A Big thank you from SONI SORI on thousands of post cards she has received , and she says-
Whenever I am Heartbroken I take out each post Card and read it. They give me strength and empower me to Fight
Mantralaya, D.K.S. Bhavan,
Raipur, Chhattisgarh 492001
Subject: Please stop continued harassment of Soni Sori through “psychiatric evaluAtion”
Honourable Chief Minister Raman Singh,
We, the undersigned, are shocked to learn from Soni Sori’s lawyers that she is being
subjected to a psychiatric evaluation by the Chhattisgarh government in Central Jail,
Jagdalpur. This is a devious attempt to declare her mentally unsound and create doubts
about the veracity of her complaints of sexual torture in police custody and subsequent
harassment in jail. We strongly protest this move by the Chhattisgarh government.
As you may remember, teams from both the National Human Rights Commission and the
National Commission of Women had visited Raipur Central Jail in November and
December 2012, following complaints of ill-treatment of Soni Sori and other women
Following this visit, the NHRC has confirmed that “Soni Sori has on several occasions
been singled out for harsh and humiliating ill-treatment” and has been subjected to
“traumatic ordeals and odious practices” while in Central Jail, Raipur. While the official
report of the NCW visit is still pending, the observation of the visiting NCW member, Ms
Shamina Shafiq, that Soni Sori needed “psychological counselling” in order to cope with
her traumatic experience of sexual abuse in police custody, was extensively covered in
the media. However, Ms Annie Raja of NFIW, who was also part of the NCW team
visiting the Raipur jail, had rebutted this observation and clarified that “Soni Sori had
been very articulate in her meeting with the NCW, and presented her case sharply and
precisely. More than counselling, Soni Sori needs justice.”
It appears that your government has taken the casual remark made by Ms Shamina
Shafiq, stripped of all context, and used it as a basis to order the jail authorities to
administer a psychiatric evaluation of Soni Sori. In a meeting with women’s rights
activists in March 2013, Ms. Shafiq expressed her outrage that her sympathetic remark
regarding Soni Sori was being turned on its head by your government to Soni Sori’s
It needs to be recalled that following her custodial torture in October 2011, Soni Sori was
denied proper medical examination and treatment in Chhattisgarh. The medical
authorities in Raipur, instead of investigating Soni Sori’s injuries due to sexual torture,
labelled her a malingerer (a person feigning illness), entirely dismissing her extensive
injuries. It was only when Soni Sori was taken to Kolkata under the orders of the
Supreme Court that stones thrust into her private parts came to light. Later on, Soni’s
entreatments for medical attention fell on deaf ears in Raipur jail, as she continued to
suffer from medical complications arising from her sexual torture. It took another order
of the Hon’ble Supreme Court to bring Soni to AIIMS in Delhi, where she was finally
given adequate medical treatment and nursed back to health.
In view of the sheer neglect and ill treatment of Soni Sori on earlier occasions, this
“psychiatric evaluation” based upon a third person’s remarks is not indicative of any
sudden concern for Soni Sori’s welfare and mental health, but of malafide intentions of
the government. We are well aware that your government has still not taken cognizance
of the complaint of sexual torture that Soni made against the then SP of Dantewada,
Ankit Garg, a year and a half ago, and has consistently ignored her complaints of
harassment by jail authorities. The colossal indifference of your government to the
grave issue of her complaints of custodial sexual violence has gone to the extent of
recommending Garg for a President’s Gallantry Award In January 2012. Hence, this
sudden and prompt concern for Soni’s mental well-being seems rather disingenuous and
Indeed, this “psychiatric evaluation” appears to be a sinister ploy by the Chhattisgarh
government to discredit Soni’s serious and genuine complaints against the police and jail
authorities for her sexual torture (confirmed by doctors of NRS Hospital, Kolkata) and
harassment and denial of human rights of prisoners in Raipur jails (verified by NHRC).
Apart from attacking Soni Sori’s credibility as a reliable witness, such a psychiatric
evaluation can also serve as a basis for locking her away in a mental health institution for
an indefinite period of time and avoid taking action against the police officials involved
in her torture.
We demand that the Chhattisgarh government immediately quash further proceedings in
this “psychiatric evaluation” and instead take sincere and honest steps to redress Ms.
Soni’s genuine greivances of sexual torture and ill-treatment.
We wish to re-iterate what
Ms Annie Raja has already stated – what Soni Sori needs is respect, dignity and
justice, and not a psychiatric evaluation for demanding her rights.
