Pebbles were shoved up her private parts. Forgive me for beginning this piece with this new gruesome fact about Soni Sori’s ongoing custodial ordeal in the dark and immoral jungles of Dantewada, but did we ever hear of the colonial British doing this to their political prisoners in India or to people who protested against their policies and defied their regime, even violently, like Bhagat Singh and many other revolutionaries? The British did indeed execute them. The colonial police did also excel in third-degree methods. True, there is a lot of literature about political repression by the British Raj in India. But I do not recall instances of the kind of brutality Soni has been subjected to by the Chhattisgarh police.
The brutality unleashed on Soni isn’t just an allegation hurled by supposedly alarmist human rights wallahs said to be acting as fronts for various extremists. It was reported by doctors of a government hospital in Calcutta, examining her under the Supreme Court’s orders for signs of torture. They have extricated these pebbles and sent them in a bag to the apex court.
Though the Supreme Court has shifted Soni from the Dantewada prison to the Raipur jail and asked the Chhattisgarh government for an explanation, it has not given Sori what she has sought: the protection of a prison outside the state. It has also given Chhattisgarh an extraordinarily long time to file a reply. The next date for hearing is January 23. By then, the Chhattisgarh police might file a chargesheet against Soni with dubious charges in dubious cases pending against her and unduly obfuscate the question of brutal custodial torture.
It’s to guard against such vulnerability of victims of grave human rights violations that the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) stipulates that responses related to matters of life and liberty should be swift, just as responses to RTI queries are meant to be. Such sensitivity is normally expected of the judiciary, but the prevalent paranoia in the name of security most often overrides sensitivity to human dignity, rights and fair jurisprudence.
The British had more reasons to feel insecure from foreign subjects they subjugated by force and wile. But if the independent Indian state feels so much more insecure from its own people as to exceed the British in torture and repression, it needs to seriously ponder about its alienation from its own people. Though labelled and booked as a Maoist supporter by the Chhattisgarh police, Soni’s tragedy, as pointed out in a previous column of mine, is that her family members have suffered Maoist violence too.
She has invited police ire because she has refused to toe their “either with us or against us” line, has spoken up for tribals caught in the State forces-rebel crossfire, and fought within the system, through the judiciary, for an innocent nephew hounded by the police as she is being hounded now. Soni comes from an area of violent conflict even though she has fought for justice non-violently and within the system. So a particular kind of received wisdom, though dubious it is, might try to explain her ordeal away as collateral human damage from action required of the state in a region of violent conflict. But if we take the case of Abhay Sahoo, the leader of the peaceful anti-Posco agitation, we realise that it’s a deeper malaise that plagues the moral political compass of our system. Again, recalling repressive British responses to political challenge would be in order to explain the rot in our system. Did you hear of the British implicating their political challengers in false criminal cases far removed from their line of political action? I don’t think our freedom fighters were implicated in rape or robbery cases. True, they were booked and jailed, but for laws they violated in the course of political activity—of non-violent or violent kinds. But Sahoo was arrested on November 25 in independent India by a morally challenged system for alleged crimes not in line with his political activism. He was arrested for committing “atrocities against the Dalits”, including sexual assault and robbery. The police have failed to produce the case diary in two successive bail hearings—indicating dilatory tactics in the absence of plausible evidence. As if this isn’t enough, a pending dowry case has been kept hanging on Sahoo’s head, wherein he is supposed to have instigated a husband to kill his wife for dowry. It’s a strange constitutional democracy we are in. The ruling elite is so paranoid about real democracy that it abandons all its pretensions of ruling for the people, settling instead for a cynical game of musical chairs in power-sharing. No wonder, as Kapil Sibal’s recent pronouncements indicate, it’s paranoid about a new media it hasn’t figured out how to control or coopt—social networking sites and the like.