Press Release on hunger strikes in solidarity with Soni Sori’s demand for justice

March 2, 2012

Recent letters received from Soni Sori, currently in the Raipur Jail, reveal that her health condition is steadily deteriorating, and she is suffering from pain and bleeding. However, she has been denied proper medical care and treatment despite several requests to the jail authorities. After her brutal torture at the hands of Chhattisgarh police in October 2011, she received a complete medical examination only three weeks after the incident at the NRS Medical College and Hospital in Kolkata. Since then she has not received any follow-up treatment.

Women’s groups and other democratic rights groups in Delhi held a day long hunger strike today at Rajghat from 6 am to 6 pm in solidarity with Soni Sori. Programmes were held also in Bengaluru, Bhopal, Jaipur, Mumbai, as well as in San Francisco and Boston.

Their demands:
– To arrange for prompt and proper medical care for Soni Sori
– To initiate punitive action against SP Ankit Garg and all other police officials involved in her custodial torture.

Soni Sori is an adivasi school teacher from Dantewada, who had come to Delhi in end September 2011 to escape harassment by the Chhattisgarh police and to file a legal complaint. However, she was arrested on October 4th before her petition could be filed before the Supreme Court. She was remanded by the Delhi courts to the custody of Chhattisgarh Police with explicit directions to them to ensure her safety. Yet, while in police custody she was sexually tortured by the Chhattisgarh police on October 8th in Dantewada, under the direct orders of the then Superintendent of Police, Ankit Garg. She was verbally abused, stripped naked, electric current was applied to her body parts, and objects like stones, pebbles and batons were pushed into her private parts. Evidence of such brutal torture emerged during an independent medical exam conducted on her only on 26th October at the NRS Medical College and Hospital, Kolkata, on the directions of the Supreme Court. During this medical examination three stones were found, lodged deep inside her private parts, and annular tears in her spine were also recorded.

The Kolkata medical team had given Soni medications to Soni for 15-30 days and advised that she be taken to the hospital in a month’s time for review and further treatment. This has not been done despite repeated complaints by her of pain, bleeding and request for treatment. The jail authorities claim that they do not have the discharge slips of the NRS hospital. Urgent applications to provide her with immediate medical care have been pending in the Supreme Court since January 19th 2012.

Out of frustration at not being given any medical treatment, Soni Sori was on hunger strike in the Raipur Jail from 8th February to 27th February. It has been learnt that on 27th February, the Session’s Court in Dantewada finally ordered the Superintendent of Raipur Jail to ensure that she gets a medical check-up in Raipur.

While it is reassuring that the Honourable Court has taken her complaint seriously, it is important to note that this Raipur Hospital gave Soni Sori a clean bill of health in October, when she was taken there soon after her torture when she was in no position to even walk. Not only did they not recover the stones in her body, but the Medical Superintendent actually went on record to call her a “malingerer” and said that she was feigning illness. In light of such callous treatment at the Raipur Hospital, the women’s groups urge that Soni Sori be transferred to an independent medical hospital in Delhi or Kolkata, which is not under the influence of the Chhattisgarh police, so that she can be properly examined and treated.

In her letter, Soni Sori also records her protest at the fact that she is continuously referred to by the jail authorities as the “Naxali” woman. While the police have accused her of helping the Naxalites, her trial is going on in Dantewada courts and none of these charges have been proved yet. Soni has strongly denied all these allegations claiming malicious victimization by the police, and has pointed out that in reality her father was shot at and injured by the Naxalites.

Soni Sori’s case is not an isolated one. In one of her letters from prison she has written “There are many other women prisoners suffering in this jail (in Dantewada). Around 60 women prisoners are here. They tell me that they were not able to fight back because there was no one to support them”.

Venting her anger against the torture and insults heaped upon her, she writes, “We, adivasis, are only fated to suffer atrocities and die; dying is necessary. We, adivasis, are a business for the government. The more the Chhattisgarh government will exploit us, oppress us, commit atrocities against us, torture us, rape our women, mercilessly strip us naked, the more the government will profit.” She represents the agony of many others caught in the crossfire.