All India Progressive Women’s Assocation (AIPWA)
Citizens’ Collective against Sexual Assault
National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW)
Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS)
National Commission of Women (NCW) and Chhattisgarh Government need to take responsibility for the current situation
11.4.2013, New Delhi
Several women’s groups today slammed the Chhattisgarh government for its continuing
harassment of the adivasi teacher, Soni Sori, imprisoned in its jails for the past 19 months
since October 2011. Soni Sori, who complained of brutal sexual torture at the hands of
Chhattisgarh police (later confirmed by an independent medical examination by doctors
in Kolkata), is now being subjected to a psychiatric examination by the government in
Jagdalpur Central Jail where she is currently lodged.
In December 2012, an NCW team conducted a jail visit to Raipur Central Jail and met
her in custody. While the NCW report of the visit is still pending, a stray remark made by
the NCW member, Ms. Shamina Shafiq, that Soni Sori needed psychological counselling
to cope with her traumatic experiences in police custody seems to have provided the
Chhattisgarh government the pretext to carry out a full-fledged psychiatric evaluation on
her, with the potential of declaring her mentally unsound and incompetent.
Women’s rights’ activists in the Capital condemned this move by the state government.
Declaring her “mentally unsound” is a disturbing attempt to silence Soni’s voice and cast
doubts on her complaints of sexual torture and ill treatment in jail.
An open letter to the Chief Minister Raman Singh was released today by concerned
women’s organisations demanding that further proceedings in the “psychiatric
evaluation” be immediately quashed. Calling this “a sinister ploy” by the Chhattisgarh
government to discredit Soni’s serious and genuine complaints against the police and jail
authorities for her sexual torture and harassment in Raipur jail, the letter expressed fears
that such an evaluation would be used to attack her credibility as a reliable witness. It
could also serve as a basis for locking her away in a mental health institution for an
indefinite period of time and avoid taking action against the police officials involved in
her torture. This comes at a crucial time when Soni is being acquitted in the various cases
foisted on her; so far, charges in four of the eight cases have been dropped against her.
Ms. Annie Raja, General Secretary of National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW),
who was also part of the NCW team visiting the jail, pointed out that the particular
remark by Ms. Shafiq was not an opinion shared by the entire team and hence does not
have the legitimacy of a formal observation made by the team. Ms. Raja clarified that she
did not think that Soni Sori needed psychological counselling and in the meeting with the
NCW team, she came across as an articulate and aware woman who presented her case
lucidly and sharply. “What Soni needs is justice, not psychological counselling,” Ms.
It was pointed out that after Soni Sori was sexually tortured in police custody in October
2011, the medical authorities in Raipur had dismissed her extensive injuries and labelled
her a malingerer (a person feigning illness). It was only when she was taken to Kolkata
for an independent medical examination under the orders of the Supreme Court that
stones thrust into her private parts during her torture came to light. Following this
investigation, Soni was denied medical attention in Raipur jail, as she continued to suffer
from medical complications arising from her sexual torture. It took another order of the
Supreme Court to bring her to AIIMS, Delhi, where she was finally given adequate
medical treatment and nursed back to health.
“In view of the sheer neglect and ill treatment of Soni Sori on earlier occasions, this
‘psychiatric evaluation’ based upon a third person’s remarks is not indicative of any
sudden concern for her welfare and mental health, but of
malafide intentions of the
government,” reads the open letter to Raman Singh. Noting that the state government has
still not taken cognizance of Soni’s complaint of sexual torture against the then SP of
Dantewada, Ankit Garg, a year and a half ago, the letter called “this sudden and prompt
concern for Soni’s mental well-being” a little disingenuous. The letter also observed that
the visit by the NHRC team to the Raipur jail in November 2012 had indeed confirmed
that “Soni Sori has on several occasions been singled out for harsh and humiliating illtreatment”
and has been subjected to “traumatic ordeals and odious practices” in jail.
Picking up the “suitable” aspect of NCW’s comments and ignoring the findings of the
NHRC makes it clear that Soni’s torture and the attempts to break her down had the
sanction of the highest state authorities.
Women’s groups also denounced the inordinate delay of more than 4 months by the
NCW for making public their findings of the Raipur jail visit. It should be recalled that
the NCW visit to the Raipur Jail was made only at the insistence of various women’s
groups that had, in October 2012, stormed the NCW office in frustration at the
Commission’s inaction in the Soni Sori case. Post the Raipur jail visit, in a meeting with
representatives of women’s groups in March 2013, the NCW member, Ms. Shamina
Shafiq, expressed her dismay at the turn of events with the Chhattisgarh government, and
said that she would immediately take up the matter with the jail authorities in Jagdalpur.
