Tag Archive for Soni Sori

Gang rape must lead to an awakening in India

Anti-rape-protest-India

By Ramlath Kavil

Perhaps the only “mistake” the 23-year-old New Delhi gang-rape victim made on the ill-fated night of Dec. 16 was to trust Delhi’s public transport system. In India, especially in cities like New Delhi, despite its being the national capital with enormous security presence and closed-circuit cameras, boarding a bus at 9:15 p.m. can be fatal for a woman, even if she has the company of a male friend.

The young woman was brutally raped and assaulted with an iron rod by six men in what turned out to be a private bus. The assault was so inhuman that it ripped her intestines apart, caused severe genital injuries and on the 29th of December — 13 days later— she died in a hospital in Singapore. The incident roused the nation’s collective consciousness, and a large portion of young India spilled into streets, paralyzing parts of the capital city. Post-independence India has never witnessed such large-scale, spontaneous public outcry over women’s security.

India has often been described as a great paradox. The largest democracy in the world, and a land with a long-celebrated history of non-violent political struggle, is profoundly misogynistic. Sexism has such deep roots in society that it is an acceptable form of discrimination. The son-only culture has affected the gender ratio so much that Haryana, for example, which is just a few kilometres away from the national capital, has reached a stage of importing brides from other parts of the country due to an extreme shortage of young women.

Sex-selective abortion, though illegal, has always been a booming business across the country. Dowry, a practice of giving property and money to the bridegroom and his family, has been held as one of the reasons for the deep antipathy to having daughters, as their birth signals an unaffordable financial liability.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau, rape today is India’s fastest growing crime.

Women’s rights activists in the country have long been asking for societal and legal reforms and accountability from the political establishment when it comes to protecting women’s rights. Sexual violence has an institutionalized status in the country. Deep-rooted patriarchal mores make the honour of the family and community dependent on the chastity of the woman. This society has the audacity to ask its daughters not to get raped instead of asking its sons not to commit rape.

Activists report that a large number of rapes go unreported. Shockingly, on average, every 20 minutes a rape is committed in India, and in the majority of the cases the perpetrators are family members. Even of the registered rapes, conviction rates are as low as 26 per cent of cases. In this context, the more shrill demands to hang the rapists and give the death penalty for rape are not going to make bringing the rapist to book easier.

Rape in India, as in most cultures, is a convenient weapon to be used against women in caste/class/communal conflicts in the country. During notorious Gujarat riots of 2002, the men belonging to the right wing Hindu political outfits used rape as a weapon to teach the minority community a “lesson.” Perpetrators of the riots are still roaming free due to their high-end political connections.

During the 2006 Kherlanji caste massacre, a mother and daughter belonging to a lower caste community were paraded naked and gang-raped before being murdered. In politically troubled areas like Kashmir and the Northeast, the army and police have long been accused of rape and violence. Soni Sori, a tribal school teacher who was termed as a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International in 2012, following her arrest on unsubstantiated charges of supporting the banned radical left in India, was subjected to brutal sexual violence in custody which included shoving stones into her genitals. While Sori is still languishing in jail without bail, the cop who was alleged to have orchestrated the violence was awarded the president’s medal in 2012 for professional excellence.

In most cases that involve violence against women, India has often failed to take any productive measures to protect women’s basic human rights primarily because of political pressure.

The horrific Delhi gang rape has given India’s youth, especially women, a platform to express their anguish over India’s abysmal record in defending women’s rights. Spontaneous protests are still taking place all over the country. The extent of outrage in New Delhi was so unexpected, a jittery administration has acted to defuse public mobilization.

The government has appointed a three-member committee to look into possible amendments in the criminal laws in order to provide speedier justice and stringent punishment in sexual assault cases.

The bottom line is — as thousands take to the streets braving water cannons and police batons, especially young women — India is waking up to the slogans that women’s organizations have long been shouting. End violence against women! It is time that India recognized the need to change in order to put an end to the inhuman degradation of its women, and the inevitable decay of the human rights of women.

This article was originally published in the Ottawa Citizen

© Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen

Human Rights Abuse in India: An Unholy War on its People

Medha Patkar

Human rights activists in India are deeply concerned about the shrinking democratic spaces with allegations of police/security forces intimidation, arbitrary arrest, imprisonment, and torture multiplying for the past several years

By Ramlath Kavil

On the human rights and civil rights front, things have been going wrong in the most populous democracy of the world for quite some time. Human rights organizations including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have been accusing the Indian State of blatant rights abuses. In May 2012, the Government of India itself declared in its Parliament that human rights violations in the country have increased by over 13,000 in the last three years and in 2011 alone some 94,630 such violations were reported.

