Immediate Release -Mumbai Expresses Solidarity towards Women with Disability on Women’s Day Eve


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~ 100 plus women on wheelchairs call for equitable rights for all ~

~ Over 500 people, from commoners to socialites to celebrities and artists to activists participate in solidarity march ~

Mumbai – 7th March, 2012: The city of Mumbai today got together to pay a unique tribute to the spirit of womanhood on the eve of International Women’s Day as it came out in large numbers to support the cause of women with disability who bear the brunt of discrimination in the society. Over 100 women with disability on wheelchair were joined by 500 other Mumbaikars – common people, socialites, celebrities, activists etc. in a solidarity protest organised by the ADAPT Rights Group with the organisation ADAPT – Able Disable All People Together (formerly Spastics Society of India). It was a sight the city of Mumbai had perhaps never seen.

What sparked the protest was the offloading of a teacher and disability activist from Kolkata, Jeeja Ghosh (who has cerebral palsy) on the 20th of February as she was ironically coming to a conference on inclusion of people with disability into mainstream society from a SpiceJet flight. Two days later another woman, Anjlee Agarwal (with muscular dystrophy) was also thrown off a Jet Airways flight.

“There can be no true independence for woman as long as people don’t have the right to travel. Jeeja Ghosh’s case clearly shows the pathetic, apartheid like condition women with disability face in India. How can we celebrate Woman’s Day when this is happening to almost 15% Indians who have some or the other form of disability,” said Malini Chib, Chairman – ADAPT Rights Group and Trustee – ADAPT and a friend of Jeeja Ghosh.

The view on the promenade outside Jazz By The Bay near Churchgate Station was one of euphoria and inspiration. Over 100 women on wheelchair and hundreds of other supporters held placards of solidarity that read “You Don’t See What We Can Do, Who’s Disabled – We or You”, “Women on Wheels are Women of Steel” and “SpiceJet, Jet Airways: Shame On Your Ways”, “Stop Discrimination In The Name of Disability” etc.

Dr. Mithu Alur, Founder-Chairperson – ADAPT, explained the need for the solidarity protest, “It is shocking that women with disability – be they with hearing, visual or physical impairment – are left out of almost everything, including women’s movements. Hence, a lot of violence goes on with them without anything ever being done against it. So we decided to come out and tell the public directly how women with disability have been left out.”

She added, “There is legislation in the country but despite this Jeeja Ghosh was thrown out of a SpiceJet flight and a few days later Anjlee Agarwal from a Jet Airways flight. What is the point of legislation if there is no enforcement? There are many such cases of violation that have been noted in the country. Unless punitive action is taken against the airlines or anyone else discriminating against people based on disability, there won’t be any change. We also hope to get the aviation ministry’s notice by this protest.”

Dr. Ketna Mehta, Editor and Associate Dean – Research, Welingkar’s Institute and Founder Trustee of Nina Foundation that works for rehabilitation of people with spinal cord injury believes that this kind of awareness of people is very important for a country like India. “What you see here – all of us in wheelchairs – is only a small microcosm of people with disability. A majority of them are indoors and never come out,” she said, adding, “All constitutionally granted rights to a woman also apply to a woman with disability. But a great gap is observed in reality as highlighted by incidents like that Jeeja Ghosh. Hence such rallies are important. All of us need to come together to bridge this gap.”

The protest saw involvement of people from all walks of life from commoners to glitterati and artists. Filmmaker Shyam Benegal, said, “Everyone has some or the other disability, visible or hidden. Yet why is it that we consider people with a visible disability to be so different from us? Why do we consider them as not being ‘normal’? Why don’t we realise that the idea of ‘normality’ is an arbitrary and meaningless one as no one is totally normal. The need is to see that people are sensitised to the needs of people with disability for they are trying to lead a meaningful life as well. It is important to ensure that they are not relegated to dark corners of our society but are part of the mainstream alongside all of us.”

A leaflet highlighting the discrimination women with disability face, both as women and as a person with disability, demanded strong punitive action against those that discriminate on grounds of disability like SpiceJet & Jet Airways, enforcement of mandatory sensitisation programs on disabilities for modes of transportation, women with disability to be included in women’s organisations & movements etc.