However, more than two weeks later, women’s groups have no information about the
progress on the case. Activists demanded to know the reason for this delay.
Instead of helping Soni Sori and other jail inmates get justice, this visit seems to have
only backfired and created more problems. The organisations demanded to know when
the NCW will step in to stop further victimisation of Soni and release their report that
will clarify the context in which the NCW’s observations were made.
All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA); All India Progressive Women’s
Association (AIPWA); Citizens’ Collective against Sexual Assault; Jagori; National
Federation of Indian Women (NFIW); Saheli; Women Against Sexual Violence and State
DNA, March 8, 2013
Soni Sori, a young adivasi teacher from Chhattisgarh, has been in police custody since October 2011. She was arrested in Delhi on October 4, 2011 and charged with being a conduit between the Essar Group and Maoists. She was taken to the Dantewada police station, where she was allegedly raped and tortured with stones inserted into her vagina and rectum.
Suppressing the voice
Sori has been outspoken while questioning human rights violations by police and security forces in Chhattisgarh. “The Chhattisgarh government wants adivasis to stop organising, agitating or protesting abuse of human rights,” Himanshu Kumar, member of People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) said.
“Once labelled Maoists, terrorists or something equally convenient the system finds it easy to go after them,” says Kamayani Bali Mahabal
Roll of shame
Dantewada SP Ankit Garg who Soni Sori has named as responsible for the sexual torture was presented the President’s gallantry award this Republic Day. He says the allegations made against him are all false. “Her Maoist mentors in Delhi and Mumbai are making her say all this… They are using her to gain mileage.”
Fight for her
Protest against sexual crimes has been on the rise, but Soni Sori’s story does not find any place inmedia and public discussion on legislation against sexual violence. “This is what we’ll address with the ‘One Billion Rising For Soni Sori’ today,” says human rights activist Kamayani Bali Mahabal.
SUVOJIT BAGCHI, The Hindu , may 30, 2013
Tribal schoolteacher Soni Sori has been granted bail by a court in south Chhattisgarh in one of the eight cases filed against her.
She has already been acquitted in six cases, her lawyer K.K. Dubey told The Hindu.
Recently, she was awarded bail in the case.
“She could not be acquitted like in other cases as the witnesses did not appear,” said Mr. Dubey.
Earlier this month, Ms. Sori and her relative, activist-journalist Lingaram Kodopi, were acquitted in the Avdesh Gautam case.
They were accused of planning and executing an attack on a local Congress leader and contractor Avdesh Gautam in which two persons were killed. Thirteen other co-accused, including Congress leader Vijay Sodi, CPI leader Lala Ram Kunjam and a panchayat member of Dantewada, Sannuram Mandawi, were also acquitted and released for want of evidence by a Dantewada court.
The only case pending against Ms. Sori and Mr. Kodopi is the controversial Essar Steel case. They have been accused of arranging “protection money” on behalf of the company to Maoists. The main accused, D.V.C.S Verma, general manager at an Essar steel plant, and B.K. Lala, Essar contractor, were arrested for allegedly disbursing the money.
While Ms. Sori and Mr. Kodopi are in jail, like thousands of undertrial tribal people of south Chhattisgarh, Mr. Verma and Mr. Lala had been granted bail.
The charge sheet has been presented to Dantewada district and sessions judge Anita Dehariya. Charges will be framed by the court sometime in June.
“I hope after this bail and previous acquittal it will not be a problem to get a speedy trial and hopefully acquittal in all cases,” said Mr. Dubey.
While Ms. Sori and Mr. Kodopi’s cases were defended by a team of lawyers and monitored by the press, national and international rights groups, there are close to 2,000 cases in which tribal people have been languishing in jail since two to seven years.
“I once tried to put the number of cases together and it was over 600 only in the Dantewada court. It must have crossed 800 now,” said senior advocate Ashok Jain. Majority of these tribal people do not speak any other language than Gondi, have little or no money to pay a fee, have no national or international rights group to defend their cases and have been booked for allegedly participating in Naxal activities.
In private conversation, top bureaucrats, politicians and lawyers acknowledge that a majority of these cases do not merit a trial in higher courts. “This is a tragedy for a democracy,” said Mr. Jain.
In an interview to The Hindu earlier this week, Chief Minister Raman Singh acknowledged that a “huge number of cases” were pending in various district courts.
