SUVOJIT BAGCHI, May 1, 2013
Soni Sori, the tribal school teacher accused of acting as a courier between Essar Steel and the outlawed Communist Party of India (Maoist), and Lingaram Kodopi, the activist-journalist trained in Delhi, have been acquitted in one more crucial case by Dantewada court.
The case filed in 2010 by Dantewada police alleged that Ms Sori and Lingaram Kodopi are among several others involved in planning and executing an attack on local Congress leader, Avdesh Singh Gautam, in which two persons were killed.
15 others, including activists of various mainstream political parties, who were booked with Ms Sori were also acquitted. Congress leader Vijay Sodi, CPI leader Lala Ram Kunjam and a Panchayat member of Dantewada, Sannuram Mandawi are among the accused who got acquitted on Wednesday.
Soni Sori has now been acquitted in six out of eight cases filed against her.
A FIR filed in Kuakonda police station in Dantewada court said that on 7 July, 2010 midnight, more than 150 Maoist soldiers attacked local Congress leader and contractor Avdesh Singh Gautam’s house. Mr Gautam’s brother in law, Sanjay Singh and house attendant Dharmendra were killed, while his son and a guard were injured.
17 accused, including Ms Sori and Mr Kodopi, were present at the scene of crime, said Mr Gautam, according to the FIR. On basis of available evidences and witness’ statements several charges were brought against the accused under Indian Penal Code, Arms Act and Explosive Substance Act which includes criminal conspiracy, rioting, arson causing death, and attempt to murder, besides a host of other allegations.
“Due to lack of enough and proper evidence additional sessions Judge Anita Dehariya acquitted Soni Sori, Lingaram Kodopi and others,” said Ms Sori’s lawyer in Dantewada K K Dubey on phone.
In February, this year, Ms. Sori was acquitted in two other cases. One in which, she was accused to have opened fire and used explosives to blow up vehicles of Essar Steel. In another, she was accused of firing on police near Essar Beneficiation Plant in Kirandul. “Witnesses could not confirm her involvement,” Mr. Dubey told The Hindu earlier. Last year, Ms. Sori was acquitted in two more cases.
Two more cases against Ms Sori are still in court. One of the allegations, pending in Bacheli court, accused Ms Sori of torching several vehicles. In the other case – the most crucial one – pending in Dantewada court, it is alleged that Ms Sori and Mr Kodopi were planning to hand over “protection money” from Essar Steel to the Maoists. D.V.C.S. Verma, the general manager at an Essar steel plant, and B.K. Lala, one of Essar’s contractors, were arrested in the same case, allegedly for disbursing money. According to police, Mr. Kodopi and Ms. Sori were carrying the money to the rebels. While Ms Sori and Mr Kodopi are languishing in jail, like thousands of tribal under trials (UTs) of south Chhattisgarh, two of their co-accused, Mr Verma and Mr Lala, got bail soon within months after the arrest.
90 per cent cases against tribals are concocted
Ashok Jain, a senior lawyer of Dantewada, representing some of the accused, who got acquitted with Ms Sori, said Wednesday’s judgement proves how tribals are detained under “false charges.”
“These tribals are detained under completely concocted charges, at least most of them. Their families get ruined as they spend several years as undertrials. Whenever the cases are followed well, like the case of Soni Sori, the accused gets acquitted,” Mr Jain said.
A battery of lawyers representing the high profile case of Ms Sori and other accused feel, while the case of Soni Sori or Dr Binayak Sen got enough “attention from all quarters,” cases of thousands of undertrial tribals are getting “absolutely no attention from media or civil society.”
“Most of these cases are so flimsy that higher courts may not even admit those or the accused will get bail within hours of admission. But lack of financial and people’s support, keep these tribals behind bars for years,” said one of the lawyers. “How can a poor tribal be arrested for just being a resident of an area controlled by the Maoists or sharing a lunch with the rebels, possibly under duress,” said another lawyer.
Ms Sori’s lawyers, however, sounded optimistic and said they have moved a bail petition in Chhattisgarh High Court. “I hope, Ms Sori and others will get bail soon after this acquittal in a crucial case,” said Mr Dubey.
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