Rape cases we forgot: Soni Sori, a prisoner of conscience
"Giving shocks, stripping me naked, shoving stones inside me - will this solve the Naxal problem," Sori once wrote.
New Delhi: As the outrage over the brutal gangrape and subsequent death of the 23-year-old medical student has galvanised a nation with questionable gender parity, it is difficult to place the story of Soni Sori, the young tribal teacher from Chhattisgarh, in the ongoing introspection and legislation against sexual violence. If there is a growing national consensus against sexual violence, there is also the same consensus among most of the urban agitators at India Gate and other cities to rid the nation of the Naxal problem. And when the police and security forces, assigned the task of eliminating the Maoists from India's forests and hinterlands, adopt sexual violence as one of their tools, the discourse over rape and gender justice is muddled.
Sori, in police custody since October 2011 at the Raipur Central Jail, was arrested on charges of being a courier between Maoists and the Essar group. In custody, Sori was not only allegedly raped at the Dantewada police station, but tortured too with stones inserted into her private parts. Her health since the assault has been deteriorating and activists fear she may lose her life before her plea for bail is addressed by the courts. In her many letters, Soni has been complaining of bad health and being denied sustenance. "Giving electric shocks, stripping me naked, shoving stones inside me - is this going to solve the Naxal problem," she once asked in a letter to the Supreme Court.
Activists insist Sori was jailed for questioning human rights violations by police and security forces in the state. "Chhattisgarh has an unwritten set of rules about how an adivasi should behave. You don't organise, you don't agitate, you don't protest against human rights violations, you don't protest against the state, and you certainly don't protest against industrial houses that are in Bastar to usher in the industrial revolution," Himanshu Kumar, member of the Chhattisgarh chapter of the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), said. Sori has also been termed as a prisoner of conscience by the Amnesty International in 2012.
Kavita Krishnan, Secretary of the All India Progressive Women's Association, slammed the recent National Commission for Women member Shamina Shafiq's visit to Soni Sori in a Raipur jail. The NCW member, after the meeting, said Sori is doing fine and that she only needs psychological counselling. Calling the statement 'outrageous', Krishnan demanded the immediate release of Sori since 'she continues to be in the captivity of her rapists'. The crucial hearing of her case in the Supreme Court, scheduled for Thursday, was deferred until Tuesday without citing any reason.
Meanwhile, a section of the anti-rape protesters in Delhi has included Sori's story in India's fight against sexual violence. On Wednesday, members of the All India Students' Association (AISA), along with several intellectuals and political leaders including Aam Aadmi Party's Prashant Bhushan and social activist Swami Agnivesh, staged a silent march, demanding Sori's release. "She has been repeatedly subjected to the most barbaric and repulsive sexual abuse in police custody - two separate medical reports has shown evidence of stones being shoved into her private parts. And yet, despite repeated protests, no action has been taken till now," a statement issued by AISA said.
The Delhi protesters also demanded punishment for Superintendent of Police Ankit Garg who allegedly ordered the sexual torture of Sori. Garg was awarded the president's medal in 2012 for professional excellence. In the continuing tragedy of Chhattisgarh, one of the worst hit by Maoist insurgency, Sori, despite the sexual violence and torture, remains just one amongst its many dramatis personae.