TWO DAYS of intense interrogation, head and back injuries in custody, feet chained to a hospital bed and now a hunger strike — these are the latest flashpoints in the life of Soni Sori, a tribal schoolteacher from Jabeli, Chhattisgarh. The 35-year-old is accused of attacking a Congress leader, bombing a tehsil office and being a Naxal associate. Sori has denied all the charges.
Last month, after being fired upon by the police, Sori fled her home. On 7 October, she was arrested in Delhi. Last week, TEHELKA’S cover story detailed the case against Sori and her nephew Lingaram Kodopi, showing how both innocents are caught in the crossfire between the Maoists and the State (The Inconvenient Truth of Soni Sori, by Shoma Chaudhury).
Sori’s lawyer KK Dubey has confirmed that she has decided to go on a hunger strike. “I heard her telling the media at Jagdalpur hospital that she hasn’t eaten anything and refuses to eat,” he said.
“Both her feet were shackled to the hospital bed,” added junior lawyer Xitiz Dubey. “One of the reasons for her hunger strike is to protest being chained. How can she be chained to a bed without a court order? When mediapersons reached the hospital, the police unchained her before letting them in. But Sori did not break her fast fearing the police will chain her again.”
Social activist Himanshu Kumar, who has been helping Sori’s fight, is planning to fast as well. “I will begin an indefinite fast against the false implication of Soni and Linga. I appeal to all those who support the tribal cause to join in the fast,” he told TEHELKA.
This is how the story unfolded last week: After her arrest, Sori’s lawyers appealed in a Delhi sessions court against her transfer to Chhattisgarh, fearing her safety. Detailing her own fear, Sori wrote a letter to the judge.
“Judge Sahib, I had come to Delhi with a purpose,” she wrote. “Had I committed any crime, I would have never come here. Because truth was with me, I wanted to present the truth before the Supreme Court. I request you to not send me back to Chhattisgarh. The state police will cook up some case against me and kill me. My case should be heard in the apex court.”
On 7 October, the court rejected the appeal and allowed the Chhattisgarh Police two days to question her. Back in Chhattisgarh, she was taken into custody. On 10 October, after 48 hours of interrogation, Sori was scheduled to appear before a magistrate. That same morning, she was admitted to a hospital in Dantewada with injuries.
Social activist Himanshu Kumar will also fast to show solidarity with Soni Sori
The police claim that she slipped in the bathroom at the police station. “There were contusions on the right side of her head. It seemed to be inflicted by some hard object. She also experienced severe back pain,” said Dr RN Gangesh, senior medical officer at Dantewada hospital.
“She told me she was mentally tortured from interrogation and collapsed on her own,” says Dubey. Since most of Sori’s statements have been made in police presence, it remains unclear whether she was physically tortured.
Later on 10 October, Sori was taken from the hospital to the court premises. But in a violation of court procedure, the magistrate did not verify her condition personally. In fact, lawyers have confirmed that Sori’s statement was recorded from the police jeep by a court clerk.
After her court visit, the magistrate transferred Sori to judicial custody until 17 October. At the time of going to press, Sori had been shifted from Jagdalpur to Ambedkar Hospital in Raipur to undergo a CT scan. Once discharged, she will be sent to Jagdalpur jail. It remains unclear whether she will continue her fast from jail.
Meanwhile, Sori’s lawyers in Delhi have filed two petitions in the Supreme Court and Delhi High Court demanding all her cases be transferred out of Chhattisgarh and handed to an independent SIT. The Delhi High Court has asked the Chhattisgarh government for an assurance on Sori’s safety. It has until 14 October to respond.
Tusha Mittal is a Principal Correspondent with Tehelka.