisgarh. On January 7th, 2013, a trial court acquitted Joga of all of a panoply of fabricated charges ; an innocent man thus spent the past two and a half years of his life in jail. Lingaram Kodopi (Sori’s nephew), a 25-year old journalist who worked to document abuses by security forces, remains imprisoned, awaiting trial, even as local police officers have been recorded admitting that the charges against him are fabricated . Kodopi has also suffered custodial violence . Numerous others have been thus imprisoned on the weakest of grounds seemingly as punishment for criticising the state’s actions or for otherwise challenging local authorities. Although we welcome the release of Kartam Joga and others who have been put through similar ordeals, the state must cease its intimidation and harassment of those who seek to hold it accountable to its own people.
In the 2G spectrum case, the Supreme Court recently commented that “this court has time and again stated that bail is the rule and committal to jail an exception… The courts owe more than verbal respect to the principle that punishment begins after conviction, and that every man is deemed to be innocent until duly tried and duly found guilty” . This is a sound and practical principle; we ask that it be invoked not only in the trials of the influential but also in the trials of the weak and marginalized.
If we are to continue to place our trust in the rights that the Constitution upholds and seeks to guarantee every citizen in India, if we are to address the deep-rooted issue of violence against women, then we must be able to ensure liberty and justice to those who are the most vulnerable in our societies. To that end, we demand:
Ensure a speedy, free and fair trials for Soni Sori and Lingaram Kodopi.
Conduct an independent and impartial investigation of incidents of sexual violence against women, including Soni Sori, committed by the police and other security forces; prosecute the responsible officers and impose exemplary punishment on those found guilty. Withdraw the Presidential Gallantry Awards given to Police Superintendent Ankit Garg and Inspector General of Police S.R.P. Kalluri.
Grant unconditional bail to undertrials from socially and economically marginalised communites, languishing in jails in Chhattisgarh and across India.
Ensure that all cases, particularly those against individuals from marginalised communities, are disposed of in a timely manner so that the process of securing justice is not a punishment in itself.
Constitute a grievance redressal mechanism for individuals who have been wrongly detained or subject to custodial violence.
International Alliance for the Defence of Human Rights in India (IADHRI)
 Tehelka: ‘The Inconvenient Truth Of Soni Sori’
 The Hindu: ‘Soni Sori case: HRW wants PM to order impartial probe on torture’
 Statement of protest and demand for withdrawal of Meritorious Service award to S.R.P. Kalluri
 Ledha Bai’s Statement Against S.R.P. Kalluri
Tehelka: ‘NCW first shuts, then reopens Soni Sori’s case’
 Press Trust of India: ‘SC allows Soni Sori to be shifted to Jagdalpur Central Jail’
National Crime Records Bureau: http://ncrb.nic.in/PSI-2011/TABLE-2.1.pdf
Tehelka: ‘Four custodial deaths daily over the last decade’
Amnesty International: ‘India frees prisoner of conscience Kartam Joga’
 Committee to Protect Journalists: ‘In India, imprisoned journalist’s plea for help’
 The Hindu: ‘‘Respect principle that punishment begins after conviction’’
Complaint (Parivaad) C.A. No. 624/09 [Number not clear]
Witness no. …1… for (panjiyan poorva saakshya) Deposition taken on the …..27-6-07……. day of ……. Witness’s apparent age …..22…… States on affirmation ……………. My name is ……….Mrs. Leda…….wife of Ramesh…… Occupation ….housewife… address …..Village Tarangava, Police Station Shankargarh, Distt. Sarguja Chhattisgarh……..
- This happened around one year ago. I am illiterate. I do not know the date. Israel used to come to our village. His mother also belonged to our Oraon tribe. His mother was from our village. Israel loved me and I became pregnant from him. The foetus got aborted after I was beaten in the village. He always promised to marry me in one or two months. Thus I became pregnant again. He got that pregnancy terminated also. When he did not meet for one month, I enquired about him and came to know that he had married a girl from his own tribe.
