The Strange Case Of Sodi Sambo

The Strange Case Of Sodi Sambo
Who is Sodi Sambo? – A Background
The silence of the media in the case of Sodi Sambo
The detention of Sodi Sambo: A minute-by-minute account

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The Strange Case Of Sodi Sambo

By Siddhartha Mitra, Sanhati.

Or was her name was something else? Perhaps she was called Gambo, Dhomla or Gantela Baby?

“Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”
“To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”
“The dog did nothing in the night-time.”
“That was the curious incident,” remarked Sherlock Holmes.

I first met Sodi Sambo on the train to Araku Valley. The train, Kirandul express, would be heading after stopping at Araku into the deep interior of Chhattisgarh, to that city in the far beyond called Dantewada.

Or was her name was something else? Perhaps she was called Gambo, Dhomla or Gantela Baby? Like the way SP Dantewada, Amresh Mishra, explained while waving his hand when talking about the mysterious “relatives” who were the new protectors of Sambo. Parent, guardian, mousa, mousi. Does it matter? Think of her as some Adivasi woman. Any name would do. They are barely human anyway.

She was standing quietly by the bathroom door. Her scared eyes were not looking at anything in particular, perhaps they were vaguely looking out through the open carriage door, as the train swerved around the curve of the beautiful mountainside that was covered with the dense forest. Perhaps she was thinking, about home, when she might at last get there.

Get home from this whole alien world that she had to take a trip in. In the middle of a whole train load of city people, who were out on their Christmas holiday, going to the Araku Valley, a popular tourist destination. People from whom she was clearly different. The quiet oval face, the brown wrinkled skin, the simple red bordered green sari worn in a manner quite distinctive, the unadorned bare feet. And the timid, innocent look. I am quite sure she had a ticket, like myself and everyone else, yet she would not even dream of taking a seat in the middle of the far more polished city people, in the middle of the coach. She was just grateful that nobody had objected her sharing the ride; that was more than she could ask for.

The same grateful look in Sambo’s face when she was being attended to in the hospital in Dantewada, to treat her shattered leg. The averted eye, the humble acceptance of fate, the gratitude of the kindness and care.

Just let me be, I am human like you. That is all that I ask, I will not come in your way.

But you do come in my way.

You just happen to be sitting on what I need. Metal. The same metal that makes the train. The same metal that makes your crutch. The same metal that made the bullet that tore into your leg.

You need not come to me any more. I will come to you. You cannot avoid the big world outside any more. It has come to you now. Even in the form of a CRPF jawan who has shot you after lining you up against the mud wall of your own house. Change has come and now you have to accept it.

And the jawan let you live, did he not? Perhaps, some hidden human instinct, stayed his hand, and he could not kill you outright? Or finish the task, when your howling babies threw themselves over your bleeding, fallen body? Some stupid inefficient worthless jawan, who perhaps does not fully believe in development?

Someone who still has not realised that both you and and the developed world cannot coexist? That man needs to be shot himself!

Now the mystery.

Who shot you?

Certainly not the Chhattisgarh police. Look at SP Dantewada, Amresh Mishra. Such a nice man. How he had kindly offered to listen to your troubles. Take down your statement. That too in person. Such a kind and considerate man. They are there to protect you. their leader, good old Vishwarajan, had even explained to me that police in Chhattisgarh do not even beat up anybody, and people can safely give their statements in a court in front of a magistrate. No, it certainly cannot be those benevolent people.

What about the CRPF? The military?

Well, that is a different story. But still, why would they. Unless, of course, you were a Naxal? You have at least seen a rifle, have you not?

Still, it seems less likely. Naxals do not have crying children to protect them at the moment when they might be killed. Nobody seems to have disputed that part.

And no matter how hard one can try to imagine, you just do not look like one of them.

Besides, they are here to protect the peace, just like the hard working state police.

What about the SPOs?

Well, that could have happened. But look at them. They protest non-violently, and only fight in self-defense. Like the way they protested against the troublesome Himanshu Kumar. Mr. Mishra himself had to lathi-charge the unruly SPOs away, as they were getting out of control. And shooting? That is not what they do. After all, they are only tribals armed with bows and arrows, well, some with rifles. To protect themselves from the Naxal terror, but not to shoot villagers!

Then who did it? And why did you file this complaint? Taking the matter all the way to the Supreme Court, after the state administration refused to respond to the local courts? Don’t we already have our hands full with the Naxals in the state?

