Archive for April 11, 2013

Date: 11.4.2013

To:

Dr. Raman Singh

Chief Minister

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

prisoners.

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

detriment.

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

insincere.

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.

 

Sincerely,

All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA)

All India Progressive Women’s Assocation (AIPWA)

Citizens’ Collective against Sexual Assault

Jagori

National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW)

Saheli

Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS)

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Women Groups Decry Chhattisgarh Government’s Attempt and malafide Intentions to Make Soni Sori Undergo “Psychiatric Evaluation”

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.

Raja reiterated.

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.

Signed by:

 

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

 

Repression (WSS).