In response to Soni Sori’s pleas that she wanted to talk to some women about the torture she has been subjected to in custody, a team of women had visited Raipur in January to meet her. However, the team was shunted around by the officials and denied permission on grounds of concern for security of Soni Sori and the Women’s Prison, and sections 692 and 695 of the Jail Manual. While Soni’s repeated calls for even a hearing goes unheard, in a shocking travesty of justice, SP Ankit Garg – Soni’s tormentor – was conferred the President’s Gallantry Award on January 26, 2012. By conferring this award, both the Central and State governments are condoning the sexual violence that is being perpetrated on tribal women in the name of anti-Naxal operations.

Women against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS), Saheli, and other concerned individuals and democratic rights organisations.

29th February 2012
Kalpana: 09425056985
Nidhi: 09818241224

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Open letter from citizens and organisations seeking justice for Soni Sori

PRESS NOTE

As you are aware, Soni Sori, an adivasi school teacher and warden from Chhattisgarh, is currently facing trial in Chhattisgarh. Accused as a Maoist supporter, despite evidence of her having being framed as one in several cases, she has been in custody in Chhattisgarh for about three and a half months.

What has been terribly shocking and perturbing is the fact that while in custody she has been subjected to gross sexual torture, evidence of which has come to light following a Supreme Court directive for medical examination in a government hospital in Kolkata. Compounding her crisis is the fact that despite this damning evidence, Soni Sori has remained in the custody of the Chhattisgarh police for all this while.

As the Supreme Court starts its hearing on her case on Monday 25th January, nearly 200 citizens including eminent citizens such as Professor (Retd) Uma Chakravarti, Ms Brinda Karat, Politburo Member CPI(M) and former MP Rajya Sabha, Ms Romila Thapar, Professor Emeritus, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi, Ms Aruna Roy, MKSS, Rajasthan, Ms Madhu Bhaduri, former Ambassador of India, Prof. Veena Shatrugna, retired Deputy Director, National Institute of Nutrition, Hyderabad, Dr Imrana Qadeer, Retd Professor, Ms Farah Naqvi, Activist, Ms Vasanth Kannabiran, Hyderabad, Ms Lalita Ramdas, Ms Githa Hariharan, Writer, Prof. Jayati Ghosh, Dr Amit Bhaduri, Professor Emeritus, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi, Dr Anand Phadke, Prof (Retd) Anand Chakravarti, along with scores of other doctors, educationists, academicians, students and individuals have written an open letter to the SC.

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OPEN LETTER TO THE HONOURABLE CHIEF JUSTICE OF INDIA AND HONOURABLE JUDGES OF THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA

As citizens, we look to you, Honourable Judges of the highest court of law in our land, to protect the rights of those who stand powerless, marginalised by society due to their class, caste, gender or ethnic origins. In particular, we believe that sometimes only the Supreme Court can safeguard the right to life of citizens, when every other avenue has failed to do so.

This is especially so in the case of Soni Sori, a tribal woman on whom gross sexual torture has been inflicted while in police custody in Chhattisgarh. We write to you with deep dismay at her continued vulnerability despite her repeated pleas for protection from various courts, and urge you to give serious attention to the grave violation of the rights of a tribal woman undertrial, the facts and documents regarding which are pending before the Supreme Court in the case. (WRIT PETITION (CRL) NO. 206 OF 2011 ).

Briefly:

* Soni Sori is a 35 year old adivasi school teacher and warden of a government‐run school for tribal children in Jabeli, Dantewada ‐ one of the few operational schools in the area, till the Chhattisgarh Police forced her to flee from Dantewada in early September 2011. She has been arrested and is being tried as a suspected Maoist supporter in several cases.

* Soni Sori was arrested in Delhi on 4th October 2011 after she had exposed significant evidence of being framed by the Chhattisgarh Police in multiple cases, including the Essar bribery case to the newsmagazine, Tehelka. (http://tehelka.co/story_main50.asp?filename=Ne151011coverstory).

* Fearing retaliation while in custody, Soni Sori had pleaded before the Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate, District Court, Saket as well as the Delhi High Court that she be held in custody in Delhi and sought to face trial outside the state of Chhattisgarh.

* However, on 7 October 2011, Soni Sori was remanded to the custody of Chhattisgarh Police by the Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate, Saket District Court, Delhi, albeit with directions to the Chhattisgarh Police to ‘follow due process’.

This was Soni Sori’s first attempt to seek protection. A plea she is still making, now in your court.