SUVOJIT BAGCHI, The Hindu, May 1, 2013
Soni Sori, the tribal school teacher accused of acting as a courier between Essar Steel and the outlawed Communist Party of India (Maoist), and Lingaram Kodopi, the activist-journalist trained in Delhi, have been acquitted in one more crucial case by Dantewada court.
The case filed in 2010 by Dantewada police alleged that Ms Sori and Lingaram Kodopi are among several others involved in planning and executing an attack on local Congress leader, Avdesh Singh Gautam, in which two persons were killed.
15 others, including activists of various mainstream political parties, who were booked with Ms Sori were also acquitted. Congress leader Vijay Sodi, CPI leader Lala Ram Kunjam and a Panchayat member of Dantewada, Sannuram Mandawi are among the accused who got acquitted on Wednesday.
Soni Sori has now been acquitted in six out of eight cases filed against her.
A FIR filed in Kuakonda police station in Dantewada court said that on 7 July, 2010 midnight, more than 150 Maoist soldiers attacked local Congress leader and contractor Avdesh Singh Gautam’s house. Mr Gautam’s brother in law, Sanjay Singh and house attendant Dharmendra were killed, while his son and a guard were injured.
17 accused, including Ms Sori and Mr Kodopi, were present at the scene of crime, said Mr Gautam, according to the FIR. On basis of available evidences and witness’ statements several charges were brought against the accused under Indian Penal Code, Arms Act and Explosive Substance Act which includes criminal conspiracy, rioting, arson causing death, and attempt to murder, besides a host of other allegations.
“Due to lack of enough and proper evidence additional sessions Judge Anita Dehariya acquitted Soni Sori, Lingaram Kodopi and others,” said Ms Sori’s lawyer in Dantewada K K Dubey on phone.
In February, this year, Ms. Sori was acquitted in two other cases. One in which, she was accused to have opened fire and used explosives to blow up vehicles of Essar Steel. In another, she was accused of firing on police near Essar Beneficiation Plant in Kirandul. “Witnesses could not confirm her involvement,” Mr. Dubey told The Hindu earlier. Last year, Ms. Sori was acquitted in two more cases.
Two more cases against Ms Sori are still in court. One of the allegations, pending in Bacheli court, accused Ms Sori of torching several vehicles. In the other case – the most crucial one – pending in Dantewada court, it is alleged that Ms Sori and Mr Kodopi were planning to hand over “protection money” from Essar Steel to the Maoists. D.V.C.S. Verma, the general manager at an Essar steel plant, and B.K. Lala, one of Essar’s contractors, were arrested in the same case, allegedly for disbursing money. According to police, Mr. Kodopi and Ms. Sori were carrying the money to the rebels. While Ms Sori and Mr Kodopi are languishing in jail, like thousands of tribal under trials (UTs) of south Chhattisgarh, two of their co-accused, Mr Verma and Mr Lala, got bail soon within months after the arrest.
90 per cent cases against tribals are concocted
Ashok Jain, a senior lawyer of Dantewada, representing some of the accused, who got acquitted with Ms Sori, said Wednesday’s judgement proves how tribals are detained under “false charges.”
“These tribals are detained under completely concocted charges, at least most of them. Their families get ruined as they spend several years as undertrials. Whenever the cases are followed well, like the case of Soni Sori, the accused gets acquitted,” Mr Jain said.
A battery of lawyers representing the high profile case of Ms Sori and other accused feel, while the case of Soni Sori or Dr Binayak Sen got enough “attention from all quarters,” cases of thousands of undertrial tribals are getting “absolutely no attention from media or civil society.”
“Most of these cases are so flimsy that higher courts may not even admit those or the accused will get bail within hours of admission. But lack of financial and people’s support, keep these tribals behind bars for years,” said one of the lawyers. “How can a poor tribal be arrested for just being a resident of an area controlled by the Maoists or sharing a lunch with the rebels, possibly under duress,” said another lawyer.
Ms Sori’s lawyers, however, sounded optimistic and said they have moved a bail petition in Chhattisgarh High Court. “I hope, Ms Sori and others will get bail soon after this acquittal in a crucial case,” said Mr Dubey.
Police in the Indian Union often organizes local football tournaments. A smiling lion of a man handing a cup to some sweat-soaked youths. In other nations where police atrocities happen less frequently, the police organize fewer football tournaments.
The Justice Verma commission, set up in the aftermath of the Delhi rape-murder case, invited views from the public. It received many inputs from many quarters on their own. Not a single Director General of Police responded to the commission’s notice. They were probably giving prizes at football tournaments. Image building becomes important when it fails to protect the rights of common people.