Perhaps it could be all the machinations of the media? Or of the NGOs? What have they done for you? Do you know these people? Why are you trusting them? They might have seemed to have helped you in the past, or not, but how do you know they have not framed you? So that they themselves can get some publicity? Or maybe they have some other devious motive? In this twisted world of Bastar, anything is possible. We would have guessed they shot you, but it seems that all of them were far away when the incident took place. Unfortunately it is just impossible that they shot you.

Look at them. You have just met relatives who you never knew existed, who care for you so much, and even then the reporters and the NGO’s want to talk to you and bother you at this time? What kind of people are these?

Do not worry, now you are in our hands. You will be safe with us. We have no doubt that you had been forced to stay with those bad people, and make confessions, make up stories that you saw people being killed. But there is law and order in the state. You cannot do this in Chhattisgarh. They almost made off with you, thank goodness we could save you in time.

We will take good care of you. You will have everything. Even staying alive is lot more than Adivasi women can expect nowadays. And not only are you alive, we are even taking good care of you. Your new relatives, the jail doctor who looked at you, myself, we all will keep you safe. You are famous. Perhaps even Vish, none other than our DIG, might come by to wish you.

See, this is the inside of the train coach. It is not so bad, is it? Do not stare vacantly in the forests outside your cell, you will not be going back there. What is there but danger? Here you can do a lot better. We are going to build a whole new visitor’s centre. You know, for those Japanese industrialists who are buying our iron ore. Even at 400 Rs a ton, though a minuscule fraction of the market rate, it is still not free. Maybe you can do some indigenous Gondi dances for them when they come? When your leg is ok? Or at least sing a Gondi song, maybe even teach the travellers the dialect of the vanished people, of whom a few lucky ones like you will be remaining?

Maybe you can just directly learn English, instead of learning Hindi. That might the be the best way to start your new life. And then you can be thankful to the people who saved you. Our Vedanta. My Tata. From Essar with love.

But still we have not answered the little snagging question. Who shot you?

As Holmes said, “when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth”.

Were you really shot? Maybe you were not shot at all? Like the dog in the night, maybe we were just looking for something that was not there to start with?
Case closed! Just a simple fracture from a fall! Our own certified doctor’s will testify to it. See, we knew it all along. And that means your petition is no good. Just something forced out of you my the evil people who had kidnapped you. Do not worry. It is not your fault. We will take care of them. They will know that there is still law and order in Bastar. And it has all worked out for you. Are you not happy that this has happened?

Nothing can escape my eyes. I know what you were searching for all your life. And I am so glad that we can give it to you. You wanted out of your forest life all along, did you not? Despite what all the NGOs and media have to say, you wanted development to happen, is not that so? Dreams of being famous and accepted? Now it has all happened!

It’s a miracle.

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Sodi Sambo: Background

Sodi Sambo (age 28) of the village of Goompad of Dantewada district is a witness and a victim of the October 1st killings in the village of Goompad, where nine people, including an eight-year old girl were killed, allegedly by security forces. Eighteen-month old Madvi Mukesh (name changed) lost three of his fingers on the same day, along with his mother and his maternal grand parents.

According to her testimony, she was apprehended by security forces on the 1st of October, 2009 and taken to the house of Soyam Sensa, where Soyam Sensa’s wife Soyam Bali was, with her infant baby. Allegedly, the security forces had raised their rifles to shoot her but were prevented from doing so by other security forces.

She was not so lucky, as she was lined up against the house and shot in her leg. Seeing this, her two children Sodi Raju (age 3) and Sodi Nago (age 5) had thrown themselves on her and began to cry. Other security forces then prevented the shooter from carrying out his act
and left them.

As of the 2nd of January, she was at Dantewada town, convalescing and waiting for her operation dates for her leg injury. Police had regularly inquired into her presence at Dantewada Hospital where she was receiving treatment for malaria when it was decided by social activists that she should be taken out of Dantewada for her safety. On the way to Raipur, she was forcibly picked up at Kanker district by the police without a warrant and without any charges against her.

Meanwhile, the matter of the unlawful killings on the village of Goompad was taken to the Supreme Court, against the State Of Chhattisgarh, Respondent no.1, Central Bureau of Investigation, Respondent no.2 and the Union of India, Respondent no.3 via social activist Himanshu Kumar of Vanvasi Chetna Ashram and the victims of violence of another village of Gachanpalli. Sodhi Sambo is petioner no.13 of the said Writ Petition (Criminal) No.103 of 2009.

