Editorial

Tribal woes leading to Maoism

by Vaidehi Sachin(Oct_15_31_2011)

Is there no one in this largest democracy, in this soon to be a superpower, who can rescue this innocent woman from the cruel claws of the powerful? Ten years after it was formed, Chhattisgarh has become a blot on the democratic credentials of this country. Manmohan Singh to Chidamabaram to Raman Singh, from Congress to BJP is complicit. That is why there is this disturbing calm over the terrors unleashed by the Chhattisgarh state mechanism. But all of them are playing with fire, which in the end would only benefit the Naxalites. Her children never thought they will ever be seeing their mom in jail. The innocent three children are yet to understand the meaning of terror and threat and this incidence not only deterred them but also provoked to retaliate, today they are very small but tomorrow there is no guarantee that they will ever forget the pains their mother gone through, this is how rebels are born. Adivasi school teacher Soni Sori faces police interrogation in Chhattisgarh for her role in an alleged pay off by Essar group to Maoists, her children, Muskaan (12), Deependera (10) and Amrita (6) are at their uncle Ramdev's house in Palnar village for a month long Diwali vacation. They are also taking care of their grandfather who is unwell and hospitalized. Soni's children are very brilliant in studies, her daughter have been enrolled in government schools, class four student Deependra studies in English medium private residential school in Dantewada, that charges a monthly fee of 3000 rupees. Elite education, by Dantewada's standards, and a major expense for Sori whose salary as a school teacher is about 8000 rupees was difficult to sustain but still she was living dignified life with her children. Soni is now 36 years old her life seems typical of Dantewada's educated and ambitious middle class. Her house in Sameli village opens into a small seating area with a TV, plastic flowers and small wall paintings. The cupboards and boxes are full of attendance registers. 

The Ashramshala or residential school where Soni teaches is ramshackle building with a tin shed. The Maoists destroyed all school buildings in the area, except Sameli and Jabeli ashramshalas. Soni was the only teacher who lived in the area. This made her an easy target for suspicion. And after the police named her in the attack on Avdesh Gautam a local congress leader, whispers about her links with Maoists grew and officials started fearing her. She was asked to seek a transfer to avoid further conflicts but Soni was nor aware of such sudden threat.

Her Uncle Nanda Ram Sori, is a former MLA and CPI leader. He was worried about her reputation getting tarnished. But Soni did not respond, possibly since the family had stopped talking after she married outside the caste. Soni Sori had defied her family to marry Anil Futani, a man about whom not much is known, except that he lived in Geedam, a trading town, and drove a Bolero vehicle. He was arrested last year after the Naxals attacked the house of local Congress leader Avdesh Gautam. Soni was also named in the case, but curiously not arrested. She continued to attend school and draw a salary. 

Today people taunt Soni for having Maoist links and children cannot get rid of this humiliation. Everyone around alleged her for having links with Naxals. If at all she cooked good food for her children then also she was blamed as taking grocery from Naxals. The Naxals often called her. When she returned, she would hold her head in her hands and sit quietly. Her children told her not to go. Soni told her children that she is helpless and can't avoid them. But the police officer claims it was not compulsion but greed that made Soni work for the Maoists. The same signs of middle class prosperity that make Soni an unlikely Maoist accomplice. There is still no answer to why would the Maoists shoot Soni Sori's father if she was working for them? Two days of intense interrogation, head and back injuries in custody, feet chained to a hospital bed and now a hunger strike these are the latest flashpoints in the life of Soni Sori, a tribal schoolteacher from Jabeli, Chhattisgarh,is accused of attacking a Congress leader, bombing a tehsil office and being a Naxal associate. Sori have denied all the charges. 

Last month, after being fired upon by the police, Sori fled her home. On 7 October, she was arrested in Delhi. Last week, Tehelka's cover story detailed the case against Sori and her nephew Lingaram Kodopi, showing how both innocents are caught in the crossfire between the Maoists and the State. 

Both her feet are shackled to the hospital bed. One of the reasons for her hunger strike is to protest being chained. How can she be chained to a bed without a court order? When media persons reached the hospital, the police unchained her before letting them in. But Sori did not break her fast fearing the police will chain her again. Social activist Himanshu Kumar, who has been helping Sori's fight, is planning to fast as well. 

After her arrest, Sori's lawyers appealed in a Delhi sessions court against her transfer to Chhattisgarh, fearing her safety. Detailing her own fear, Sori wrote a letter to the judge.

She told she was mentally tortured from interrogation and collapsed on her own. Since most of Sori's statements have been made in police presence, it remains unclear whether she was physically tortured. Soni Sori goes on a hunger strike. Lawyers want her cases shifted out of Chhattisgarh. Later on 10 October, Sori was taken from the hospital to the court premises. But in a violation of court procedure, the magistrate did not verify her condition personally. In fact, lawyers have confirmed that Sori's statement was recorded from the police jeep by a court clerk. After her court visit, the magistrate transferred Sori to judicial custody until 17 October. Sori had been shifted from Jagdalpur to Ambedkar Hospital in Raipur to undergo a CT scan. Once discharged, she will be sent to Jagdalpur jail. It remains unclear whether she will continue her fast from jail. This is the latest chapter in an under-the-radar battle that's being waged in the bloody heart of India. Chhattisgarh is a nexus of what Indian politicians tend to call India's greatest security threat.