But I am dirty-minded enough to suspect that there is more to this ‘failing’. Let me ask — which domestic organization, getting monthly salaries and occasional bravery medals, happens to employ the largest number of alleged rapists and serial abusers? Hint: they also fight against ‘vices’ by extracting money from sex-workers of all genders after raping them. The ‘rule of law’ comes down hard when certain lines are crossed, so I will not answer the question. Are you thinking what I am thinking?
This punyabhumi is choc-a-bloc full of men and women whose sensitivities are bruised by the ‘non-desi’ concept of a sexual woman — in paint, on screen, in public. Stones are the weapon of choice of these people against this anti-national evil. Where do these stones go after national duty like attacking artists is done? Since every inch of the land is punyabhumi, the stones also carry heavenly qualities. The national fervour that is embedded in every such piece of stone does not decay with time like radioactivity. The stones continue their holy duty by marching forward to Chhattisgarh.
Some of the stones made their way into the vagina and the rectum of one Soni Sori, held by Chhattisgarh police for 8 cases. In spite of the stones that were inserted deep inside her vagina and rectum, the police could not prove the charges in 4 out of 8 cases. The other four are going on. The patriotic stones might have continued to torment an adivasi woman like Sori unless her medical examination was shifted out of Chhattisgarh to less godly Kolkata. Sori has also alleged that she has been repeatedly raped. But some of the prime witnesses, the patriotic stones, have been removed by the Kolkata doctors.
Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose of Kolkata, in his later years, started finding ‘the living response’ in many inorganic matters, including rocks. Nothing short of the expertise of that departed soul can help make sense of the testimony of the stones. Till such time, Sori’s rape will remain ‘alleged’.
The charges against Sori that were proven false in court included very specific things like opening fire and using explosives to blast the vehicles of Essar Steel, attacking the police at Kirandul and blowing up a police station. If the state were a person that conjured such crimes from thin air, concerns about mental health would arise. If the state deliberately made up these cases, then it is sociopathic. Last week, the state, after failing to prove charges against Sori (incidentally, a school-teacher), has started an enquiry to ascertain whether she should be sent to the mental asylum in Agra.
Let’s concentrate on the football tournament instead. SP saheb has already arrived for the prize distribution ceremony. I think we should all stand up, clap and smile because our culture teaches us that we should be respectful to elders, especially those who win gallantry medals. Brown women need not fear — too many lions of Bharatmata are protecting them in every street.
The writer is a scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
SUVOJIT BAGCHI, The Hindu
Several national women’s organisations in Delhi decried psychiatric examination conducted on Ms. Sori recently in Jagdalpur jail where she is currently lodged. In a joint statement, seven women’s organisations said that in December 2012, a team of National Commission of Women (NCW) conducted a jail visit here and met Ms. Sori in custody.
“While the NCW report of the visit is still pending, a stray remark made by NCW member Shamina Shafiq, that Ms. Sori needed psychological counselling seems to have provided the Chhattisgarh government the pretext to carry out a full-fledged psychiatric evaluation on her, with the potential of declaring her mentally unsound,” the organisations said in a joint statement. Annie Raja, general secretary of National Federation of Indian Women, who was also part of the NCW team visiting the jail, pointed out that Ms. Shafiq’s remark was not an opinion shared by the entire team and hence, does not have the legitimacy of a formal observation. Hence, in a letter to Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh, the organisations demanded quashing of further proceedings in “psychiatric evaluation” and initiate steps to redress Ms. Sori’s genuine grievances of “sexual torture and ill-treatment.”
Another statement issued by the NHRC a day after the statement made by the women’s organisation, however, gave a clean chit to the Chhattisgarh government. The NHRC sent a two-member team to Jagdalpur jail on April 10 to “meet her to know her condition.”
“Ms. Sori informed the team that she has been treated better since the NHRC’s last visit,” the statement said. The Commission expressed “hope that the jail authorities would continue to give proper treatment to Ms. Sori.” A.G. Balakrishnan, chief of the Commission Justice, read out the statement here.
While the NHRC’s maiden ‘full commission’ in Chhattisgarh ended in a damp squib on Friday, the Commission took up certain matters and asked the government for a follow-up report. For example, in the case of 7,000 allegedly fake hysterectomies under the Centre’s insurance scheme Rashtriya Sam Vikas Yojana (RSVY), the Commission has asked the State government for a detailed report within a month. Hysterectomies, or removal of the uterus, have been carried out in 169 hospitals in Chhattisgarh to claim money under RSVY, according to the Commission’s press statement.