A resolution passed by the ADAPT Rights Group states: A Resolution was unanimously adopted that exclusion of Women with Disabilities from any organisation is a discrimination against a section of the population and of Article 15 of the Constitution. It was also resolved that in any reservation for women in any institution in the country a Disabled Woman has proportionate representation. We strongly condemn the inhumane and barbaric way Disabled Women are being treated by the Airlines – We want Justice for them from the Government.

————-

About Adapt:

ADAPT (Able Disabled All People Together), formerly ‘The Spastics Society of India, was founded by Padmashri Dr. Mithu Alur in 1972. From a special school with only three children, it has grown to become one of the foremost non-profit organizations in India providing services like assessment, therapy, counseling, inclusive education, skill training and job placement to thousands of children and young adults with disability and their families. Today ADAPT has evolved to become a seminal organization that interacts with national and international organizations, public & private sector bodies and government agencies at all levels to influence policy changes that impact marginalized groups across the country. In 2012 ADAPT is celebrating four decades of serving the nation through various programs.

For More Details Please Contact:

Bhavana Mukherjee: +91 9833179394

Madhavi Kumar: +91 967661821

Human Rights Watch writes to PMO re Soni Sori’s case


March 7, 2012.
Dr. Manmohan Singh
Honorable Prime Minister of India
South Block, Raisina Hill New Delhi 110011
India
+91-11-23019545 / +91-11-23016857
Dear Prime Minister Manmohan Singh:
I am writing on behalf of Human Rights Watch to draw your attention to the case of Soni Sori, a tribal woman accused by the Chhattisgarh police of being a supporter of the Maoist “Naxalites.” She alleges that she has been subjected to sexual assault, electric shocks, and beatings while in custody and denied necessary medical treatment, which the Chhattisgarh state government has not adequately addressed.
We urge your government to establish an independent and impartial investigation into Soni Sori’s torture allegations, and ensure her immediate access to health care without police interference. Because we are concerned that her treatment reflects broader problems facing incarcerated women in India, we also ask that you initiate a review of conditions for women detainees and prisoners generally, including torture allegations and access to health care.
The Chhattisgarh state police charged Soni Sori, a 35-year-old mother and former teacher, with crimes related to being a Naxalite supporter. Her defense lawyer told Human Rights Watch that they have accused her in a spate of cases, alleging she was evading arrest when she was actually present and working in a residential school for tribal children.
Below is a chronology of events in Soni Sori’s case. We remain deeply concerned that the criminal justice system failed at various levels to prevent custodial torture and to respond swiftly to ensure prompt access to health care without police interference.

 

Failure to Respond Effectively to Torture Concerns


On September 10, 2011, authorities in Chhattisgarh state arrested a tribal activist, Lingaram Kodopi, for allegedly acting as a courier for the Maoists. According to a petition filed in the Supreme Court of India, Soni Sori, his aunt, says she was pressured by the police to implicate others as Naxalite accomplices. Soni Sori says that the Chhattisgarh police became angry with her after she demonstrated she had information disproving the allegations against her nephew. She said that after receiving an anonymous phone call warning her of an “encounter” in which she was the intended target, she was shot at but escaped and fled to Delhi for safety.
The police arrested her in New Delhi on October 4, 2011 and produced her before the New Delhi criminal court. She asked the court not to transfer her to Chhattisgarh because she feared being tortured or otherwise ill-treated. Nonetheless, the Delhi court transferred her case to the Chhattisgarh trial court, which has territorial jurisdiction, and put her in the custody of Chhattisgarh police, who were ordered to follow due process.
On October 8, the Chhattisgarh police produced Soni Sori before the trial court in Dantewada district. Her defense lawyer opposed police custody, contending that Soni Sori feared being tortured. The court nonetheless handed Soni Sori over for police interrogation from 5 p.m. on October 8 to 11 a.m. on October 10. The court ordered the police to ensure her safety and guard against physical torture, and to conduct medical examinations before and after she was in their custody.

Torture Allegation Supported by Medical Evidence


On October 10, when the Chhattisgarh police were supposed to produce Soni Sori before the magistrate after interrogation, they reported that she had fallen in the bathroom and injured her back.
Subsequently, the police took her to the Dantewada district hospital in Chhattisgarh for treatment. The hospital records note that Soni Sori had “a contusion on the right side of the occipetal [sic] region” and “tenderness over lumbar region,” and give a medical opinion that the injuries were “caused by hard and blunt object[s].” The Dantewada district hospital recommended that she be taken for a CT scan of the skull and spine.
When she was taken to the Jagdalpur district hospital for a CT scan, the doctors noted that she had “H/O [history of] unconsciousness,” and referred her to the Raipur medical college hospital. At that hospital, doctors gave Soni Sori a clean bill of health. Police officials ordered the hospital to stop an intravenous drip that Soni Sori was on, forcibly taking her away from the hospital.

