Hello Bastar: Soni Sori and the lonely fight

By Bhavini Srivastava

Soni Sori has emerged stronger, from having been a victim of custodial violence and sexual assault, to being an Aam Aadmi Party leader. In 2011, she was taken into custody by Delhi Police Crime Branch under false charges of acting as a conduit to Maoists. She was then transferred to the Chattisgarh Police Branch despite raising concerns regarding her safety. By 2013, all the charges against her were dropped but the incarceration etched an indelible scar of horror for a lifetime.

Instead of being crestfallen by these gruesome attacks, she was more emboldened to fight against the scourge of corruption and violence plaguing the state. “There is no fear. I cannot sit silent and turn a blind eye,” she said confidently in an interview.

Hello Bastar

Nestled in central India, Bastar is a heavily forested district in the state of Chattisgarh. Browbeaten by Naxals and oppressed by Salwa Judum, the farcical anti-insurgency militia declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2011 but still gallivanting in other forms, Bastar is in a sorry state of affairs.

Malini Subramanium, the Iron Lady of journalism | Photo Courtesy: Techfacts

Apart from corruption and inhuman atrocities, the situation in Bastar reeks of deeply embedded misogyny. Malini Subramaniam, a journalist for Scroll, was forced to leave the State in the past. Police officials regularly hounded Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group, a team of four women who conduct legal research and provide legal aid in the Naxal-hit area of Chattisgarh. Having no place to carry out their work, they were compelled to leave Jagdalpur when their frightened landlord evicted them. Bela Bhatia, a female scholar and social activist, recently fell prey to this iniquity when she was threatened for probing into sexual violence against Adivasi women.

Good riddance from Kalluri

In 2016, a corrosive chemical was splashed in her face for hardening her stance against police excesses and human rights violations by the lackeys of Bastar IG, SRP Kalluri. At a press conference, wearing the mutilation of the attack, Sori said, “My face today is the face of the fight in Bastar, the condition is the same”.

In February, the Chattisgarh Government tried to get back the reins by respectfully asking Kalluri to go on a “long leave”. During his tenure, Kalluri ruled like an unanswerable tyrant who muffled the cries of the poor and powerless. Whoever tried to raise any voice against the wrongdoings within his jurisdiction got the infamous tag of “Safedposh Naxali” (white-collar Naxalites).

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) intervened to investigate the escalation against Kalluri and it was concluded that he was acting in collusion with the local goons.

Kalluri’s conduct during Bela Bhatia’s harassment was questionable and showed that he was indeed unsuitable to hold a post of such high stature and integrity. Hence, his dismissal was a step in the right direction. But the future of Bastar still hangs in improbability as the replacement, DIG Sundaraj, may only be a temporary emollient.

Unfazed by hurdles

At a social gathering, Soni stated defiantly, “Police can go to villages and threaten to rape women, claiming that they have the government’s backing.”

[su_pullquote align=”right”]She has received the NHRC and Human Rights Watch’s unwavering attention on Bastar through her tireless strife.[/su_pullquote]

Sori is a true hero, who is undaunted by the threats posed to her and is going from strength to strength. She has received the NHRC and Human Rights Watch’s unwavering attention on Bastar through her tireless strife. Recently, she has also taken up the case of Hidma’s custodial death, a case in which she has had to face incessant hurdles to unravel the truth and seek justice.

She makes concerted efforts to bring greater clarity on the awful occurrences in Bastar by speaking emphatically at conferences and colleges to galvanize the youth. Instances of brutality spring from every nook and cranny of the State ? fake encounters, sexual violence, unimaginable subjugation and tyranny inflicted under the lordliness of police officials.

Featured image source: BBC News
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