The government stands accused in several cases of human rights violations in various courts of the country. The UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review, May 2012, made 169 recommendations to India regarding human rights issues, which included the ratification of the UN Convention Against Torture and the UN Convention on Enforced Disappearances. India’s Attorney General who led the government delegation in Geneva, chose to play down the recommendations by saying, “India has the ability to self-correct.”

The  Unlawful Activities Prevention Act,1967 ( UAPA)  which entitles the police to arrest anybody without warrant on mere suspicion and its 2008 Amendment which allows the authorities to detain the accused upto 180 days of pre charge detention,  has also come under severe criticism. It may be recalled, a widely respected pediatrician and rights activist Dr. Binayak Sen was arrested in 2007 under this act, which prompted several international organizations and individuals including Noam Chomsky to come down heavily on the Indian Government. Dr. Sen was granted bail by the Supreme Court in April 2011.

The arrests and imprisonment of the tribal woman Soni Sori ,civil rights activist Seema Azad and now a young political cartoonist Aseem Trivedi offer yet another glimpse to how one of the fastest growing economies in the world is callous when it comes to checking its human rights record.

Soni Sori

Soni Sori, named by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience, hails from Chhattisgarh, one of India’s poorest regions where the banned radical left group Maoist (Naxalite) is said to wield considerable clout. Thousands of families have been caught between a deadly war fought by the State and the Maoists, both accused of violent tactics. Soni Sori’s family happened be one of them. According to rights activists, she and her family landed on the wrong side of both the Maoists and the state police, as they refused to operate as informers to either of them.

A warden in a state run girls hostel, Soni Sori’s ordeal with the law began in 2009 when the Chhattisgarh police arrested her 26-year-old nephew, a local journalist, Lingaram Kodopi. Sori and her family had claimed that the young journalist was arrested for speaking up against atrocities of Chhattisgarh police and the exploitations of the tribal people.

On September 9th 2011, Chhattisgarh’s Dantewada police charged Soni Sori, and her nephew Lingaram Kodopi of being ‘Naxalite accomplices’. Subsequently, both Kodopi and Sori were arrested.  The police accused them of being a conduit for extortion between the mining company Essar and the Maoist.  Both Sori and Essar have denied the allegation.

After two days in custodial interrogation, when Sori had to be produced in front of the Dantewada Magistrate on the 10th October 2011, the 37-year-old was so weak that she could not even get down from the police van.  A court clerk came to the police van, and the court passed an order without seeing her.

Soni Sori wrote to her lawyer about the brutal torture she was subjected to in custody at the orders of the then District Police Superintendent Ankit Garg, the controversial cop who won President’s gallantry award early this year.

Subsequently, the Supreme Court ordered an Independent medical examination to be conducted at NRS Medical College Hospital in Kolkatta. The report, presented in Court on 25th Nov, 2011 states three stones were found inserted deep inside Sori’s private parts and the MRI scan also showed annular tears on her spine.

Ever since the evidence of Sori’s custodial torture surfaced, women’s rights and human rights activists have been campaigning for her release and for an independent probe into the alleged custodial torture, including sexual violence. On March 8th International women’s day Amnesty International launched a campaign to release Soni Sori. As the Supreme Court is yet to decide on the petition for squashing the cases filed against her by the Chhattisgarh government, Soni Sori, the mother of three, is currently lodged in Raipur central Jail.

Seema Azad

The conviction of Seema Azad in June this year, a 36-year-old human rights activist and the Editor of a bi-monthly magazine adds another chapter to the country’s ongoing chronicle of silencing of dissent. Azad and her husband Vijay were arrested in early 2010 by the Uttar Pradesh Police and were accused of being members of the

From left to right- Soni Sori, Seema Azad and Aseem Trivedi

banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) and possessing banned Maoist literature. They were charged under various sections of IPC and also under the notorious Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. At the time of the arrest, Seema Azad was the State Secretary of People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL), a national network of human rights activists.

