“Arrest Ankit Garg, Release Soni Sori”, “Attn: Ms. President, Mr. Prime Minister, Chattisgarh state, NHRC, Stop Torture of Soni Sori” - These were among the slogans from nearly 20 Karnataka based human rights organizations to the Government of India in support of Soni Sori, a 35 year old adivasi school teacher who has been incarcerated in Chattisgarh police custody since October 2011 despite medical evidence revealing their brutal custodial torture, electrocution, beating, and sexual assault on her, shoving stones into her private parts. Around 100 persons gathered at 6 pm on 24th March 2012 in front of Town Hall in Bangalore to appeal for the immediate transfer of Soni Sori out of Chhattisgarh police custody and her speedy trial. Expressing solidarity with Soni Sori, the people also demanded the arrest of Ankit Garg, Superintendent of Police, Dantewada under whose supervision Soni Sori was subject to verbal and sexual assault in jail. They join people across the country in condemning the award of the Police Gallantry medal to Garg on Republic Day, 2012.
The protesters angrily burned an effigy of Ankit Garg, shouting slogans shaming him, and held a candlelight vigil for justice for Soni Sori. The brutality of police torture was also depicted by protesters masquerading as police and victims, while protesters held up signs condemning the functioning of the criminal justice system and asking for the freedom of adivasi journalists Lingaram Kodopi of Chhattisgarh and Vittala Malekudiya of Karnataka and many other political prisoners such as Manish Kunjam. Venkatesh of Dalit Bahujan Chaluvali, Manohar of SICHREM, and transgender political activists Charu of LesBiT and Veena of Praja Rajya Vedike spoke about the several ways in which the police system and false charges have been used to routinely detain and torture human rights activists and members of the adivasi, dalit, muslim and transgender communities in Karnataka. Comrade Balan of AITUC, Com. Nagaragere Ramesh of PDF, Com. Vishwa of New Socialist Alternative, Arati of PUCL and Pushpa of WSS stirred the crowd into thinking about whether the government today has prioritized the care and protection of its own citizens, or instead persecuted citizens for the benefit of exploitative private corporations. As the rousing songs of Dalitha Mattu Mahila Chaluvali questioned the freedom we have attained in more than 60 years of independence, members of the crowd signed a banner with messages to the President of India to ensure justice for Soni Sori.
Soni Sori's Supporters' Demands
- Immediately transfer Soni Sori out of the custody of Chhattisgarh police and ensure the provision of appropriate health care to Soni Sori without police interference.
- Set up an independent investigation into the conduct of Chhattisgarh law enforcement officials in the custodial sexual assault and torture of Soni Sori, and the immediate suspension of the responsible officers and prosecution under the PoA Act pending this inquiry
- Ensure the speedy completion of trial of Soni Sori, Lingaram Kodopi, Manish Kunjam and countless others so that they do not languish for years in custody when their guilt has not been proven.
- Show public proof of the good health and safety of Lingaram Kodopi and other prisoners in Chhattisgarh police custody.
- Set up a high-level independent investigation team to look at the condition of prisoners, especially women, including in the state of Chhattisgarh, to determine whether other women may have been subjected to torture and other ill-treatment, and investigate the reality of prisoners’ access to health care.
- Enact the Prevention of Torture Bill and remove the need for prior state authorization to initiate criminal action against the officials implicated in custodial torture. Ratify the Convention on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
- Ensure that the latest central government grants to states to set up police stations in Maoist areas include support for independent
monitoring of detention facilities including station lockups and jails by human rights commissions and civil society groups. Consider
requiring police to videotape interrogations, especially in police stations in Naxalite areas and train police on proper conduct toward women in custody.
- End the use of custodial torture, lengthy custodial holding on false charges, and constant police harassment as tools of repression against the adivasi and other residents of Chhattisgarh.
LesBiT, SICHREM, New Socialist Alternative (CWI-India), People's Solidarity Concerns, Women against Sexual Violence and State Repression: WSS-Karnataka, PUCL-Bangalore, Peoples' Democratic Forum, Dalitha Mattu Mahila Chaluvali, Concern (IISc), Maraa, Dalit Bahujana Chaluvali, Samanata Mahila Vedike, Vimochana, Sangama, Samara, Pedipics, Alternative Law Forum (ALF)
- Pushpa Achanta