The attacks against Soni Sori, the tribal rights activist and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader on Saturday is yet another startling reminder of the present day India.
Sori was attacked in Chhattisgarh by unknown assailants who smeared ‘acid-like chemical’ on her face leaving her with burning sensation. The attack is seen as a continuation of the series of actions against the media as well as the people including lawyers and activists who work for the right of tribal communities and raise their voice against the ‘government terrorism’. Sori has been consistently voicing against the atrocities on the tribal people in Bastar by the security forces under the guise of tackling Maoist insurgency. Chhattisgarh, Bastar and Jagdalpur episodes are different shades of the Indian scenario where standing for the oppressed common man is branded as sedition and ‘mob justice’ is forcefully imposed bypassing the judiciary. The rampage by the security forces in Bastar has been continuing for a while. In November 2015, the security forces entered the villages sexually assaulting the women and gang-raping them and destroyed the food stored. There have been three such incidents within three months with fake encounters also increasing in number. Many went ‘missing’ and others were listed as Maoists. Several people were killed in the ‘encounters’. Bastar Inspector General (IG) of Police S.R.P. Kalluri is believed to be giving directions for the attacks. The police officials had recently claimed to kill a tribal farmer Hadma Kashyap in a fake encounter in Mardoom, Bastar. But Hadma’s family has accused the police of dragging him out of the house revealing the name of the police official who took him away. Sori revealed the details about the incident to the media and resisted further moves which prompted kalluri to act against Sori. Even though she had tried to lodge a complaint against the IG, it wasn’t registered. The acid attack followed.
Jagdalpur Legal Aid group (JLAG), a legal aid group of woman lawyers were threatened and forcefully evicted from Bastar by the police force an hour before the attack on Sori. The owner of the house Sori stayed was threatened at the police station. Freelance journalist Malini Subramanium was also forced to leave her residences due to police pressure. Her maid was intimidated several times at the police station. The people who voiced their displeasure for framing the tribals in fabricated cases or raising the issue of fake encounters were thus compelled to leave the place. But Sori had stood firm in her stand despite being warned several times earlier. Her attackers threatened to ‘stop raising her voice’ against Kalluri and to give up the Mardoom fake encounter case warning that they would attack her daughter if she refused to stop. Kalluri reminds us of the ‘security’ forces in Manipur and neighbouring areas who carry out atrocities including sexual violence, gang-rape, looting and murders of the local residents using the special rights granted by ASFPA. The government backs and ‘protects ‘the attackers and not the assaulted. Attempts are also being made by the authorities to provide legal protection for human rights violations.
The BJP government in Chhattisgarh headed by Raman Singh last week passed an order cancelling the rights of tribals on forest land. According to the Forest Rights Act, the permission of the tribals residing on the land is required for the occupation of the forest land. But the new law doesn’t require the consent of the Adivasis living on their forest land. As a result they are driven into destitution and starvation. The companies, one of them the Adani group, who intends to carry out coal mining in the area, are the ones who benefit from the latest move. Leaders like Sori resist such moves that do not value the lives, properties or dignity of the poor. Several NGOs as well as Samajik Ekta Manch formed by the authorities function in the area to counter such moves. The authorities move ahead with their corporate agenda suppressing the poor and branding them as terrorists and Maoists. The prime minister’s allegation that the NGOs and black-marketeers were conspiring to destabilize the government and ‘defame’ him, evokes curiosity. It’s time the government realizes its mistakes and initiate steps to save its face.