Soni Sori’s representatives then brought a writ petition in the Indian Supreme Court, seeking adequate medical examination and treatment. The Court observed that “the injuries sustained by the Petitioner…do not prima facie appear to be as simple as has been made out to be by the Chhattisgarh police,” and ordered that Soni Sori be taken to the Kolkata medical college hospital for an independent medical examination. Doctors examined Soni Sori in the Kolkata medical college hospital and submitted a report to the Supreme Court in November 2011.
Soni Sori’s lawyers were allowed to examine the Kolkata medical college report. It stated in part: “Tenderness was detected over the 4th and 5th lumbar spine region and over sacral region.…Two foreign body [sic] recovered of size 2.5 x 1.5 x 1.0 centimeters each from the vagina and one foreign body size 2.0 x 1.5 x 1.5 was recovered from the rectum….”
In a public letter to the lawyer representing her in the Supreme Court, Soni Sori identified and named the police officer who she says ordered and carried out torture in police custody. She wrote:
After repeatedly giving me electric shocks, my clothes were taken off. I was made to stand naked. (Superintendent of Police) Ankit Garg was watching me, sitting on his chair. While looking at my body, he abused me in filthy language and humiliated me. After some time, he went out and (…) sent three boys. (They) started molesting me and I fell after they pushed me. Then they put things inside my body in a brutal manner. I couldn’t bear the pain and I was almost unconscious. After a long time, I regained consciousness (…) By then, it was already morning.
Failure of Authorities and Human Rights Commissions


Nearly three months after the Koltaka medical report, activists told Human Rights Watch that the Chhattisgarh state government has yet to file even a first information report and start an investigation into torture by the police. Despite the clear risk that such an investigation of the Chhattisgarh police by its own ranks could be biased, the Indian central government has failed to initiate any independent investigation. On the contrary, in January 2012, the President of India awarded Ankit Garg, the police officer Soni Sori identified as being involved in her torture, thein her torture, the police medal for gallantry.
According to activists involved in this case, the Chhattisgarh State Human Rights Commission, headed by a former police officer, has not initiated any inquiry. Even though human rights commissions in India have the power to initiate action suo motu (on their own motion), they have used the pretext that the case is sub-judice (pending in a court) not to investigate. The commission has also failed to order follow-up medical treatment for Soni Sori.

  Absence of Adequate Medical Care
Soni Sori is now in custody in the Raipur central jail. Given the Raipur college hospital’s failure in October to detect serious injuries and evidence of sexual abuse that doctors elsewhere uncovered, we are concerned about the medical treatment that she will receive there.
According to her lawyers, Soni Sori continues to report reproductive health problems and bleeding. As of February 20, 2012, she had not yet received proper health care to address her injuries even though doctors at the Kolkata Hospital advised that she be brought back for follow-up treatment after 30 days, and provided her with medications to last up to 30 days. However, three months later her medications have not been replenished and she was not taken back for additional treatment. Moreover, a recent blood test showed that her hemoglobin levels had dropped considerably. After a petition from her lawyers, the trial court ordered that she be able to seek medical care in the last week of February, but at the same Raipur hospital that gave her inadequate treatment. Soni Sori remains concerned about substandard care and police interference in her care.
Urgent applications to the Supreme Court to seek continuation of her treatment at Kolkata hospital have been pending since January 19, but have not yet been heard.

