Women\\\’s rights groups have slammed Chhattisgarh government’s move of initiating an enquiry into the mental state of tribal school teacher Soni Sori, currently lodged in Jagdalpur central jail.
The groups have alleged that this is an devious attempt to declare Soni Sori mentally unsound and create doubts about the veracity of her complaints of sexual torture in police custody and subsequent harassment in jail.
Here is the full statement by women’s groups:
Several women’s groups slammed the Chhattisgarh government for its continuing harassment of the adivasi teacher, Soni Sori, imprisoned in its jails for the past 19 months since October 2011. Soni Sori, who complained of brutal sexual torture at the hands of Chhattisgarh police (later confirmed by an independent medical examination by doctors in Kolkata), is now being subjected to a psychiatric examination by the government in Jagdalpur Central Jail where she is currently lodged.
In December 2012, an NCW team conducted a jail visit to Raipur Central Jail and met her in custody. While the NCW report of the visit is still pending, a stray remark made by the NCW member, Ms. Shamina Shafiq, that Soni Sori needed psychological counselling to cope with her traumatic experiences in police custody seems to have provided the Chhattisgarh government the pretext to carry out a full-fledged psychiatric evaluation on her, with the potential of declaring her mentally unsound and incompetent.
Women’s rights’ activists in the Capital condemned this move by the state government.Declaring her “mentally unsound” is a disturbing attempt to silence Soni’s voice and cast doubts on her complaints of sexual torture and ill treatment in jail.
An open letter to the Chief Minister Raman Singh was released today by concerned women’s organisations demanding that further proceedings in the “psychiatric evaluation” be immediately quashed. Calling this “a sinister ploy” by the Chhattisgarh government to discredit Soni’s serious and genuine complaints against the police and jail authorities for her sexual torture and harassment in Raipur jail, the letter expressed fears that such an evaluation would be used to attack her credibility as a reliable witness.
It could also serve as a basis for locking her away in a mental health institution for an indefinite period of time and avoid taking action against the police officials involved in her torture. This comes at a crucial time when Soni is being acquitted in the various cases foisted on her; so far, charges in four of the eight cases have been dropped against her.
Ms. Annie Raja, General Secretary of National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW), who was also part of the NCW team visiting the jail, pointed out that the particular remark by Ms. Shafiq was not an opinion shared by the entire team and hence does not have the legitimacy of a formal observation made by the team. Ms. Raja clarified that she did not think that Soni Sori needed psychological counselling and in the meeting with the NCW team, she came across as an articulate and aware woman who presented her case lucidly and sharply. “What Soni needs is justice, not psychological counselling,” Ms.Raja reiterated.
It was pointed out that after Soni Sori was sexually tortured in police custody in October 2011, the medical authorities in Raipur had dismissed her extensive injuries and labelled her a malingerer (a person feigning illness). It was only when she was taken to Kolkata for an independent medical examination under the orders of the Supreme Court that stones thrust into her private parts during her torture came to light. Following this investigation, Soni was denied medical attention in Raipur jail, as she continued to suffer from medical complications arising from her sexual torture. It took another order of the Supreme Court to bring her to AIIMS, Delhi, where she was finally given adequate medical treatment and nursed back to health.
“In view of the sheer neglect and ill treatment of Soni Sori on earlier occasions, this ‘psychiatric evaluation’ based upon a third person’s remarks is not indicative of any sudden concern for her welfare and mental health, but of malafide intentions of the government,” reads the open letter to Raman Singh. Noting that the state government has still not taken cognizance of Soni’s complaint of sexual torture against the then SP of Dantewada, Ankit Garg, a year and a half ago, the letter called “this sudden and prompt concern for Soni’s mental well-being” a little disingenuous.
The letter also observed that the visit by the NHRC team to the Raipur jail in November 2012 had indeed confirmed that “Soni Sori has on several occasions been singled out for harsh and humiliating illtreatment” and has been subjected to “traumatic ordeals and odious practices” in jail.
Picking up the “suitable” aspect of NCW’s comments and ignoring the findings of the NHRC makes it clear that Soni’s torture and the attempts to break her down had the sanction of the highest state authorities.
Women’s groups also denounced the inordinate delay of more than 4 months by the NCW for making public their findings of the Raipur jail visit. It should be recalled that the NCW visit to the Raipur Jail was made only at the insistence of various women’s groups that had, in October 2012, stormed the NCW office in frustration at the Commission’s inaction in the Soni Sori case. Post the Raipur jail visit, in a meeting with representatives of women’s groups in March 2013, the NCW member, Ms. Shamina Shafiq, expressed her dismay at the turn of events with the Chhattisgarh government, and said that she would immediately take up the matter with the jail authorities in Jagdalpur.
However, more than two weeks later, women’s groups have no information about the progress on the case. Activists demanded to know the reason for this delay.
Instead of helping Soni Sori and other jail inmates get justice, this visit seems to have only backfired and created more problems. The organisations demanded to know when the NCW will step in to stop further victimisation of Soni and release their report that will clarify the context in which the NCW’s observations were made.
All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA); All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA); Citizens’ Collective against Sexual Assault; Jagori; National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW); Saheli; Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS).