IADHRI Cautiously Welcomes Supreme Court Order To Bring Soni Sori to AIIMS for Independent Medical Treatment
May 8, 2012
The Supreme Court of India on May 2nd, 2012, ordered the government of Chhattisgarh to bring Soni Sori to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in New Delhi for immediate and independent medical evaluation and treatment. The order came after a special hearing following reports of serious problems with Soni Sori’s health and complaints of denial of treatment by Chhattisgarh jail authorities. The International Alliance for the Defence of Human Rights in India (IADHRI) welcomes the Supreme Court order, but with serious reservations.
Prior to the Supreme Court hearing, IADHRI had submitted to the Prime Minister and other senior officials an open letter endorsed by more than 200 individuals, including Aruna Roy, Jean Dreze, Prof. Noam Chomsky and several other activists and other concerned individuals from around the world#. We have been distressed and extremely concerned about the unethical behaviour of doctors at the Raipur hospital, who have not taken her medical complaints seriously. The Supreme Court order validates our demand that Soni Sori should be given immediate access to health care outside of Raipur.
While we are hopeful that Soni Sori may finally receive at AIIMS the medical treatment that she has long needed, we also have several concerns:
Sori is going to be under the control of the Chhattisgarh police while undergoing evaluation and treatment at AIIMS. It is this same police who subjected her to severe torture and sexual abuse. As the Supreme Court observed in its order, the investigating authorities have not satisfactorily explained the discovery of stones lodged inside Sori’s private parts. And there has been no investigation until now to hold the responsible officials accountable. Therefore, in the same spirit in which the Supreme Court ordered independent medical examination and treatment for Soni Sori, it should also have entrusted her to the independent custody of the Delhi police.
We are also concerned because the Chhattisgarh police has a history of willful violations of Supreme Court orders. Of particular relevance here is the case of another adivasi woman, Sodi Sambho, who was a witness to a massacre committed by security forces on October 1, 2009, in the village of Gompad in Chhattisgarh. In January 2010, while she was en route to seek medical treatment at St. Stephen’s Hospital in Delhi for a bullet wound she had suffered during the massacre, Sodi was seized by the Chhattisgarh police and forcibly brought to AIIMS. This was in clear contravention of a Supreme Court order of January 7, 2010, which explicitly directed the police not to interfere with Sodi Sambho in any manner. The AIIMS security staff, in collusion with the Chhattisgarh police, prevented concerned citizens and those who had accompanied her from meeting with Sodi at AIIMS. Sodi’s current whereabouts are unknown. A writ petition regarding the massacre Sodi witnessed is still pending before the Supreme Court.
Soni Sori has undergone severe physical and psychological trauma resulting from torture and its aftermath, which was further aggravated by the hostility, ridicule and indifference she has encountered from the jail and medical personnel in Chhattisgarh. We ask that the Board of Doctors constituted by the Supreme Court evaluate both physical and psychological aspects of her condition and provide appropriate treatment and counseling.
The Supreme Court order makes clear that Sori’s advocate Colin Gonsalves will be entitled to visit her in AIIMS to ensure that the order is properly carried out. We are concerned that the Chhattisgarh government would interpret this restrictively and prevent others from meeting Sori while she is undergoing treatment at AIIMS.
Sori is the mother of three young children. These children and their guardians should be allowed to see her in the hospital.
As is well-known, Sori has been falsely implicated in several criminal cases. All her lawyers should be entitled to meet her while she is at AIIMS.
Even convicted prisoners are allowed to have visitors. Undertrial prisoners like Sori have even more rights. They are allowed to receive a reasonable number of visitors including family, friends, advocates and their juniors,. It would be an unreasonable restriction on Sori and an arbitrary punishment that she receive no visitors at AIIMS other than two named advocates, one of whom represents the state.
N. Baijendra Kumar, Principal Secretary to the Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh, had assured a women’s group in New Delhi last October of Sori’s safety and invited the group to visit her in the Raipur jail. However, a delegation sent by the group in January was turned away by the Raipur jail authorities. Considering the nature of abuse and her continuing custody with the accused police force, it is essential that representatives of concerned women’s groups be able to visit Sori at AIIMS to ensure that she is not subjected to further torture or harassment.
Bearing these concerns in mind, we call upon the government of Chhattisgarh to carry out the Supreme Court order in letter and spirit immediately and faithfully this time.
We also call upon the administration and the medical staff of AIIMS to follow the Supreme Court order and to remember their legal and ethical obligations. While examining and treating Soni Sori, AIIMS personnel, including the medical doctors, must bear in mind that:
Standards of medical ethics and the law require that AIIMS personnel provide the same high quality care to Sori that they would provide to any other patient.
The medical doctors must examine both her physical and her psychological health and provide the required treatment remembering that she is a victim of torture and abuse.
Torture is unconstitutional and illegal under Indian and international law. Assisting torture in any way, including in its cover-up, is also an offense under these laws. It would also be completely unethical since medical professionals are duty-bound to alleviate the suffering and pain of their patients.
They should make sure that the Chhattisgarh police do not further harass or torture Soni Sori, physically or mentally, while she is in the hospital.
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WP (Crl.) 206/2011 1 ITEM NO.1 COURT NO.2 SECTION X S U P R E M E C O U R T O F I N D I A RECORD OF PROCEEDINGS CRL.M.P. NOS.1104, 4981 and 8976 OF 2012 IN WRIT PETITION (CRL.) NO.206 OF 2011 SONI SORI & ANR Petitioner(s) VERSUS STATE OF CHHATISGARH Respondent(s) (With appln(s) for directions) Date: 02/05/2012 This Petition was called on for hearing today. CORAM : HON'BLE MR. JUSTICE ALTAMAS KABIR HON'BLE MR. JUSTICE J. CHELAMESWAR For Petitioner(s) Mr. Colin Gonsalves, Sr. Adv. Ms. Amiy Shukla, Adv. Ms. Jyoti Mendiratta, AOR For Respondent(s) Mr. Atul Jha, Adv. Mr. Sandeep Jha, Adv. Mr. Dharmendra Kumar Sinha, AOR UPON hearing counsel the Court made the following O R D E R This writ petition has been filed by one Ms. Soni Sori and another, complaining of brutality in custody and, inter alia, praying for a Special Investigating Team to be constituted for investigating the complaints made by her. WP (Crl.) 206/2011 2 Continue reading →
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.
After examining the medical report from the NRS Medical College and Hospital, Kolkata, and after hearing the arguments presented by the lawyers for Soni Sori and the State of Chhattisgarh, the Supreme Court of India ruled:
Let the writ petition and all applications be listed for final hearing on 25th January, 2012, within the first three items of the hearing group.
The complete order may be seen here.
On October 20, 2011, the Supreme Court of India directed the State of Chhattisgarh to get Soni Sori examined by the doctors at the NRS Medical College and Hospital, Kolkata. After weighing the evidence and oral arguments from both sides, it observed:
6. Having considered the submissions made on behalf of the respective parties and also according to the medical status of the Petitioner indicated in the Affidavit filed ..., the injuries sustained by the Petitioner No.1 do not prima facie appear to be as simple as has been made out to be by the Chhattisgarh police.
The complete order is available here.