After 2 years of trial on June 8th, 2012, the activist couple were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment by an Allahabad Court. Human rights organizations severely criticized the conviction alleging that Azad and her husband were victimized for speaking on behalf of mining workers and farmers in the region. PUCL called the conviction of the couple for terrorism, unlawful activities, sedition and waging war against the state “a glaring travesty of justice,”, The same court, however, on August 6th granted bail to the couple.

Aseem Trivedi

Aseem Trivedi, an award winning political cartoonist was arrested in Mumbai on 8th September 2012 for sedition under section 129 A of Indian Penal code. He was also charged under the IT Act and the 1971 National Emblem Act. Trivedi is arrested for drawing Parliament as a commode and showing the national emblem with bloodthirsty wolves instead of lions. Trivedi, well known for his series of anti corruption cartoons, launched Cartoon Against Corruption, a website in order to support the anti corruption movement in India in 2011. However, within 24 hours of its launch, the Mumbai Crime Branch blocked its content. Later in 2012 Trivedi started, Save Your Voice, a movement against internet censorship in the country.  Trivedi has been sent to police custody till September 16.

“Such cases show that civil and human rights in India are in a moment of profound crisis. Many of these arrests and violations have deep connections to the growing corporatization of India’s mineral-rich land and resources.  This expanded development has displaced many hill and village populations and polluted many of their habitats” says Lena Ganesh, a Delhi-based gender and human rights activist.

Since 2005 many big corporations like Mittal, Jindal, Posco, Vedanta etc have signed MOUs for mining activities in the mineral rich Indian states of Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Jharkand etc. These regions have also witnessed extreme opposition from locals against corporatization of the forest land. The Indian government argues that “the rise of extreme leftist outfits in the regions rich in minerals has badly affected investments.” However, rights activists feel the unrest among the locals in these regions is widespread and independent of ‘insurgents’. By attributing the disaffection to ‘motivated parties’, the government and the corporations are walking a tight-rope over a political mine field.

The fact is, as the number of human rights violations grows, the dissent also grows.  In a country where one third of the world’s poor live, silencing the voice of the distress is an absolute impossibility. Threats of arrest and imprisonment would only alienate the vast majority of its 1.2 billion population. Let us not forget, it is the country that gave birth to one of the greatest non violent political movements, a movement that taught the British Empire that no Kingdom can rise above its people’s civil liberties.

Featured photo courtesy: PTI

This article was originally published in the Unrest Magazine, USA

Soni Sori Case: Brutal Treatment Continues

soni sori AIMS

Soni Sori denied food, water and medicines for 24 hours on her way back to Raipur Jail from AIIMS, Delhi

By Team FI

Human rights activists have accused the Chhattisgarh Government of denying Soni Sori food, water and medicines immediately after her discharge from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences at New Delhi. After being treated at AIIMS after months of ill-treatment and improper medical treatment by the Chhattisgarh Government, Soni Sori was sent back to the Raipur Jail.

Soni Sori’s counsel, Mr. Colin Gonsalves had expressed his concern to the Chhattisgarh Government counsel, Mr. Atul Jha about no travel arrangements being made for her return to Chhattisgarh, to which Mr Jha assured Mr Gonsalves that every necessary precaution would be taken including, if need be, return to Raipur by flight. But despite these assurances, Soni Sori was taken to Raipur by train, in a crowded unreserved compartment. In scorching summer heat, she was made to stand for most of the 24 hour long train journey from Delhi to Raipur, despite her fragile health condition. With daytime temperatures touching 45 degrees Celsius, she was denied water, kept without food for the whole day and not even given the medicines prescribed to her by the doctors at AIIMS.

Soni Sori was brought to the AIIMS on May 10th at the behest of the Supreme Court which ordered immediate and urgent treatment to be provided to her. She was suffering from the  wounds inflicted on her during the sexual torture meted out to her in October, 2011 under police custody, which had been allowed to fester untreated in the jail. Consequently, she had grave secondary medical conditions, such as intermittent anal and vaginal bleeding, blisters on skin, difficulty in walking etc. at the time when she was brought to AIIMS.  Over the 5 weeks of her treatment in AIIMS, she seemed to have recovered significantly, due to regular and expert medical care provided to her.

According to activists it was sheer and deliberate negligence on part of the Chhattisgarh Government that led to such deterioration in Soni Sori’s health in the first place, that the Supreme Court had to order immediate medical intervention by AIIMS. The manner in which Soni Sori is being treated after her discharge from AIIMS once again raises serious concerns about the intention of the Chhattisgarh government in ensuring her health and safety.

