A delegation of women comprising of, Beinda Karat (M.P.), Annie Raja (NFIW), Uma Chakravarty, Vrinda Grover and Indira C, met with President Pratibha Patil today (14th May), and handed over a memorandum, detailing the gross violation of the human rights of tribal teacher, Soni Sori. The memorandum was also signed by Aruna Roy (MKSS),Kavita Srivastava (PUCL) and Vani S.on behalf of Saheli.
The delegation drew the attention of the President to the brutal custodial sexual torture inflicted on Soni Sori by the Chhattisgarh police and the medical report of Kolkata Hospital which had confirmed the same. The President expressed surprise when she heard that S.P. Ankit Garg, under whose direction the custodial sexual violence was alleged to have been inflicted, had received the President’s Gallantry award. The delegation suggested that an independent enquiry be initiated into the gallantry award given to S.P. Ankit Garg. The delegation also expressed apprehension that many other tribal women prisoners in Chhattisgarh jails had suffered similar violations.
The President heard the delegation attentively and assured them that she would write to the concerned governments and authorities.The Memorandum submitted by the delegation
The Honourable President of India
Subject: Violation of rights of tribal woman Soni Sori; conferment of President’s Gallantry Award on S.P. Ankit Garg facing allegations of custodial sexual torture
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 11th September 2011 (WRIT PETITION (CRL) NO. 206 OF 2011).
Briefly stated the facts are as follows. Ms Sori was arrested in Delhi on October 4th 2011 and remanded to the custody of Chhattisgarh Police by the Delhi High Court on October 7th. 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 8th / 9th, 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 (Copy of Ms Soni’s letter enclosed asAnnexure II). 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. (Medical Report of NRS Hospital Kolkata enclosed as Annexure III).
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 ofsupporting 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 11th September 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 ofgreat 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 MedicalCollege 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 thesubversion 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 accountabilityof 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 26th January 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 with deep 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:-
i) Initiate a credible inquiry into the custodial violence suffered by Soni Sori
ii) Promptly recall the President’s Gallantry award bestowed on S.P. Ankit Garg, facing serious allegations of custodial torture and sexual violence
iii) 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
iv) Ensure an immediate halt and initiate exemplary punitive action against police and other security forces indulging in widespread and systematic violationof 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
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- Women Activists meet NHRC Chairperson for #SoniSori (kractivist.wordpress.com)
- Soni Sori at AIIMS, has severe burning in vagina from police torture (kractivist.wordpress.com)
- Immediate Release-Citizens appeal to PM, CM: Save Soni Sori from death in jail (kractivist.wordpress.com)
- Human Rights Watch writes to PMO re Soni Sori’s case (kractivist.wordpress.com)