As the Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh, Raman Singh, arrived in town, several Delhi-based women’s groups, democratic rights groups, and progressive individuals staged a protest at the Chhattisgarh Sadan, comprising of more than 50 representatives from various organizations demanding justice for Soni Suri, Lingaram Kodopi and various tribal activists in the state.
The Chief Minister refused to meet the protestors and instead got the Delhi Police to forcibly remove them from the premises and dragged them out of the way so that he could proceed to ‘his next meeting!’
“This has once again proved the arrogance of the BJP-led Raman Singh government towards issues of social justice, and their utter disregard for the law. We fear for the lives of the activists upon whom false charges are forged and are under trials in the state of Chhattisgarh,” said a statement by the activists.
The activists held a press conference to highlight the custodial torture, sexual violence, and harassment of Soni Sori, the hounding of her family including her nephew Lingaram Kodopi who has been falsely charged under UAPA and other provisions of the IPC, the harassment of other tribals and activists in the region by the state government and the wider implications of such state aggression.
The groups have demanded:
• Prompt action against the SP and other officials involved in the custodial and sexual violence meted upon Soni’s person on the night of 8/9 October 2011, in Dantewada police station
• That the state government stop challenging Soni Sori’s demand to be moved out of the state on grounds of fear for her life in Chhattisgarh
• Publicly prove the safety and well-being of Lingaram Kodopi who is currently in jail in Dantewada and charged under UAPA, CSPSA and Sections 121, 124A and 120B of the Indian Penal Code – for criminal conspiracy, sedition and waging war against the State.
• Immediately stop the persecution of Soni Sori, Lingaram Kodopi and the rest of their family
• Put an immediate end to the offensive that has been declared on tribals and activists in the region
It may be recalled that Soni was arrested in Delhi on 4th October on charges of being a `Maoist on the run’. This, despite her having attended her job at school and in fact, been in touch with the local police officials even on a case regarding her father who had been shot at by Maoists! But finally, fearing for her life after an attack on her in her village by the local police, Soni had arrived in Delhi to consult lawyers and seek anticipatory bail – only to be declared an absconder!
In the court of the Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate (ACMM) at Saket, Soni pleaded for bail, failing which she asked to be held in custody in Delhi to face all investigations as she feared for her life inChhattisgarh. Her plea was rejected and on 7th October she was handed over to the Chhattisgarh Police with the Magistrate assuring her “not all police are bad.” He gave the Chhattisgarh Police instructions to ensure her safety and produce her at the local court. The Delhi High Court also directed them to inform it of measures taken to keep her safe. But all the developments since then reveal how, far from ensuring safety, the treatment meted out by Chhattisgarh police have proven Soni Sori’s apprehensions of torture and ill-treatment right.
When Soni Sori was brought to the Dantewada Court on 10thOctober she could not get down from the police van and go to the courtroom; her statement was taken by a court babu, and the Magistrate, in a clear travesty of justice, passed an order without even seeing her. The police claimed ‘she slipped in the bathroom and had hurt her head’. The examining doctor at the District Hospital said ‘she was brought in unconscious, the X-ray showed injuries on her head and back, and black marks were observed on her fingertips’ – indicating she had received electric shocks. A video clipping of her writhing in pain in the hospital, confirmed fears of custodial torture. At this point, it is clear that the police and judiciary had both violated the law.
In her statements to relatives and her recent letter to the Supreme Court, Soni Sori has clearly stated that she was ‘pulled out of her cell at the Dantewada Police Station at midnight of 8th/9th October and taken to SP Ankit Garg’s room. There she was stripped and given electric shocks. When she woke the next morning she had severe aches and pains all over her description, injuries to her neck and spine and acute pain in her lower abdomen.
Despite Ms. Sori’s complaints of severe lower back pain, her inability to stand, tenderness in the lower back and difficulty in walking, none of the three hospitals in Chhattisgarh which ‘examined her’ found inflammation in her private parts, the stones lodged in her vagina and rectum or the injuries to her spine. In fact, Dr. Vivek Choudhary, Medical Superintendent of the Ambedkar Hospital in Raipur, was quoted in the Hindustan Times as saying: “Medical tests reveal Sori is a malinger.” This denial extended to the highest levels of the Chhattisgarh government. At a meeting with Principal Secretary, N. Baijendra Kumar in Delhi on 14th October 2011, we were assured that she was ‘safe in jail and that her wounds were not serious. He also said that the Health Secretary had ‘confirmed the fact’ so there was no need for concern about her safety;that he had been told by Dantewada Superintendent of Police Ankit Garg and state DGP Anil M Nawaney that Ms. Sori had not been ill-treated!
Following a Supreme Court order, an independent medical review was finally conducted in NRS Medical College Hospital in Kolkata. The report, presented in court on the 25th Nov, 2011 states that two stones had been found inserted in her vagina and one in her rectum. The MRI scan shows that she has annular tears on her spine.
Such brutality and utter disregard of the law cannot go unpunished, especially when it is meted out by the so called protectors of the law!
But the question remains: why is Soni Sori being harassed and tortured by the police?
Soni Sori has consistently refused to be an informer for the Chhattisgarh Police. She is also an aunt of Lingaram Kodopi, a young outspoken journalist who was also being hounded by the Chhattisgarh Police after he resisted their efforts to enroll him as an SPO. Lingaram was arrested on September 9 and has been charged under the dreaded Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) among others. He is accused of being a go-between for bribe being paid by Essar to the Maoists. The police allege that Soni Sori is involved in the same case, and have also charged her in several other cases. Publicly available material clearly shows that the charges against both of them are false and politically motivated. If anything, it is a well-known fact that as a journalist, Lingaram had acquired damning evidence of police atrocities which the Chhattisgarh police wish to suppress/discredit by filing false cases against him. Given the record of the Chhattisgarh Police in cases such as these, there is great concern for the safety of Lingaram who has been booked under the UAPA that allows the state police to keep Lingaram in custody for 6 months without a charge sheet!
In fact, the entire family of Soni and Lingaram is being systematically intimidated by the Chhattisgarh Police. Soni’s husband has been arrested and her brother, the sole caretaker of her three children is also facing the threat of arrest.
All of which raises the larger question: This is the state that kept Binayak Sen and Kopa Kunjam, Ajay T.G. and several others, and brought similar charges against them. If this is the reality of how the Chhattisgarh Police is handling cases like those of Soni Sori and Lingaram Kodopi, which are in the public eye, what is it doing to other vocal but lesser known tribals and activists in the state?