An earlier magisterial inquiry was ordered into the killings of Singaram where 19 tribals were allegedly shot dead by the police, by the Chhattisgarh government and was carried out by the Sub-Divisional Magistrate Ankit Anand, who had arrived to collect the testimonies of the victims and witnesses along with the accused SPOs and police personnel. Allegedly, statements were recorded incorrectly, no real investigation was done, no chargesheet was prepared.

The current forced detainment of Sodhi Sambo has been ordered by the Superintendent of Police Amresh Mishra under the pretext of collecting her testimony.

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The silence of the media in the case of Sodi Sambo

A very telling incident occurred with respect to Sodi Sambo when reporters had come to VCA on Dec 14th to inquire about the status of the padayatra. Sodi, who is living at the VCA was walking past the reporters to the Ashram building, using her walker (rods have been surgically inserted in her leg). Himanshuji asked her to sit. And during the conversation with the reporter when the issue of naxal violence was raised by the reporters Himanshuji said the following:

H: naxali jiske upar koi ghalat kaam karte hain, to uski to FIR turant likh li jati hai…jisko police marti hai, uski FIR kaun likhta hai? yeh aurat baithi hai, iske paon mein goli maardi gai hai. teen hadiyan nikal gayi hain paon se, iski FIR aaj tak nahin likhvai gayi hai. aap mein se jis mein dam ho likhva dijiye iski FIR.

[whenever naxalis do anything wrong, an FIR is registered immediately. ..who writes an FIR in case of police violence? here is a woman who has been shot in the leg, three bones are destroyed, her FIR has not been registered till today. Whichever one of you has the courage can get her FIR registered.]

Reporter: kisne mari hai goli?

[who shot her?]

H: pucchiye isi se. CRPF ne mari hai. pucchiye ne ise. kyun nahin pucchte? aap mein sahas nahin haiise poocchne ka? pucchiye, aur likhwaiye. abhi le jaa kar likhvaaiy.

[ask her. The CRPF did. Ask her, why don’t you. you don’t have the courage to ask her? Ask and get it registered, do it now.]

Of course, leave alone getting an FIR registered, the reporters showed absolutely no interest even in talking to the lady (she cannot speak Hindi and would have needed Himanshu to translate, but they didn’t even bother to find that out).

After the detention of Sodi Sambo, Javed Iqbal, a journalist with the Indian Express, and Tusha Mittal of Tehelka, are not being allowed to interview her in Jagdalpur Hospital.

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The detention of Sodi Sambo: A minute-by-minute account

October 1, 2009, 7 am, Gompad:

Security forces and SPOs (special police officers) of the Salwa Judum enter the village of Gompad, which is on the Chhattisgarh-Andhra Pradesh border. Sodi Sambo is shot on her leg. Witnesses the murder of six other villagers by the security forces and SPOs.

Circa October 20, 2009:

Sodi Sambo is brought to Vanvasi Chetna Ashram (VCA) in Dantewada. She is taken to Delhi for a surgery some days later. She continues to live in VCA.

November 24, 2009:

Himanshu Kumar and the victims of the massacre in Gompad, Gachanpalli, Nulkatong and Belpocha file a write petition in the Supreme Court. The hearing is posted for January 4, 2010.

December 30, 2009, Dantewada:

Sambo develops a mild fever. Blood test confirmed malaria, and the doctor suggests hospitalisation. She wouldn’t be safe in the hospital. So it is decided to keep her at the civil hospital of Dantewada only for the three-hour drip, and then bring her home. Himanshuji is on the fifth day of his fast.

December 31, 2009, and January 1, 2010, Dantewada:

It is learnt that that four cops were enquiring about “the lady who has a bullet wound on her leg and uses a walker”. Thankfully no single nurse works 24×7 and neither are they too attentive. The nurses on this shift, at the civil hospital of Dantewada, know nothing of this
patient. We learn that the cops had come twice, asking about Sambo. Everyone was looking for the victim-cum-eyewitness of the massacre in Gompad village.

January 2, 2010, 9 pm, Dantewada:

Sambo is being sent to Raipur by bus, along with a volunteer of VCA and a volunteer of Aid India. They would reach Raipur on December 3, and then take a train to Delhi, where her leg would be operated. Himanshu Kumar’s nephew Abhay drives them to the bus stand.

January 2, 2010, 9.10 pm, Dantewada:

Abhay notices several bikers armed with automatic rifles following them. He instantly calls up Himanshuji, who advises Abhay to bring the car back to VCA.

