A delegation of women activists met president Pratibha Patil earlier this month seeking her intervention to ensure justice to Soni Sori, who has been subjected to brutal custodial sexual violence in a Chhattisgarh jail.
The delegation comprising of member of Parliament Brinda Karat, National Advisory Council member Aruna Roy, Annie Raja of National Federation of Indian Women, Uma Chakravarty, retired professor Delhi University, Kavita Srivastava from PUCL, advocate Vrinda Grover and Vani Subramanian from Saheli, submitted a memorandum to the president in this regard.
The delegation demanded a proper investigation into the allegations of custodial torture inflicted on Soni Sori and also requested the president to look into the issue of gallantry medal awarded to the then Dantewada Superintendent of Police Ankit Garg under whose directions Sori was sexually tortured.
Soni Sori was arrested by the Chhattisgarh police on October 4, 2011 on the charge of supporting Maoist menace in the state.
She has been subjected to awful torture in the custody. In the most recent case of atrocity against her, Chhattisgarh police gave her electric shocks, stripped her and inserted stones in her private parts.
Here is the full text of the memorendum:
We thank you for giving us an audience to personally convey to you our concerns, regarding the sexual torture, persecution and violation of the rights of Ms Soni Sori, on behalf of many individuals, women’s groups and other democratic organisations.
Ms. Soni Sori has been working as an adivasi teacher at the government-run Jabeli ashram school, in Dantewada, Chhattisgarh. Ms. Sori was subjected to brutal custodial torture, including sexual violence, by several policemen inside the Dantewada Police Station in October 2011. The facts regarding her persecution by the local police for more than a year preceding her arrest, the charges filed against her, the heinousness of her torture, and the subsequent events are all appended, for your kind consideration, in the form of a FACT SHEET (Annexure I). Ms. Sori has filed a petition before the Supreme Court under Article 32 of the Constitution of India seeking a direction for the setting up of a Special Investigation Team (SIT) of police officers from outside the state of Chhattisgarh, to investigate the criminal prosecutions against her, as well as her allegation regarding the attempt by the Chhattisgarh police to murder her on September 11, 2011 (WRIT PETITION (CRL) NO. 206 OF 2011).
Briefly stated the facts are as follows. Ms Sori was arrested in Delhi on October 4,2011 and remanded to the custody of Chhattisgarh Police by the Delhi High Court on October 7. Taking cognizance of the grave apprehension and well-grounded fears expressed by Ms Sori, about her safety in hands of the Chhattisgarh police, the Delhi High Court issued directions to the Chhattisgarh police to ensure her safety while in their custody and had specifically ordered the Commissioner of Police in Chhattisgarh to file an affidavit in the Delhi High Court outlining steps taken to keep Ms Sori safe.
But, in what can only be termed to be an act of flagrant contempt of court and of all constitutional safeguards, the Chhattisgarh police brutally tortured her on the night of October 8/ 9, when she was in their custody. Ms. Sori has written to the Supreme Court that while she was in police custody, she was stripped before the Superintendent of Police, Ankit Garg, and given electric shocks under his directions. Furthermore, not only did he use abusive language against her, he ordered three police personnel to “punish her” by sexually torturing her for disobeying his command to name well-known social activists, such as Swami Agnivesh and Medha Patkar, as Naxal supporters. The brutal torture went to the extent of inserting stones and batons into her private parts. An independent medical examination carried out by the NRS government hospital in Kolkata, under the direction of the Supreme Court, has confirmed her sexual torture by recovering stones embedded in her vagina and rectum.
Ms Sori was fearful of torture by the Chhattisgarh police, as she was being severely harassed by them since mid-2010, to reveal the whereabouts of her nephew Mr Lingaram Kodopi, who in turn was also being framed by the Chhattisgarh Police after he refused to comply with their directive to enrol as a Special Police Officer (SPO). Ms Sori too had resisted pressure from the Chhattisgarh police to give false evidence implicating her fellow villagers as Maoists. In order to compel and coerce Ms Soni, the local police implicated her in several false criminal cases of naxalite violence, and even arrested her husband in one such fabricated case. In December 2010 the Chhattisgarh police declared Ms Sori an “absconder”, even though throughout this time the police continued to meet her frequently to know the whereabouts of Mr Lingaram. Further, official records show that Ms Sori was present in her school regularly and attending to all her duties, during the same period. Ironically while the police were harassing and intimidating her on the trumped up charge of supporting Naxalites, Naxalites attacked her father and uncle’s houses, looted them, and grievously wounded her father in the attack.