- When I called Israel and talked to him, Israel assured me that in his tribe, one can have a junior wife and a senior wife (chotki-badki) and that he will me after five months. I kept quiet for five months. After five months, I called Israel again. He told me that he would not keep me and I could go wherever I wanted. I returned to my father and told him that Israel would not marry me now. Then I went with my father to Shankargarh police station where Nasar Siddiqui was the thana-in-charge. Israel had already met him because of which Nasar Siddiqui did not register my report and threw us out of the thana. We returned to our home. A boy named Ramesh used to come to our village. He asked my father what Israel had done to his daughter (me). My father told him to inquire from his daughter (me) instead. Later my father arranged my meeting with Ramesh. Ramesh asked me about everything. So I had told Ramesh whatever Israel had said and done. Ramesh told me that he was in touch with the Naxalites and after talking to them, he would get me married to Israel. After this, Ramesh started coming to my home quite often. In the meantime, one day Ramesh asked my father why we were so keen on my marriage with Israel while Ramesh himself was also a tribal and my father should get his daughter (me) married to Ramesh. When Ramesh talked to me about marriage, I agreed to marry him. Then during sarnapuja, Vikram baba of the village got me and Ramesh married.
- After the wedding, Ramesh came with us to my parents’ home and stayed there for two-three days. Then he said that he was going in search of some employment and that when he found some work, he would come and take me with him. One month later, Brijesh Tiwari from Shankargarh police station came to our house and asked him to accompany him as sahib had called me to the police station. In the Shankargarh police station, the thana-in-charge Nasar Siddiqui said about me that I was a Naxalite and if I were not sent to jail, then I would surely file a case against Israel.
- Thereafter I was sent to jail. At that time, I was pregnant. My child is very weak. After eight months, when my delivery was due, I was granted bail. I delivered my child at home. After my delivery, when I appeared in the court for hearing, I was again sent to jail. After six months, the judgment was delivered in my case and the court acquitted me. When I released from the jail, my lawyer advised me that I should inform the Shankargarh police station about my release. After three days, I went to the Shankargarh police station with my father. When I went there, I met thana-in-charge Sapan Choudhary who asked me if I knew Ramesh. I said yes, he was my husband. He asked me what sort of work he was engaged in. I told him that he said that he worked as a labourer and did some farming also.
- Shankargarh thana-in-charge Sapan Choudhary told me that Ramesh was a Naxalite. Before this, I did not know that Ramesh was a Naxalite. Sapan Choudhary advised me that I should make Ramesh surrender before the police and that if he surrendered before them, the police would help him and the government will also give him some money. Otherwise, one day he would come and kill Ramesh in front of me in my house.
- After one month, Ramesh came to our home. I asked him if he was a Naxalite. He said yes. I told him that the thana-in-charge had suggested that I should ask him to surrender. If he was made to surrender then the government will give us money for our living expenses. Ramesh said that he would be coming next month on leave and then he would tell me about his decision. Next month, Ramesh came to Sivildag and informed me through the secretary that he had arrived. After receiving the information from the secretary that Ramesh had come to Sivildag, my father and I went to Shankargarh police station to inform them that Ramesh had come to surrender. At that time, Sapan Chaudhary, thana-in-charge, was not present at the police station; the other policemen were there. We told the police men that Ramesh had come to surrender. The policemen told us to sit, the senior officer will talk to the SP and tell us. Then the policemen told us to go back home and return to the police station at the crack of dawn the next day. Next morning, I went to the Shankargarh police station where I met Mr. Kalluri who told me that I was lying that Ramesh would surrender. I told him with folded hands that I was telling him the truth and that Ramesh had come to Sivildag for surrendering.
- Then I was taken in a police van from police station Shankargarh to police station Kusumi. More policemen joined us at police station Kusumi and from there all of us when to Kasamaar. At Kasamaar, all of us alighted from the van and walked on foot. From Kasamaar, we reached Sivildag on foot. On reaching Sivildag, Kalluri sahib asked that Ramesh be brought. Then Ramesh was brought. Then the policemen beat Ramesh with lathis (sticks). After beating Ramesh, Kalluri sahib interrogated Ramesh and after interrogation, he told Ramesh and me that we should go to the house of the secretary and discuss with each other. We were talking in the room. At that time Ramesh told me that “the bag hung on the peg contained (saade lakh) rupees. These police men are going to take me to jail, you should use that money for my bail etc.” (The witness starts crying at this point.) Brijesh Tiwari came in the meantime and shot at my husband Ramesh three times. When Brijesh Tiwari shot at my husband, I started crying loudly. Then the policemen dragged me out of the room. (The witness is crying.) The policemen told Kalluri sahib that they should kill me also. Then Kalluri said yes, kill her. Then the villagers present there opposed it. Then they took me to police station Shankargarh in a police van. I was imprisoned in police station Shankargarh. At night, Kalluri sahib came to police station Shankargarh and warned me not to speak about this to anyone. “We took pity on you because of your child and let you go. If you complain anywhere, we will shoot you.” They let me out at noon on the next day. It was Monday. It was the day of the weekly market in Shankargarh. When they let me out of of the police station then I wondered where to go. Thinking this, I went to Shankargarh market. There I met Shankar. He told me that the policemen had shot Ramesh dead. I already knew about. I went crying to my home in village Sarangava. After reaching home, I told my parents about the incident. My father asked me to stay at home for ten days and not go anywhere, because in our community (after a death in the family) no one goes out anywhere for ten days.