Broader Failures of the Indian Central and State Governments
The Soni Sori case raises serious questions about the commitment of the Indian central government to prevent torture, investigate torture allegations, hold accountable those responsible for torture, and ensure that detainees and prisoners have adequate access to health care.
As the Indian government prepares to present its human rights record as part of the second Universal Periodic Review before the United Nations Human Rights Council, we hope that the Indian government will take the following measures on an urgent basis:
 Independently investigate the conduct of Chhattisgarh law enforcement officials in the Soni Sori case.
 Ensure the provision of appropriate health care to Soni Sori without police interference.
 Set up a high-level independent investigation team to look at the condition of women detainees and prisoners, including in the state of Chhattisgarh, to determine whether other women may have been subjected to torture and other ill-treatment, and whether women detainees and prisoners in general have adequate access to health care.
 Enact the Prevention of Torture Bill and remove the need for prior state authorization to initiate criminal action against the officials implicated incustodial torture. Ratify the Convention on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
 Ensure that the latest central government grants to states to set up police stations in Maoist areas include support for independent monitoring of detention facilities including station lockups and jails by human rights commissions and civil society groups. Consider requiring police to videotape interrogations, especially in police stations in Naxalite areas.
 Work with civil society groups to train police on proper conduct toward women in custody.
Thank you for addressing these concerns. We look forward to learning what steps you have taken in addressing this important matter. I can be reached by email at gernthl@hrw.org and by fax at +1-212-736-1300.

 

Liesl Gerntholtz
Executive Director, Women’s Rights Division
Human Rights Watch

 

Original letter Prime Minister Manmohan Singh – Custodial Torture of Soni Sori

Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS) member from Bhilai arrested


To,

The Honourable Justice KG Balakrishnan

Chairperson

National Human Rights Commission

Faridkot House, Copernicus Marg

New Delhi – 110 001

7th March, 2012

Dear Justice Balakrishnan,

Subject: Please ensure safety of Advoate Rekha Parganiha in police custody in Bhilai, Chhattisgarh

We, the members of WSS, a national platform of women’s groups, are alarmed at the news of another woman activist, Advocate Rekha Parganiha, arrested in Chhattisgarh in relation to suspected Maoist links. A newspaper story (attached) indicates that Advocate Parganiha was picked up from her house in Bhilai on Sunday (March 4th) and was remanded into police custody on March 5th for 5 days, until March 10th.

We are deeply concerned at the long duration of police remand, especially in the wake of recent reports of custodial sexual violence perpetrated by Chhattigarh police, and considering that the only evidence that exists against the accused so far consists of writings of Bertolt Brecht, Bhagat Singh, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.

We would like to remind you that Chhattisgarh police has a track record of subjecting women under trials, especially those accused of political offences, to brutal torture. Soni Sori, an adivasi school teacher, was subjected to extreme sexual violence by the Chhattisgarh police while she was in their custody in October 2011. As her letters later revealed, she was verbally abused, stripped naked, electric shocks were applied to her and stones, pebbles, batons were inserted into her vagina and rectum. This was also corroborated by an independent medical examination conducted by a Government Hospital in Kolkata under the directions of the Honourable Supreme Court. In her letters, Soni Sori reveals that many women prisoners in Chhattisgarh jail have been subjected to similar torture and brutalization.

Please recall that we had urged you to intervene in Soni Sori’s matter in order to ensure that the perpetrators of such violence are punished, and that Soni Sori receives the medical treatment that she so urgently needs. However, the NHRC refused to intervene maintaining that the fact that Soni Sori’s matter is sub-judice precludes any intervention by the Commission.

However, in the case of Advocate Rekha Parganiha, where similar apprehensions of torture exist, the limitations of the matter being sub-judice do not arise. Hence, we request the NHRC to take appropriate and immediate steps to ensure the safety of Advocate Parganiha during police custody.

We also urge you to look into the growing phenomenon of arresting women activists in Chhattisgarh under serious criminal charges on the basis of flimsy evidence, such as the “incriminating documents” in this case – which consist of literature by Bertolt Brecht, Bhagat Singh, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, which is not only widely available publicly, but is included in the canons of great world philosophy and literature. Such infringements of the constitutionally guaranteed rights to life and liberty, and of freedom of thought and expression are unacceptable.

Yours Sincerely,

Women against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS)

Enc: Story on Advocate Rekha Parganiya’s arrest that appears in Indian Express, 06.03.2012

Arrested ‘Naxal’ an award-winning technician

Chandralata Parganiha clutched the Vishwakarma Award for Best Technician her son Deepak had won in 2008 while working at the Bhilai Steel Plant. Deepak had disappeared soon after. She recently found that he was arrested in Kolkata and the police had termed him the “urban face of Maoists”.

“I saw him last in February 2009. I don’t know what happened to him thereafter. Prior to that he was not involved in such (Naxal) things. It’s shocking,” Chandralata said.

After his marriage with Rekha, an advocate, in 2002, Deepak had gradually distanced from his family. “They lived separately. I met him last in 2008,” said his sister Jyoti.

