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Uncovering fake encounters by police: Soni Sori’s battle for truth in Chhattisgarh


The AAP unit in Raipur, along with PUCL Chhattisgarh, observed the World Indigenous People’s Day by highlighting the harassment of rights activist from Chhattisgarh Soni Sori and seeking the resignation of the IG Kalluri.

Soni Sori and Lingaram Kodopi have been issued threats by IG Kalluri and the Bastar police and administration, who have issued their excommunication. Soni and Lingaram are facing threats due to their work with tribal communities in exposing fake encounters and with undertrials in South Chhatisgarh. Soni and Lingaram were coompanied by two representatives from Nahadi Village, Dantewada, the site of a fake encounter, where a tribal man, Podia Emala was shot dead.

At a press conference in Delhi, Adv. Prashant Bhushan, Adv. Vrinda Grover, Arundhati Roy and Himanshu Kumar showed their solidarity with the group from Chhattisgarh.

On 29 July, the police claimed to have killed a Naxalite in the deep jungles of Nahadi in an intense firefight, after raiding a Naxalite camp, with help from  Kiran, Hurra and Badru, surrendered Naxalites now working with the police. The following day, a fact-finding team of Soni Sori, Linga Kodopi and Bela Bhatia, visited Nahadi.  The team spoke to the villagers and discovered that the alleged encounter was a fake one, where Podiya Hemla, a villager, was gunned down in front of his house by SPOs of the police force, whom the villagers recognized as surrendered Naxalites, Badru, Kiran and Hurra.

A day later, Soni Sori and other AAP local leaders organized a press conference in Jagdalpur claiming that the Nahadi encounter was fake and sought an impartial probe.

On 1 August, Soni and Linga re-visit the village of Nahadi and lead a team of local reporters to the village, where all the villagers have gathered en masse to describe the alleged encounter. Meanwhile, the IG of Police (Bastar Range) SRP Kalluri holds a meeting in Geedam, Dantewada, the town where Soni Sori lives with her young children, where he asked the townspeople to ex-communicate Soni, Linga and local AAP members. Further, he alleged that Soni has been supplying information to the Naxalites, including phone numbers and mobile numbers of traders who were on the Naxalite hit list. Some enraged townspeople of Geedam then organized a rally and gherao Soni’s house, shouting slogans against her. At this time only her children were inside the house.

On 3 August, Soni and the District AAP party hold a press conference in Dantewada, where she challenges the IG SRP Kalluri to prove his allegations against her within a week, or she will file an FIR against him for defamation and social ex-communication (a crime under the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act).

Meanwhile, the following day, Linga received a notice from the police to appear in the Police Station since they have received a complaint against him from a local BJP leader, Kamala Nag. Later, Soni  learns that Abhilesh Tiwari, another local BJP leader and the head of the Nagar Panchayat has filed a complaint against her saying that here house is built on Nazul land, and is unauthorized.  Incidentally, about half of Geedam is built on Nazul land, including the house and shop of Tiwari himself.

Soni and Linga’s lawyer, Shalini faces harassment by the Sukma police. The bus in which she is traveling is stopped by the police, she is singled out and made to disembark from the bus and subjected to random questioning by the SHO of Kukanar police station. It should be recalled that Soni Sori and her lawyers have filed several cases of complaint against the Kukanar SHO, including one where 12 village women were beaten up by the police.

On 10 August, Linga and Soni receive a show cause notice from the Aranpur Police Station, asking them to give reason why they should not be proceeded against for destroying evidence. This is a six-month old case, where it is alleged that a bus belonging to Linga’s brother overturned and killed a woman. In this case, the villagers struck a deal with the bus owner, and did not register a complaint – and now Linga and Soni are being targetted for “pressuring” villagers to accept a settlement on behalf of Linga’s brother.

Five women from Nahadi village, including the wife of the deceased, Bhime,  accompanied by Soni Sori, tried (unsuccessfully) to meet with the Collector, but finally were able to meet with the SDM of Dantewada, who is leading a magesterial inquiry into the incident. They all testified to the fact that Podiya was unarmed and the incident took place in front of the house.

Nahadi is a village far in the interior, and the women needed a stop over on their way back from Dantewada after their testimony.  However, their relatives in Kuakonda (on the way to Nahadi) were threatened by the local police station not to let anyone from Nahadi stay with them, otherwise they will lose their jobs.  With much effort, Soni managed to convince her brother, Ramdev, to host the women overnight in his house in Palnar, which is also en route to Nahadi.

On the following day, after Ramdev sent off the women from Nahadi back to their village, police visited his house and asked him to accompany then to the Poilice Station.  He asked for a written notice, and now he is being told that he is wanted in a crime that apparently occurred 2 years ago. The police are telling him that they will let him go if he can make his sister give up her agitations.

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