* The Delhi High Court too, in its order of 8 October 2011 ordered the Chhattisgarh Police to file by 14 October 2011a report outlining steps taken to keep her safe.

This was Soni Sori’s second attempt to seek protection against the police via the judicial process.

As Soni Sori was remanded to Chhattisgarh, there was serious apprehension of custodial intimidation and violence. Fears that have unfortunately proven to be well placed, given the evidence of sexual violence and torture of Soni Sori while in police custody. A brazen contempt of court, of human rights law and the rights guaranteed to all citizens by the Indian Constitution.

Flagrant contempt of court and violation of human rights follows.
Damning evidence of custodial sexual violence emerges.

On 10th October 2011 Soni Sori was to be produced before the Court of the Magistrate in Dantewada. However Soni Sori, who had been in perfect health when she was remanded to the custody of Chhattisgarh Police in Delhi, was in such terrible physical pain that she could not even stand up or step out of the police van and reach the courtroom. The police claimed ‘she slipped in the bathroom and had hurt her head’.

That day, Soni Sori did not appear in person before the Magistrate, nor did the Magistrate see her – only a court clerk came to the police van and yet, it is wrongly recorded in the Order sheet that she was produced before the Magistrate who remanded her to judicial custody for 14 days.

The examining doctors at the Dantewada District Hospital and the Government Medical College in Jagdalpur have recorded that ‘she has a history of unconsciousness’, that she is ‘unable to stand due to pain in lumbar region; and that she has injuries on her head and back, and that black marks were observed on her toes’ – indicating she had received electric shocks.

In subsequent statements to relatives, her lawyer and a letter addressed to the Supreme Court itself, Soni Sori has described the custodial torture that she was subjected to. She has stated that she was ‘pulled out of her cell at the Dantewada Police Station on the night of 8/9 October 2011 and taken to S.P. Ankit Garg’s room.’ There she was stripped and given electric shocks and that stones and batons were inserted into her private parts’. When she awoke the next morning, she had severe aches all over her body, especially her neck and spine, and acute pain in her lower abdomen. She has subsequently informed her lawyer (affidavit submitted to the Supreme Court), that she found several stones inserted in her vagina, many of which she managed to remove herself, but not all.

The Supreme Court (in WRIT PETITION (CRL)NO. 206 OF 2011 ) observed that the injuries against her person did not appear to be as simple as the State was making them out to be, and ordered an independent medical examination in NRS Medical College Hospital in Kolkata. The medical report, presented to the Supreme Court on 25th November, 2011 states that two stones were found inserted deep inside her vagina and one in her rectum. The MRI scan also reveals annular tears on her spine. All irrefutable evidence of custodial sexual abuse and torture that Soni Sori has suffered at the hands of Chhattisgarh Police.

Yet, on 1st December 2011, the Supreme Court ordered that Soni Sori remain in the custody of the Chhattisgarh State for an additional period of 55 days until the next hearing on 25th January, 2012. Given the prior apprehension of such violence especially in cases under the shadow of the Maoist issue, and in light of the medical examination report placed before the Court, we are distressed that no immediate action was initiated against responsible police officials, nor protection ensured for Soni Sori until the next date of hearing.

After all, it is only the Court that can insulate a victim of sexual custodial assault from her oppressors, particularly when serious charges have been made against the senior police officer. It is only the Court that could have ensured that she is not made more vulnerable after she has spoken out about this torture, despite threats to her person and family. It is only the Court that can send out a clear signal that the rights of citizens will be protected, and that when the police abuses its powers, the judiciary will not stand by in silence. It is only the Court that can ensure that Chhattisgarh police will abide by the rule of law and if they violate the rights of citizens, they too will be held legally accountable and punished.

That Soni Sori has suffered custodial violence at the hands of the Chhattisgarh Police, in spite of the attention of the Court, the national media and the explicit orders of the Delhi High Court to ensure her safety, is extremely worrisome. It points towards a dangerous and flagrant contempt for law by the police in Chhattisgarh.

We hope that the Supreme Court will ensure that justice is finally done to this tribal undertrial woman and will set precedent to provide effective protection to the legal and human rights enshrined in the Constitution of India, especially for those placed in such vulnerable conditions.

21st December 2012

Click here for pdf file of the open letter and the list of signatories