Following the arrest of her nephew Mr Lingaram on September 9, 2011, Ms Sori came to Delhi to seek legal help, and fearing for her life, particularly because the Chhattisgarh police had tried to eliminate her on September 11, 2011. Mr. Lingaram is now accused of being a conduit for bribe allegedly being paid by the company Essar to the Maoists. The police claim that Ms Sori is also involved in this case, and have also framed her in other false cases. But Ms Sori has evidence to expose that false cases have been registered against her and Mr. Lingaram.
Her case is of national importance and urgency for several reasons. Firstly, such unlawful and barbaric conduct by Chhattisgarh police had been foreseen and feared by Ms. Sori before she was handed over to their custody, and had been explicitly stated before the Sessions Court and High Court in Delhi. By itself such custodial sexual torture is a matter of great concern – the fact that it can happen despite judicial scrutiny and monitoring is deeply disturbing and worrisome. This raises serious concerns about the condition of other women prisoners in police or judicial custody whose cases have not received attention, a matter highlighted by Ms Sori in one of her letters (Annexure IV).
Secondly, there is incontrovertible evidence of inhuman custodial torture and sexual violence by the police, in the form of the independent medical report of the NRS Medical College and Hospital, Kolkata (Annexure III). Such intimidation of ordinary citizens who are only exercising their guaranteed rights, and such custodial violence and brazen disregard of the constitutional safeguards is of grave concern, especially when meted out by the protectors of the law. If ignored and left unpunished, it sets dangerous precedents for the subversion of rule of law and human rights of disadvantaged and marginalized citizens. In a civilized, constitutional democracy there is no place and there can be no excuse, whatsoever, for torture including sexual violence under any circumstances. It raises serious concerns about the security and dignity of women.
We are approaching you with deep dismay at Ms Soni Sori’s continued vulnerability despite her repeated pleas for protection from various courts, and the grave violation of her rights as an under-trial. Despite repeated petitioning, other statutory national human rights institutions for protection of citizens’ rights have been indifferent towards these violations and the contempt for court orders by the police (Letters to NHRC, NCW, CM, and SC in Annexures V, VI, VII). This raises grave concerns regarding impunity and lack of accountability of police and other public servants.
Not only has no action or inquiry been initiated against the S.P. Ankit Garg, who has been named by Ms Sori as as being responsible for the torture, it is deeply shocking that on this January 26, 2012 he has been conferred with the President’s Police Medal for Gallantry. It is disturbing to note that in spite of a large number of citizens’ groups, nationally and internationally, protesting against SP Ankit Garg’s unlawful and criminal conduct, the government has deemed it fit to confer him with a gallantry award, especially while the Honourable Supreme Court is still examining her complaints. Conferring an award in the face of these complaints, which have not even received a cursory investigation, amounts to condoning the sexual torture inflicted on Ms Sori and the violence which is being perpetrated on tribal population of this country, in the name of anti-Naxal operations.
As the constitutional head of this country, we approach you withdeep regard and faith that you shall ensure that the rights and dignity of the most vulnerable and marginalized will be upheld and the fundamental guarantees promised by the Indian Constitution, of justice, equality and right to life enforced.
We seek your urgent intervention to:-
Initiate a credible inquiry into the custodial violence suffered by Soni Sori
Promptly recall the President’s Gallantry award bestowed on S.P. Ankit Garg, facing serious allegations of custodial torture and sexual violence
Constitute a comprehensive and credible inquiry to ensure protection of rights and dignity of the large number of tribal women, like Ms Sori, languishing in jails in Chhattisgarh
Ensure an immediate halt and initiate exemplary punitive action against police and other security forces indulging in widespread and systematic violation of rights of tribal women, in the name of anti Maoist operations.
Annie Raja, National Federation of Indian Women
Brinda Karat, ex-MP, Rajya Sabha and All India Democratic Women’s Association
Uma Chakravarti, Retired Professor, Delhi University
Aruna Roy, Member National Advisory Council and member MKSS
Advocate Vrinda Grover
Kavita Srivastava, General Secretary, PUCL
Vani Subramanian SAHELI, Delhi
(On behalf of concerned women’s organisations, democratic rights, students and other peoples’ organisations and individuals of the country)