- After ten days, I came to Ambikapur and told my lawyer about the entire incident relating to my husband’s murder. Then my lawyer prepared a petition on my behalf and sent it to the Chief Minister. After filing the complaint, I started living in Ambikapur. I used to work in Suresh’s house as a house maid. When I returned to my village around the time of panchpujai dussehra, my parents informed me that the police was looking for me. After consulting my parents, I went to Chainpur to stay with my sister. The next day, policemen from the Shankargarh police station arrested my father and brought him to the police station. My aya (mother) sent a message to my sister’s house that the Shankargarh police had taken my father into custody. Then I returned home. I reached my home in the evening. Soon after, the policemen from Shankargarh police station came in three vans and took me to the Shankargarh police station. When I reached Shankargarh police station, I saw Kalluri sahib who, upon seeing me, asked if I knew who he was. Then I said, “You are Kalluri Sahib. I made my husband surrender before you and you got him shot.” Then Kalluri slapped me twice. I was carrying my daughter. I fell on the ground with my daughter. Kalluri asked me to take off my clothes. When I refused, two policemen twisted my father’s arms and made him stand up, and started beating him. They beat my father mercilessly. Then Brijesh Tiwari unfastened my saree and took off all the other garments. When I was resisting the taking off of my clothes, they started hitting my father forcefully. I took off my clothes. They completely stripped me. They stripped me. My child was wailing uncontrollably on the ground. Then Kalluri said, “Take her inside the room, I will interrogate her.” In my nude condition, they took me inside the room in the police station. Then Kalluri raped me inside the police station. He brought me outside after an hour and got green chillies shoved into my vagina. Before leaving the police station, Kalluri told the policemen to rape me everyday. In the Shankargarh police station, the policemen used to rape me everyday. Dhiraj Jaiswal came with the policemen three times to rape me and once Brijesh Tiwari raped me.
- For ten days, my father, my mother and I were detained in the police station. My mother was also taken to the Shankargarh police station the same day when I was also taken there. After ten days, they took us to Ramanujganj police station. In the Ramanujganj police station, they made us sign some papers on the threat of shooting us. After releasing us, they put four policemen on duty to keep a watch on me. Even when I went for relieving myself or taking a bath, the policemen would accompany me. On the occasion of Chherta, the said policemen went away to celebrate Chherta. They started drinking liquor. Then I ran away on foot and reached Rajpur. From there, I caught a bus to Ambikapur. As I reached Ambikapur at night, I stayed in a dharmshala (resthouse). In the morning, I went to my lawyer’s place. When I reached my lawyer’s place in the morning, his wife informed me that he had gone to Bilaspur. The lawyer’s wife told me that he would return after two days, so I waited for two days for him. I had no money, so I went to Suresh’s house where I used to work earlier and took Rs 200 from him to go to Bilaspur. When I was in jail, a lady had visited me who had given me her contact number to me. I searched for her in Bilaspur. I looked for her in the Bilaspur high court and I asked about her from a male lawyer. When he enquired, I told him about the whole incident. That lawyer said he will take up my case, so I got him to prepare my case and file it in the Honourable High Court.
- One week ago, some people from Delhi had come to ask me some questions, so I told them about the incident. I told the people from Delhi that I had not visited my village since I had filed the case. I want to go to my village. Please arrange for me to go to my village. They assured me that they will make arrangements for sending me to my village in one week. I have presented papers in this case.