Concerned citizens and friends of India organized a peaceful protest in San Francisco outside the venue of the official Republic Day function hosted by the Indian Consulate which was expected to be attended by around 400 invitees – the movers and shakers of the Indian community as well as local politicians. Much to our satisfaction, we were able to engage in one-on-one conversations with many of the attendees outside the venue and distribute flyers. Many of them signed our petition and many more were sympathetic.
The petition is as follows
Every year on the 26th of January, we celebrate the Constitution of India . Every 30th of January, we remember the martyrdom of Mahatma Gandhi, who led India to freedom. However, for the vast majority of the people of India, even the most basic of the rights guaranteed by the Constitution – the right to life and personal liberty and due legal process if these rights are to be abridged – remain unrealized promises. And the ideals of the independence struggle, as articulated by Gandhi, stand indelibly tarnished.
One of the most shocking recent instances of this trampling upon the Indian constitution is the torture and sexual abuse of prisoner Soni Sori [2,3]. An adivasi school teacher from the Dantewada district of Chhattisgarh, Sori had exposed evidence of police misconduct in the framing of several cases against her . Police intimidation forced her to flee, and she reached Delhi seeking legal assistance, but was arrested before she could file a petition in the Supreme Court. Fearing for her life in Chhattisgarh, she asked to be held in custody in Delhi, despite which she was handed over to the Chhattisgarh police . In custody, Soni Sori was brutally tortured by the Chhattisgarh police, because of her refusal to corroborate their false statements. A subsequent independent medical examination found sizable stones lodged in her vagina and her rectum and severe damage to her spinal cord .
Another instance is the case of Lingaram Kodopi. In 2009, Kodopi was locked up by the police in Dantewada, Chhattisgarh for 40 days, tortured and pressured to join a vigilante force . After the High Court ordered his release, Lingaram went on to complete a course in journalism, and later documented villagers’ accounts of arson, murder and rape during a three-day police operation in March 2011. In September 2011, Lingaram was arrested on charges of collecting ‘protection’ money for the Maoists from Essar, a large business conglomerate. Sori, his aunt, came under pressure from the police to persuade Lingaram to accept the charges. She refused, saying the charges were false and ended up being an accused herself. Amnesty International has pronounced both Sori and Kodopi, Prisoners of Conscience .
Sori’s and Kodopi’s are not isolated cases. Authorities in various parts of India have a record of imprisoning innocent people, including human rights workers, on false charges, the most notable case being that of Dr. Binayak Sen. Dr. Sen was convicted of ‘sedition’, and sentenced to life imprisonment, but released by the Supreme Court on bail, pending appeal . Many other innocent people, mostly from marginalized sections of the society, continue to languish in India’s jails; Adivasi activist Kartam Joga  and labor leaders, Bhagwati Sahu  and Abhay Sahoo , are just some of them. Others like Kopa Kunjam  and documentarian Ajay TG  were released on bail and are awaiting trial. Arun Ferreira, a social and human rights activist, was acquitted in 11 different cases for lack of evidence, but re-arrested each time on a fresh set of charges, until he was finally released on bail on the 4th January .
In custody, Soni Sori was pressured by the police to implicate many prominent human rights activists as Maoists . Though Sori resisted the pressure, other news reports indicate a concerted attempt on the part of the state to stigmatize human rights defenders . This was a serious concern placed on record by Margaret Sekaggya, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, after the completion of a mission to India a year ago .
The gross misconduct of the police is enabled by several draconian laws of questionable Constitutional validity, such as the law against sedition in the Indian Penal Code , the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act , the Armed Forces Special Powers Act  and state-specific laws such as the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act (CSPSA) . These laws are intended to help the police to bring charges against anyone on no or the flimsiest of evidence or to arrest and detain people for extended periods without charges or evidence. This process of filing false charges and detention based on them, is being used as a punitive tool in itself.
Where there are credible reports of torture or of other grave misconduct by the police, rarely have the police authorities been investigated, or the democratically elected representatives sanctioning systemic abuses held accountable .
Therefore, we demand that:
Torture and other prisoner abuses must stop
Intimidation of Human Rights Defenders must end
The practice of filing false charges, extended detentions without trial, and “arrest, detention and trial” as punishment must end
The law against sedition (Section 124A of Indian Penal Code) be abolished
Laws which give unconditional and unchecked power to the authorities, such as UAPA, AFSPA and CSPSA, be abolished
Soni Sori and Lingaram Kodopi be released immediately and unconditionally
Police and higher level government officials responsible for torturing and pressuring Soni Sori be prosecuted
Below is a short video (3 min) of the Republic Day protest against Gallantry awards in San Francisco
- Republic Day gallantry award to alleged torturer of Soni Sori! (kractivist.wordpress.com)
- S.P Ankit Garg gets gallantry awards- BLACK REPUBLIC DAY (kractivist.wordpress.com)
- Soni Sori’s letter from Raipur Central Jail- Audio-Hindi and English (kractivist.wordpress.com)
- Cops Brutally suppress peaceful protest at Chhattisgarh Bhavan, New Delhi (icrindia.wordpress.com)
- Rights groups protest gallantry award for Chhattisgarh police official (thehindu.com)
- Save Soni Sori and Punish Chattisgarh police for her torture (kractivist.wordpress.com)