Lawyers Allege Harassment of Soni Sori’s Family

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New Delhi: Lawyers from the Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group (JagLAG), which has been fighting cases for Adivasis in Chhattisgarh’s Bastar region, have alleged that the Special Investigation Team constituted by the state police to investigate a chemical attack on Aam Aadmi Party leader and Adivasi rights activist Soni Sori has resorted to harassing her relatives, and has illegally detained her sister and brother-in-law.

In a letter to Chhattisgarh Director General of Police A.N. Upadhyay, JagLAG’s Shalini Gera and Isha Khandelwal have alleged repeated “harassment, intimidation and persecution” of Sori’s sister Dhani Markam and brother-in-law Ajay Markam.

They claimed Ajay has been detained illegally by the police for over a day and a half, without intimating his family. Denouncing the “clearly illegal and violative of Mr. Markam’s fundamental rights guaranteed under Article 22(2) of the Constitution, and Section 57 of the CrPC,” the JagLAG activists have urged Upadhyay to take note of the illegal activities of the Bastar police purporting to fulfil their investigative role.

The lawyers claimed that instead of conducting a genuine inquiry into the attack on Sori by three unidentified men on February 20, the SIT had used the investigation as an excuse to harass her relatives.

“This type of open harassment and intimidation of the family members of our client is causing intense emotional strain on her and making her fearful of her own safety and that of those close to her. It is clear that through such intense persecution of all those associated with our client, the police wish to silence her and pressure her into withdrawing the serious charges of atrocities that she has levelled against them – if that happens, it will indeed be a very severe blow to the democratic framework of our nation,” Gera and Khandelwal said in their complaint.

Elaborating on the harassment meted out to Sori’s relatives, the activists said the SIT team had taken Markam for questioning on March 1 and he had been interrogated extensively by Sukma ASP Santosh Singh in the presence of other SIT officials at Geedam police station in Dantewada.

“During this questioning, he was repeatedly told by the interrogating team that the police would arrest him for orchestrating the attack on Ms. Sori. He was asked to give his phone number to the investigators – a request with which he complied. Later that evening, he received a call from an unknown number on his phone, where a caller whose voice Mr. Markam did not recognize, spoke to him in Halbi, insinuating that Mr. Markam had ordered the chemical attack on Ms. Sori. As a responsible citizen, Mr. Markam gave full information about this mischievous call to the Town Inspector of PS Geedam verbally on March 1 itself. The next day, he took a letter with detailed information about this call to PS Geedam, but was advised to give that information to Kuakonda PS, since he was within the jurisdiction of PS Kuakonda at the exact time when he had received this mysterious call on his phone. He complied with this request also, and submitted written information about this call to PS Kuakonda on March 3, 2016,” the activists have said.

On the March 9, Markam was picked up by TI of Kuakonda PS, Sharat Chandra, and taken to the Kuakonda PS, where he was held until late at night and interrogated. On March 10, he was once again was picked up from his house in Geedam by Chandra and taken for questioning to Jagdalpur. This time, however, the police were not forthcoming with information about his detention or whereabouts, the activists said.

Gera and Khandelwal have alleged that when Markam’s father-in-law Mundra Ram Sori, mother Pali Markam and sister-in-law Jyoti Sori spoke to Bastar IG SRP Kalluri about the incident and expressed their concerns about Markam’s well-being, Kalluri was disrespectful and tried to intimidate the family.

“He specifically mentioned that he will ensure that Mr. Markam will be not be released from police custody, and the rest of Ms. Sori’s family will also be made to suffer for her indiscretions in questioning Mr. Kalluri. He specifically threatened Mr. Mundra Ram Sori that his daughter, our client, Ms. Soni will be killed and that his grandson, Mr Lingaram Kodopi will also be jailed,” the activists alleged.

Gera and Khandelwal said Sori’s sister Dhani, who studies nursing in Adawal-Bodli in Bastar and resides in the nursing training institute’s hostel, was also taken away by the police from the hostel on Friday, March 11. They said the police had first gone to the hostel on Thursday to take Dhani away, but the warden of the institute did not allow them take her without proper warrants. The activists allege that Dhani too has been taken to an undisclosed location by the police and that this was against all legal procedures of interrogation and detention.

Incidentally, earlier this month, Sori’s nephew, Lingaram Kodopi, who is the only tribal journalist in Bastar, had alleged the family was being harassed and intimidated, and that the police were trying to implicate them in the chemical attack case.

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