In two cases of fake encounters, mentioned in the press statement, the Commission recommended a compensation of Rs. 5 lakh to the next of kin of the deceased. Those killed in separate police encounters are Kunjami Joga of Kurtrem village of Dantewada and a Naxalite named Ramesh Barumana for “violation of human rights”. Compensation has also been recommended in cases of custodial killing of 25-year-old trial prisoner Kunjami Kosa and Santosh Dahriya. The State government “gracefully agreed” to pay compensation in all the cases, said the statement.
There is no “clean chit” to the Chhattisgarh government.
On 28 July 2012, Soni Sori wrote a letter to the Supreme Court Judge saying that she is being subjected to humiliating treatment inside the Raipur jail:
“Your Honour, at this time, I am in great mental turmoil and suffering. 1. I am being made to sit naked on the ground. 2. I am suffering from hunger 3. Each part of my body is touched as I am searched. I am being labelled as a “traitor” and “naxalite” and tortured. My clothes, soap, detergent have all been confiscated and all kinds of accusations are heaped upon me. All my belongings are searched after I am taken for a hearing.” This formed the basis of an NHRC complaint, and it was to investigate this complaint that the NHRC visited Soni Sori in the Raipur Central Jail on 19 Nov 2012. The visiting NHRC team confirmed that Soni Sori was being mistreated inside the jail. The NHRC’s summary page says:
“The report of the Commission’s team shows that there are grounds to believe that Soni Sori has on several occasions beensingled out for harsh and humiliating ill-treatment. Even as a prisoner, she has a right to personal dignity and the right not to be subjected to physical or psychological abuse. It appears that these rights have sometimes been violated. The Commission expects the Government of Chhattisgarh to ensure that the traumatic ordeals and the odious practices to which Soni Sori has been subjected more than once are immediately stopped and do not recur.”
“The greatest pleasure in life is to defeat your enemies, to chase them before you, to rob them of their wealth, to see those dear to them bathed in tears, to ride their horses, and to ravage their wives and daughters.”
- Genghis Khan, in an address to his courtiers
By: Subhi Safvi, in Tehelka
Wars have been fought since civilization began. These have been for resources, expansion among other reasons. Women have begun to play an active role in wars more recently as they have been recruited in the various militaries of the world. But even before, they had important roles. Women served as nurses, cooks and laundresses. During the Second World War, the Soviet military employed women in many combative positions where they served as aviators and combat soldiers, as well as non-combative ones.
War is a masculine action, one that involves defending women and children and our country- which is almost always considered female. War is about taking charge, feeling strong and powerful, hurting and killing. War demands strength and power, it requires soldiers to go beyond the realm of being mere mortals to perform feats that earn them immortality. Though women have played active roles in many conflicts through the ages, they continue to be perceived as the weaker sex, to be protected by the men in the community. Hollywood’s depiction of the US military, based on actual practices, often shows a loud mouthed officer shouting abuses at fresh recruits. The abuses, while innovative, follow a common pattern. If a soldier performs well at tasks, he or she is considered strong and powerful, like a man. Those unable to perform as well are generally likened to women and homosexuals. These associations are then carried forward to the mind-set of soldiers in active duty. Women are often treated as second class, no matter how worthy they have proved themselves.
According to Amnesty International, in modern warfare, 90% of casualties are civilian; of these 75% are women and children. Women, while regarded as inferior to men in many cultures, are thought to hold the honour of a community. Raping a woman is a method used to destroy the progeny of the family and annihilate a community. It is now included as a tool of genocide and regarded as a war crime.
Rape during Indian wars and conflicts
“Rape, as with all terror-warfare, is not exclusively an attack on the body- it is an attack on the ‘body-politic’. Its goal is not to maim or kill one person but to control an entire socio-political process by crippling it. It is an attack directed equally against personal identity and cultural integrity.”
Though being held accountable for rape or, for that matter, considering rape as a tool of war is recent, instances where rape was used as a weapon of war have been highlighted in other wars and struggles in the recent past. It is reported that 100,000 women were abducted during the India-Pakistan partition and only 10% returned to their homes. These women were raped and tortured as a way of humiliating the enemy and ruining their honour. Muslim men abducted Sikh and Hindu women to later rape them while Sikh and Hindu men abducted and raped Muslim women. The anti-Sikh riot in 1984 showed the same type of brutality. Men were killed and the women were raped. Official figures state that 2,146 people were killed in Delhi and 586 people in other parts of the country.