Rekha was arrested from her home in Bhilai on Sunday. “Several incriminating documents were recovered from her home,” said Durg IG R K Vij. The Indian Express managed to see these “incriminating documents”, which included postcards of poems and quotes by Bertolt Brecht, Bhagat Singh, Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx.

A newspaper quoted Bhilai Thana incharge V D Nand as saying that “no material linked with Naxals was recovered from Rekha’s home”. But Nand denied it. Rekha was produced before the court on Monday and is in police custody till March 10.

“We never saw Deepak visiting her,” said her landlord Tamendra Yadav. “We don’t know about her husband, but she is innocent. He left her three years ago,” said one of her colleagues.

The Chhattisgarh Police said Deepak provided the Maoists with technical inputs for making bombs. Vij said Deepak had been on their radar for long. In 2009, two arrested Maoists, Bholabag and Sunita, had named him for giving them shelter. Deepak was held with five others, including Sadanala Ramakrishna (62), secretary of the central technical committee of Maoists, from Kolkata last week. They had expertise in making bombs, police said.

In his confession before a joint team of Bengal and Chhattisgarh police, Deepak reportedly said he joined CPI(Maoists) in 2004. Following this, the police raided two Raipur transporters on Sunday and seized metal, nut-bolts, rods, pipes in 70 boxes. No explosive was recovered. “The consignment was sent from Maoists in Kolkata to Chhattisgarh and could be used for making bombs,” said ADG (Naxal) Ramnivas.

As investigations are on, everyone is silent about Deepak and Rekha’s seven-year-old daughter. As per Yadav, Rekha’s brother came to lock the house and probably took the girl with him. Rekha’s brother denied it. The police have no clue, nor does Chandralata.

Visit WSS Blog

Differently-abled people seen as threat by aviation security in India


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Aarti Dhar,The  Hindu

It’s an outright insult, says Disabled Rights Group

The Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS) regulations say that there is high probability of differently-abled people carrying weapons, explosives and other dangerous materials with them, and therefore, there is ample reason to be more alert and wary.
The Disabled Rights Group (DRG) has described the regulations as “disability insensitive and outright insult and violation of the human rights of persons with disability.”

According to the regulations, “Screeners should be thoroughly briefed that the possibility of carrying weapons/explosives and other dangerous materials through such passengers is higher than a normal passenger and therefore, these passengers need to be checked with care.”
RTI query

In reply to a query filed under the Right to Information by the DRG, the Airports Authority of India said: “There is no scope for leniency in respect of invalid/disabled/sick persons during the pre-embarkation screening/procedures. On the contrary, there is ample reason to be more alert and wary.” As a result, disabled passengers face undue harassment at the hands of untrained security personnel. More often than not, disabled passengers using a wheelchair are asked to “stand up” or “transfer” from their personal wheelchair to sub-standard airport wheelchairs. What the security personnel do not know is that most wheelchair users use customised wheelchairs and cushions.
The U.S. scenario

In contrast to the Indian scenario, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has a dedicated helpline to assist travellers with disabilities and medical conditions. Passengers can call 72 hours ahead of travel for information about what to expect during screening.

TSA Cares serves as an additional, dedicated resource specifically for passengers with disabilities, medical conditions or other circumstances or their loved ones who want to be prepared for the screening process prior to flying. When a passenger with a disability or medical condition calls it, a representative either provides information about screening that is relevant to the passenger’s disability or medical condition, or refers him/her to disability experts at the TSA.

“Nowhere in the world will a disabled person be asked to take off leg braces, or explain medical attachments like a leg bag that holds urine,” said DRG convener Javed Abidi.
Rights violation

“This is not only humiliating but a violation of human rights. We are not asking for any leniency in security procedures. After all, civilised nations of the world have developed systems to ensure that disabled passengers are frisked with due respect to their dignity,” he noted.

Although, Directorate of Civil Aviation guidelines clearly mention that a passenger is allowed to take her/his own wheelchair to the boarding gates, security personnel bully those who are not aware of their rights.

“What is even more shameful and embarrassing is that countries that have a greater security threat and stricter security programmes have defined guidelines for screening passengers with disability. At no airport in the U.S., the U.K., the European Union and even countries like South Africa, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Korea, Thailand, and UAE will a disabled passenger using a wheelchair be asked to ‘get up’ from her/his wheelchair,” Mr. Abidi said.

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