OPEN LETTER TO THE HON’BLE CHIEF JUSTICE OF INDIA AND HON’BLE JUDGES OF THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA,
As citizens, we look to you, Hon’ble Judges of the highest court of law in our land, to protect the rights of those who stand powerless, marginalised by society due to their class, caste, gender or ethnic origins. In particular, we believe that sometimes only the Supreme Court can safeguard of the right to life of citizens, when every other avenue has failed to do so.
This is especially so in the case of Soni Sori, a tribal woman on whom gross sexual torture has been inflicted while in police custody in Chhattisgarh. We write to you with deep dismay at her continued vulnerability despite her repeated pleas for protection from various courts, and urge you to give serious attention to the grave violation of the rights a tribal woman undertrial, the facts and documents regarding which are pending before the Supreme Court in the case. (WRIT PETITION (CRL)NO. 206 OF 2011 ). Briefly:
- Soni Sori is a 35 year old adivasi school teacher and warden of a government-run school for tribal children in Jabeli, Dantewada – one of the few operational schools in the area, till the Chhattisgarh Police forced her to flee from Dantewada in early September 2011. She has been arrested and is being tried as a suspected Maoist in several cases.
- Soni Sori was arrested in Delhi on 4th October, 2011 after she exposed significant evidence of being framed by the Chhattisgarh Police in at least one case, the Essar bribery case to the newsmagazine, Tehelka. (Reference: https://tehelka.com/story_main50.asp?filename=Ne151011coverstory)
- Fearing retaliation while in custody, Soni Sori had pleaded before the Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate, District Court, Saket as well as the Delhi High Court that she be held in custody in Delhi and sought to face trial outside the state of Chhattisgarh.
- However, on 7 October 2011, Soni Sori was remanded to the custody of Chhattisgarh Police by the Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate, Saket District Court, Delhi, albeit with directions to the Chhattisgarh Police to ‘follow due process’.
This was Soni Sori’s first attempt to seek protection. A plea she is still making, now in your court.
- The Delhi High Court too, in its order of 8 October 2011 ordered the Chhattisgarh Police to file a report outlining steps taken to keep her safe by 10 October 2011.
This was Soni Sori’s second attempt to seek protection against the police via the judicial process.
As Soni Sori was remanded to Chhattisgarh, there was serious apprehension of custodial intimidation and violence. Fears that have unfortunately proven to be well placed, given the evidence of sexual violence and torture of Soni Sori while in police custody. A brazen contempt of court, human rights law and the rights guaranteed to all citizens by the Indian Constitution.
Flagrant contempt of court and violation of human rights follows.
Damning evidence of custodial sexual violence emerges.
On 10th October 2011, Soni Sori was to be produced before the Court of the Magistrate in Dantewada. However Soni Sori, who had been in perfect health when she was remanded to the custody of Chhattisgarh Police in Delhi, was in such terrible physical pain that she could not even stand up or step out of the police van and reach the courtroom. The police claimed ‘she slipped in the bathroom and had hurt her head’.
That day, Soni Sori did not appear in person before the Magistrate, nor did the Magistrate see her – only a court clerk came to the police van and yet, it is wrongly recorded in the Order sheet that she was produced before the Magistrate who remanded her to judicial custody for 14 days.
The examining doctor at the District Hospital has recorded that ‘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.
In subsequent statements to relatives and a letter addressed to the Supreme Court itself, Soni Sori has described the custodial torture that she was subjected to. She has stated that she was ‘pulled out of her cell at the Dantewada Police Station on the night of 8/9 October 2011 and taken to S.P. Ankit Garg’s room.’ There she was stripped and given electric shocks and the ‘unspeakable done to her’ CHECK TRANSLATION. When she awoke the next morning, she had severe aches all over her body, especially her neck and spine, and acute pain in her lower abdomen. In a subsequent letter dated XXX (submitted to the Supreme Court on XXX), Soni Sori has stated that she found several stones inserted in her vagina, many of which she managed to remove herself, but not all. CHECK QUOTE
The Supreme Court (in WRIT PETITION (CRL)NO. 206 OF 2011 ) observed that the injuries against her person did not appear to be as simple as the State was making them out to be, and ordered an independent medical examination in NRS Medical College Hospital in Kolkata. The medical report, presented to the Supreme Court on 25th November, 2011 states that two stones were found inserted deep inside her vagina and one in her anus. The MRI scan also reveals annular tears on her spine. All, irrefutable evidence of custodial sexual abuse and torture that Soni Sori has suffered at the hands of Chhattisgarh Police.
Yet, on XXX Supreme Court ordered Soni Sori be sent back to the custody of the Chhattisgarh State for an additional period of 45 days. Given the prior apprehension of such violence especially in cases under the shadow of the Maoist issue, and in light of the medical examination report placed before the Court, we are distressed that no immediate action was initiated against responsible police officials, nor protection ensured for Soni Sori, until the next date of, hearing.
After all, it is only the Court, that can insulate a victim of sexual custodial assault from her oppressors, particularly when serious charges have been made against the senior police officer. It is only the Court that could have ensured that she is not made more vulnerable after she has spoken out about this torture, despite threats to her person and family. It is only the Court that can send out a clear signal that the rights of citizens will be protected, and that when the police abuses its powers, the judiciary will not stand by in silence. It is only the Court that can ensure that Chhattisgarh police will abide by the rule of law and if they violate the rights of citizens, they too will be held legally accountable and punished.
That Soni Sori has suffered custodial violence at the hands of the Chhattisgarh Police, in spite of the attention of the Court, the national media and the explicit orders of the Delhi High Court to ensure her safety, is extremely worrisome. It points towards a dangerous and flagrant contempt for law by the police in Chhattisgarh.
We hope that the Supreme Court will ensure that justice is finally done to this tribal undertrial woman and will set precedent to provide effective protection to the legal and human rights enshrined in the Constitution of India, especially for those placed in such vulnerable conditions.
Professor (Retd) Uma Chakravarti
Advocate Vrinda Grover
Professor (Retd) Anand Chakravarti
Professor Mohan Rao
Saheli Women’s Resource Centre, Delhi
Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression, a national network
Please send your signatures to Manasi Pingle (manac.p@ gmail.com)