The Gujarat riots in 2002 saw a similar mob fury. According to an Amnesty International report, close to 300 women were killed by the violent mob. Most of these girls were first stripped naked and forced to parade in front of their families after which they were raped or gang raped.
Areas of conflict within our country like Kashmir, the North East and the Maoist regions, particularly Chhattisgarh have also had several reports of women being raped by the Indian armed forces. A study by an international organisation, ‘Doctors without Borders’, found that the number of victims of rape was close to 10,000. These numbers exceed that of Sierra Leone and Chechnya. Yet these crimes are often unreported as according to the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) the armed force personnel are provided immunity. Under this Act, the army can “Enter and search any premise in order to make such arrests, or to recover any person wrongfully restrained or any arms, ammunition or explosive substances and seize it.”
These powers have been used by several men in the army to rape women that are suspected of harbouring militants or helping them in some other way. Many accounts of the victims have been published by reputed international organisations but the rapists themselves are rarely punished. The militant groups have also been responsible for their share of rapes in Kashmir. Women have been abducted and raped as they are held hostage by rival militant groups, making Kashmiri women doubly vulnerable.
In 2004, the women of Manipur held a protest after the brutal murder of Thangjam Manorama who was taken into custody from her home by the Assam Rifles under suspicion of having links with rebels. Her bullet ridden body was found a few kilometres away from her home, bearing signs of torture. Twelve Manipuri women came out naked, holding a banner saying ‘Indian Army Rape Us’ to protest against the paramilitary forces of the Assam Rifles demanding justice and taking a stand against the many rapes of other girls. Despite the curfew imposed, the protests by the women continued as they wanted the men responsible to be punished.
Chhattisgarh, one of the newer states in India, is home to a violent Naxalite problem. People of the villages face threats from both the police and the Naxals in the region. Women have been detained, raped and tortured when they are suspected of having links with Naxalites.
Soni Sori, from Dantewada, Chhattisgarh, was arrested and raped on allegation of being a messenger between the Essar Group and the Maoists. A hospital in Kolkata found stones in her private parts- which was part of the alleged torture used by the Chhattisgarh police. Other members of the police have been accused of molestation and rape as well.
The report submitted by the Committee on Amendments to Criminal Law headed by Justice Verma has suggested that AFSPA be reviewed and that any gender based violence by the armed forces be punishable under the law. The report was aimed to examine the changes required to the criminal law when it came to sexual violence and had a portion on sexual violence in conflict zones. This report was completed in a month and was monumental since the committee was formed in the wake of the gang rape of a 23 year-old girl inNew Delhi in December 2012.
Reasons for rape during conflicts
“…They stripped a girl naked…she looked scared and lost…three of them held her down. The soldiers told me I should rape her and the others too…“ The recollections of a soldier in Bosnia-Herzegovina who was forced to prove he was a man by his commanding officer, by raping 12 women.
In the wars of the past, the permission to rape women of the conquered community was considered a normal part of war. The lower ranks of the soldiers had some form of enjoying ‘the spoils of war’. It brings with it another feeling of conquest, this time over a woman’s body. Violence of this nature is not just for the sake of sex, it has more deep rooted reasons. These crimes are not committed to claim a woman’s body, but to claim a community.
In groups, men find it necessary to prove their masculinity. In the case of groups, this generally means that men have to prove they are strong, dominant and powerful, especially when it comes to sex. This is a phenomenon that is seen in the civilian population very often, but during a conflict these feelings are elated. They are stretched to dominating the struggle and teaching the opposing side a lesson. This lesson often comes in the form of raping and mutilating women, thereby taking control of the means of reproduction. Raping women and girls is a way for a soldier to prove that he is devoted to the cause and is willing to do whatever it takes to destroy a community.
Rape is used as a violent means to subdue, humiliate and control a population. There are fears among the community because any one of them might be next. Children born of rape are often shunned as well as they are not a part of the community where they live and were conceived from a ‘shameful’ deed. It has often been used as a tool of ethnic cleansing; in this case women are raped in an attempt to eradicate a community, national, ethnic or religious, from an area. Women that have been raped are often scared to go to the authorities. In many cases when they go to file a report they are raped again by the police. Governmental agencies, while aware of these crimes, are hesitant to gather proper data as the survivors are unwilling to report their experiences, and when they are, there are few eye witness reports.
