Soni Sori, who has become the voice of the tribals of Chhattisgarh, has been undergoing treatment at Delhi’s Apollo Hospital after she was attacked with an acid-like inflammable substance.
The incident took place on 20 February 2016. Shalini Gora and Isha Khandelwal, both lawyers and members of Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group, which provided free legal advice to the Tribals, were about to leave Jagdalpur after being hounded by the police. Soni Sori had gone to Jagdalpur to meet them. Around 9.15 pm, she left Jagdalpur for Geedam – about 85km away – on a motorcycle, which was being driven by a girl named Rita. About 20km short of Geedam, at the point where the Bastanar Ghati begins, three men riding a bike overtook them and forced them to stop. They then threw an acid-like inflammable liquid on Sori’s face and threatened her with these words: “Do not raise the Maardoom incident, and stop speaking against IG saheb from today. If you do not fall in line we will do something to your daughter and you will not able to show your face to anyone.”
Then the three men rode back towards Jagdalpur. Soni Sori’s family members took her to the Primary Health Centre at Geedam, where the doctors referred her to the Jagdalpur Medical College. From there, she was shifted to Apollo Hospital in Delhi.
Sori Sori said that the Chhattisgarh Police was behind the attack on her. According to Sori, she had received threatening letters a couple of days prior to the attack in which she was asked to stop speaking against the police and the government. The police have strongly denied the charge and have claimed that the liquid had only blackened Sori’s face.
Tribal and human rights organizations all over the country have risen in support of Sori. Demonstrations and dharnas are being held in Bastar, Raipur, Delhi and other parts of the country against the Chhattisgarh and the central governments.
After the nationwide uproar, the Chhattisgarh government offered Y category security to Sori, which she rejected. In a statement issued from the hospital bed, she said, “This is a fight of the ordinary Tribals. If the government really wants to do something, it should guarantee the security of every Tribal of the state. If innocent Tribals like Hudma continue to be killed, providing security to one Soni Sori will serve no purpose.” She added: “In Bastar, where 40 lakh Tribals are insecure, the government cannot get away with its responsibility by providing security to one Soni Sori. If Bastar is to be saved, the government should ensure that the anti-democratic forces are curbed.” She said, “Once I recuperate, I shall again join the battle for tribal rights.”
Meanwhile, the police have deployed some men in Dantewada for providing security to Sori’s children. Another threatening letter was delivered to her home that said “Don’t feel happy because guards have been provided to your daughter. You also have a son and you also have sisters.”
Who is Soni Sori?
Soni Sori was a schoolteacher in Chhattisgarh’s Dantewada district. In 2011, the police charged her with being an informer of the Naxalites. She was arrested in Delhi and handed over to the Dantewada police.
Before being presented in court, she was kept in police custody for two days where SP Ankit Garg made her take off all her clothes and had her given electric shocks. Due to third-degree burns, she could not even walk properly when she was presented in court. Later, when she was medically examined on the orders of Supreme Court, three small pebbles were found inside her vagina.
The cruel irony was that on 26 January 2012 (the Republic Day), the President’s Police Medal for Gallantry was conferred on Ankit Garg. This was bitterly condemned by some human rights organizations.
Soni Sori was sent to jail by the court. After two and a half years of harrowing stay in the jail, the Supreme Court granted her permanent bail. Of the eight charges levelled against her by the Chhattisgarh Police, seven were found to be untrue and she was given bail in the one that remained. Presently, Soni Sori is trying to secure justice for the Tribals facing wanton attacks in Chhattisgarh. She has been raising at the national level the cases of fake encounters and rapes of women by members of the security forces in Chhattisgarh and that has made her the target of the Chhattisgarh police and administration.
For the past two decades, the Bastar Tribals have been caught between the police and the Naxalites. Both are massacring the Tribals. Thousands of Tribals, fearing for their life, have fled their homes. Bastar has become a battlefield where only innocent Tribals are getting killed in the crossfire between the Naxals and the police.
Whosoever espouses the cause of Tribals becomes an eyesore for the police and the administration in Bastar. And that is the case with Soni Sori too.
(Published in the April 2016 issue of the FORWARD Press magazine)