January 2, 2010, 9.20 pm, Dantewada:

Himanshuji, Satyen and another friend Gangesh then get onto the car and go towards the bus stand. The cops outside VCA, stationed for Himanshuji’s protection, are caught unawares when the car rushes out. They eventually catch up with the car.

January 2, 2010, 9.25 pm, Dantewada:

A jeep of SPOs has arrived near the bus stand. Himanshuji tells the travel agent that the three passengers would be boarding from Geedam, 10 kms north of Dantewada. The car then takes a detour 2 kms south of Dantewada and sees the bus headed to Raipur passing by. The bus is
stopped, and Himanshuji requests the driver to let the three passengers board the bus there itself.

January 2, 2010, 9.30 pm, Dantewada:

The bus reaches the bus stand at Dantewada, and Himanshuji’s car follows it. They then see one SPO approaching the bus conductor, who asks him to accompany them to the police station. Himanshuji intervenes; asks the SPO why was he intending to take the conductor to
the police station. The SPO politely replies that some enquiries had to be made. Himanshuji then asked him, “Does this have to do anything with the injured lady on the bus?” The SPO denies any such issue. Himanshuji realizes that Sambo could be arrested midway during the
journey, and so he asks the trio to alight from the bus. They then drive towards VCA, and Abhay speeds the car into discreet lanes, such that they emerge on the main road towards Geedam.

January 2, 2010, 9.35 pm, Dantewada:

The car catches up with the bus and the trio boards it again. The car follows.

January 2, 2010, 9.45 pm, Dantewada:

Near the bus stand at Geedam, the bus halts. While Himanshuji gets his car refueled, Gangesh walks out to assess the situation. He returns to say that another jeep full of cops had arrived near the bus, along with one of the SPOs whom he had seen near the bus stand in Dantewada.
The car rushes to the bus stand, and Himanshuji asks the trio to alight again, knowing well what could happen if they continued the travel.

January 2, 2010, 9.55 pm, Dantewada:

The car reaches VCA; a long discussion ensues about what could be done next. We all spoke in hushed whispers, lest the cops would be eavesdropping. The irony – all phone conversations are tapped; we are all being heard. Yet, no one is ‘listening’! Finally it is decided
that Himanshuji, along with his protectors who report his every move to their seniors, would go to Raipur the next day.

January 3, 2010, 7.30 am, Dantewada:

Himanshuji, Abhay, Sambo and the two volunteers leave for Raipur in a car. His security tags along. Plan is to catch the train to Delhi from Raipur at 5pm.

January 3, 2010, 1 pm, Dantewada:

Abhay calls up from Kanker, about 200 kms from Dantewada. He informs that Himanshuji and Sambo have been arrested. Himanshuji tells Abhay to proceed to Raipur, along with the two volunteers, to drop the car there.

January 3, 2010, 2 pm, Dantewada:

We are informed that Himanshuji has not been arrested. The cops had approached them at Kanker at around 12.30pm, when they had halted for lunch (Himanshuji is on the ninth day of his fast). Cops say that Sambo needs to be taken to the police station for enquiry. Himanshuji
tells them that he wouldn’t allow them to take Sambo alone. So he had he decided to along with them to the police station.

January 3, 2010, 2 pm to 6.30 pm, Dantewada/Kanker:

Himanshuji and Sambo are at Kanker police station. Abhay drives till Raipur to drop the car. Attempts are made to be in constant touch with Himanshuji, who cannot speak freely. Word about all that is happening is spread around through the Internet, SMS and phone.

January 3, 2010, 6.30 pm, Dantewada/Kanker:

Abhay and the two volunteers, along with Tusha Mittal (reporter with Tehelka), reach Kanker. The cops in Kanker tell Himanshuji that he should arrange for a cab to take him to Dantewada, while the police, in a separate car, would bring Sambo to Dantewada. Himanshuji tells
them that he would die but wouldn’t leave Sambo alone with them.

January 3, 2010, 7.30 pm, Dantewada/Kanker:

Himanshuji is with Abhay and the others in the same car. They head back to Dantewada. Himashuji’s security is with him. Sambo is being brought back to Dantewada in another vehicle, for her statements to be taken. When Himanshuji asks them if Sambo would be put behind bars, he is told, “No, we are not arresting her. The SP of Dantewada has made
special arrangements for her. She will have to be at the police station all through the night.” Himanshuji is convinced that she will surely be arrested by the next morning and many false charges slappedon her — this is what had happened to Kopa too.

We speak to a lawyer; he says that if Sambo is an eyewitness, any statement to be taken has to be done so only where she is comfortable, i.e., her home.