In order to stop the use of rape as a tool of war it is necessary for the world to understand how commonplace it is in conflict zones. There is also a need to hold all perpetrators of this crime to be held accountable and punished. There are many international peacekeeping agencies that have deployed a large number of troops to protect civilians and reduce the fighting in conflict zones, but the sexual violence continues, there should be troops deployed that focus on preventing gender based violence as well. The authorities that are responsible for handling these charges must also be sensitised to the plight of the victims so they are not forced to relive the trauma. The state should also be held responsible to ensure that the victims of these human rights violations receive financial and medical support. Care centres should be set up to counsel these victims along with their families. There should also be more ground level awareness to help the community become more sensitised.
The use of rape as a weapon of war results in long term consequences that are usually ignored. As a part of the community, women play an important part in the reconstruction of a post conflict zone, a task that becomes difficult when they suffer from trauma and/or are ostracised by their families and their community.
Peace becomes difficult to achieve when a large section of society is still stuck in the traumas of the conflict. The long after effects of Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and the violence they face within their families because they were raped makes them unable to take part in the post conflict reconstruction. As their scars serve as a daily reminder of the conflict, it is often difficult for the community to move past these atrocities as well. While there are still people who seem to be ignorant about the prevalence of this tool or about its effects, the international community as a whole has taken this up as a humanitarian crisis that must be resolved. With the increasing number of conflicts in the world there is little room left for the victimisation of females.
New Delhi – After learning from Soni Sori’s lawyers that she is being subjected to a psychiatric evaluation by the Chhattisgarh government in Central Jail, Jagdalpur, women’s rights groups Thursday termed this as an attempt to declare her mentally unsound, thus creating doubts over her complaints of sexual torture in police custody and subsequent harassment in jail.
“This ‘psychiatric evaluation’ appears to be a sinister ploy by the Chhattisgarh Government to discredit Soni’s serious and genuine complaints against the police and jail authorities for her sexual torture (confirmed by doctors of NRS Hospital, Kolkata) and harassment and denial of human rights of prisoners in Raipur jails (verified by NHRC),” rights groups said in a letter addressed to Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh on Thursday.
Soni Sori, a tribal teacher from Chhattisgarh, was jailed on charges of aiding Maoists in October 2011. Presently, she is kept in the Central Jail of Jagdalpur. Sori was arrested in Delhi on 7 October 2011 and was handed over to Chhattisgarh police the next day.
“On the night of 8.10.2011, from 12 midnight to 2:30 am, SP Ankit Garg called me into a room in the police station, gave me electric shocks (current shock), took my clothes off and severely tortured me”, Sori wrote in a letter addressed to the Supreme Court last year.
On 2 December 2011, the report submitted by NRS Medical Hospital established that two stones were found in her private parts and rectum, clearly corroborating the veracity of Soni Sori’s charge.
“It needs to be recalled that following her custodial torture in October 2011, Soni Sori was denied proper medical examination and treatment in Chhattisgarh. The medical authorities in Raipur, instead of investigating Soni Sori’s injuries due to sexual torture, labelled her a malingerer (a person feigning illness), entirely dismissing her extensive injuries. It was only when Soni Sori was taken to Kolkata under the orders of the Supreme Court that stones thrust into her private parts came to light,” the letter, addressed to Chhattisgarh CM, read.
Teams from the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and the National Commission of Women (NCW) had visited Raipur Central Jail in November and December 2012, following complaints of ill-treatment of Soni Sori and other women prisoners.
Following this visit, the NHRC had confirmed that “Soni Sori has on several occasions been singled out for harsh and humiliating ill-treatment” and has been subjected to “traumatic ordeals and odious practices” while in Central Jail, Raipur.
While the official report of the NCW visit is still pending, the observation of the visiting NCW member Shamina Shafiq that Soni Sori needed “psychological counselling” in order to cope with her traumatic experience of sexual abuse in police custody, was extensively covered in the media. However, Annie Raja of NFIW, who was also part of the NCW team visiting the Raipur jail, had rebutted this observation and clarified that “Soni Sori had been very articulate in her meeting with the NCW, and presented her case sharply and precisely. More than counselling, Soni Sori needs justice.”
This casual remark – made by Shamina Shafiq – was taken out of context and was used as the basis for ordering the jail authorities to administer a psychiatric evaluation of Soni Sori, women’s rights activists alleged.
“In March 2013, Ms. Shafiq expressed her outrage that her sympathetic remark regarding Soni Sori was being turned on its head by your government to Soni Sori’s detriment,” they said in the letter to CM Raman Singh.
“Apart from attacking Soni Sori’s credibility as a reliable witness, such a psychiatric evaluation can also serve as a basis for locking her away in a mental health institution for an indefinite period of time and avoid taking action against the police officials involved in her torture,” they added.