Soni Sori in hospital. Photo by Sunil Singh
The following is a statement issued by Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS), a national network of women’s organizations, other democratic rights organizations, and individuals, on behalf of groups all across the country which have been participated in the campaign to bring justice to Soni Sori:
We are deeply shocked and outraged by the conferring of the President’s Police Medal for Gallantry on Ankit Garg, Superintendent of Police, Dantewada, Chhattisgarh. Ankit Garg has been named by the Adivasi school teacher, Ms. Soni Sori, in several letters to the Supreme Court, of ordering and supervising her torture and sexual violence against her, on the night of October 8, 2011 when she was in his custody at the Dantewada police station.
In a case which is now before the Honourable Supreme Court, Ms. Soni Sori has written that while she was in police custody in Dantewada police station, she was stripped before the Superintendent of Police, Ankit Garg, and given electric shocks under his directions. Furthermore, not only did he use abusive language against her, he ordered three police personnel to “punish her” by sexually torturing her for disobeying his commands to name well-known social activists, such as Swami Agnivesh and Medha Patkar, as Naxal supporters. An independent medical examination carried out by the NRS government hospital in Kolkata under the direction of the Supreme Court has confirmed her sexual torture by recovering stones embedded in her private parts. This flagrant violation of Ms. Soni Sori’s person is what prompted the Honourable Supreme Court to reach the conclusion that she is clearly unsafe within the reach of Dantewada police, and needs to be transferred to the Raipur Central prison.
Is this, then, the “gallant” behaviour of our Dantewada police under the able guidance of SP Ankit Garg, which the government is now felicitating? Is this an award for ruthlessly torturing people? Does the government approve of these methods? Is this an accepted way of carrying out war against their own people in the name of anti-naxal operations?
It is shocking to note that in spite of wide publicity and protests over SP Ankit Garg’s inhuman conduct by a large number of women’s and civil liberties groups, nationally and internationally, the government has deemed it fit to confer him with a gallantry award. It is even more baffling to note that this has occurred at a time when the Honourable Supreme Court itself has expressed anguish at the happenings and is still looking into these violations. Compounding the very serious charges of a heinous crime of sexual violence against Ms. Soni Sori that SP Ankit Garg faces, is that fact that this crime happened when she had been entrusted into his custody as a senior police officer. After the report from the Kolkata NRS Medical College and Hospital, this is no longer a case of mere allegations against the police, but there is also solid evidence by a government medical team to support her charges. However, none of this appears to have placed even a shadow of doubt on the gallantry of this Officer as far as the government is concerned. By giving an award in the face of these complaints which have not even received a cursory investigation, both the Central and State governments are condoning this sexual violence which is being perpetrated in the name of anti-Naxal operations.
It is a dark day for Indian democracy today. While Ms. Soni Sori, the victim of this heinous torture languishes in the Raipur Central Jail, with a deteriorating health condition, and waits for her case to be listed in the Supreme Court, women’s teams who have been taking up the case of her torture have been refused permission to meet her. She is still under the custody of the same state police has that inflicted this torture on her.
We are also appalled to note that a majority of “gallantry” awards this year have been given out for anti-Naxal and counter-insurgency operations. Civil liberties organisations have been pointing out the widespread human rights violations that are taking place in these areas in the cover of counter-insurgency operations. This raises grave concerns and points to a movement in the direction of a military state, which can have no place in a democratic republic such as ours.
We condemn this action in the strongest words. There can be no excuse for torture and sexual violence in the name of anti-Naxal or counter-insurgency operations. To confer awards on a person accused of such heinous acts diminishes the respect and honour usually associated with a gallantry award.