“It is time for state violence against her to end,” urged activists who have asked the  Chhattisgarh Government to diligently follow the recommendations of AIIMS about rest, diet and medicines so that Soni Sori makes full recovery. They pointed out that the Indian Constitution guarantees under-trial prisoners basic human rights – Soni Sori rights need to be acknowledged.

It should be recalled that Soni Sori, an adivasi school teacher, had been subjected to brutal physical torture and sexual violence during her custody in the Dantewada police station on the night between 8th and 9th October, 2011.  Her torture had been confirmed by an independent medical examination conducted by the NRS Medical College and Hospital in Kolkata, during which stones lodged deep in her private parts had been recovered.

However, the medication prescribed by the NRS hospital had been discontinued by the jail authorities in Raipur Jail soon after her discharge, and Soni Sori had been denied any regular medical attention since the examination conducted by the NRS Hospital in October 2011.  In the absence of regular medical care and attention, Ms. Sori’s condition had steadily worsened, prompting the Supreme Court in June 2012 to order her to be brought to AIIMS in New Delhi for immediate medical treatment.

The Soni Sori Case: A Travesty of Justice

Soni Sori case Feminists India

By Team FI

The Soni Sori case is an unconscionable example of how India, the largest democracy in the world has often failed to check its growing human rights violations record.

For Soni Sori, this International Women’s Day is going to be just another day in Raipur jail, spent in pain and discomfort that constantly reminds her of the custodial torture and injustice meted out to her by the Chhattisgarh Police.

Soni Sori, an adivasi school teacher and the warden of a government-run school for tribal children in Jabeli, Dantewada, was arrested in Delhi on October 4th 2011. She has repeatedly claimed that the Chhattisgarh Police had been harassing her ever since she refused to be an informer against the Maoists, and even attempted to kill her after they arrested her nephew, Lingaram Kodopi, an outspoken journalist in September, 2011.

Charged under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) among others, Kodopi and Soni have both been accused in several other cases of ‘Maoist violence’ and as alleged go-betweens for a bribe by Essar to the Maoists.

Fearing for her life, Soni Sori fled to Delhi to seek legal help. She spoke of her travails to the media including the news magazine Tehelka, but was arrested before she could take legal action.  She pleaded with the Saket District Court and the Delhi High Court to be kept in custody in Delhi until she could file her petition in the Supreme Court.  However, she was remanded to the custody of Chhattisgarh Police, albeit with explicit directions to ensure her safety and an order that a report be filed before the Delhi High Court, outlining steps taken to keep her safe.

After two days in custody, when Soni Sori had to be produced in front of the Dantewada Magistrate on the 10th October, she was in such a bad condition that she could not get down from the police van and go to the courtroom. A court clerk came to the police van and yet, it is wrongly recorded that she was produced before the Magistrate who remanded her to judicial custody for 14 days.

The police claimed ‘she slipped in the bathroom and had hurt her head’. The examining doctor at the District Hospital said ‘she was brought in unconscious, the X-ray showed injuries on her head and back, and black marks were observed on her fingertips’ – indicating she had received electric shocks. Initially Soni Sori herself said that she had fallen in the bathroom, but later retracted saying she had been threatened by the police that if she spoke of her torture, her brother, the sole caretaker of her three children, would be arrested.

Subsequently, in her statements to relatives and in a letter to the Supreme Court, Soni Sori said, “After repeatedly giving me electric shocks, my clothes were taken off. I was made to stand naked. SP Ankit Garg was watching me; sitting on his chair (…) 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.”

Superintendent of Police, Ankit Garg

In response to a petition filed in the Supreme Court, a three-Judge Bench ordered an independent medical examination in NRS Medical College Hospital in Kolkata. The report, presented in Court on 25th Nov, 2011 states three stones were found inserted deep inside her private parts, which were the primary cause of her abdominal pain. The MRI scan also shows annular tears on her spine. Yet shockingly, none of the three hospitals in Chhattisgarh which ‘examined her’ found inflammation in her private parts, the stones lodged in her vagina and rectum.

Since then Soni has petitioned the Supreme Court for urgent medical attention and to be moved back to Jagdalpur Jail so that her frail body can be spared the torturous travel to Dantewada for every hearing on the numerous cases filed against her. Yet the Supreme Court on December 1, 2011 ordered that she remain in the custody in Chhattisgarh for an additional period of 55 days until the next hearing on 25th January, 2012. She is still lodged there while she waits for a hearing and so-called ‘urgent’ medical attention.

Ever since the evidence of her custodial torture surfaced, women’s groups, civil rights groups, civil society organizations, individuals and many others have been trying to work towards ensure her safety — protesting against the Chhattisgarh Police, demanding justice and action from the Chief Minister, seeking inquiry by the National Human Rights Commission, the National Commission of Women and so on.

Soni Sori Feminists India

Soni Sori: photo by Garima Jain-Tehelka

On December 21st, 2012, an open letter to the Supreme Court was issued urging the court 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.”

The letter was signed by prominent personalities like Aruna Roy,Uma Chakravarti, Brinda Karat, Romila Thapar etc along with scores of other doctors, educationists, academicians, students and individuals.  Joining them were 69 civil society groups and organisations working on women’s issues, health issues, civil and democratic rights, and worker’s issues from across the country.

On the 12th-13th January, 2012 a delegation of women’s groups went to meet Soni Sori in Central Jail, Raipur but were denied permission. They met the Chairpersons of both the State Human Rights Commission and the State Women’s Commission, both of whom said that the denial of permission did not constitute any violation of Soni’s rights. Additionally, the SCW said that since this was a `naxalite‘ case, caution was needed.

No step has been taken against any of the errant police officers – even Constable Mankar, who was recorded by Tehelka admitting that false cases had been registered against Soni and Kodopi. As for SP Ankit Garg, he has been awarded a Gallantry Award by the President on Jan 26, 2012. This news evoked unequivocal condemnation from women’s groups in the country.

On 29 January, activists held a hunger fast in Delhi in order to express solidarity with her plight.

Charges against Soni Sori

Soni Sori has multiple cases against her—from being a participant in a Naxalite raid at a Congress worker’s house, to acting as an intermediary for the Maoists—and each of the charge sheets show her as an “absconder”… this, at a time, when Soni Sori was not only regularly attending to her duties, but had also met with police authorities to complain about her own harassment by the Maoists: her father has been shot by the Maoists, at the time during which she was allegedly working with them.

With all so-called autonomous bodies like the human rights and women’s commissions keeping their hands off the case under the pretext of them being ‘sub-judice’, justice continues to elude Soni Sori. And it will continue to do so as long as the nation continues to delude itself about what constitutes a human rights violation.

From Irom Sharmila to Soni Sori, these are the faces that should haunt the Indian conscience, today.

Outrage over President’s medal to police chief

Women's groups protest in Delhi

By Team FI

Women’s Groups in India have condemned the government awarding the President’s Medal to a senior police official, Ankit Garg who is alleged to have supervised Soni Sori’s custodial torture.

Ankit Garg, Superintendent of Police, Dantewada, Chhattisgarh, India has been named by the Adivasi school teacher, Soni Sori, in several lettersto the Supreme Court, of ordering and supervising her torture and sexual violence against her, on the night of October 8th, 2011 when she was in his custody at the Dantewada police station.

Ankit Garg, Superintendent of Police, Dantewada

In a case which is now before the Supreme Court, Soni Sori has written that while she was in police custody in Dantewada police station, she was stripped before the Superintendent of Police, Ankit Garg, and given electric shocks under his directions.  Furthermore, he ordered three police personnel to “punish her” by sexually torturing her for disobeying his commands to name well-known social activists, such as Swami Agnivesh and Medha Patkar, as Naxal supporters.

An independent medical examination carried out by the Government hospital in Kolkata under the direction of the Supreme Court has confirmed her sexual torture by recovering stones embedded in her private parts.  This prompted the Supreme Court to reach the conclusion that she is clearly unsafe within the reach of Dantewada police, and needs to be transferred to the Raipur Central prison.

Women’s rights activists believe that this is no longer a case of mere allegations against the police, but there is also solid evidence by a government medical team to support her charges.

As Soni Sori, the victim of this heinous torture languishes in the Raipur Central Jail, with a deteriorating health condition, and waits for her case to be listed in the Supreme Court, women’s teams who have been taking up the case of her torture have been refused permission to meet her. She is still under the custody of the same state police has that inflicted this torture on her.

There can be no excuse for torture and sexual violence in the name of anti-Naxal or counter-insurgency operations. To confer awards on a person accused of such heinous acts diminishes the respect and honour usually associated with a gallantry award.

excerpts from the press statement issued by Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS), India.