All India Meeting on Women Prisoners and Custodial Violence

“… it is not my suffering alone … there are many other women prisoners suffering …  like me, they were hunted and brought here, and then charged in false cases. (Every) day people introduce me to new stories of their sufferings … They tell me that they were not able to fight back because there was no one to support them … After hearing their stories of torture, my own suffering appears small… (you) have to do something for these women also … my struggle is not my struggle alone, but it has become everyone’s struggle”

–From the letters of Soni Sori from prison, November 2011

ALL INDIA MEETING ON WOMEN PRISONERS & CUSTODIAL VIOLENCE

31ST MARCH 2012: 9.30 AM – 6.00 PM

GANDHI PEACE FOUNDATION, DELHI

(Click here to see the Programme for 31st March)

By now, many of you would be aware of the case of Soni Sori.  For those who do not know, she is a 35-year old adivasi schoolteacher, warden and mother, subjected to sexual violence in custody in the Dantewada police station in Chhattisgarh, under directions of the Superintendent of Police (SP).  She has been languishing in jail for the past six months, awaiting a fair hearing. Awaiting justice.

Soni Sori had come to Delhi in September 2011 to escape harassment by the Chhattisgarh police and file a legal complaint against them. However, before her petition could be filed before the Supreme Court, she was arrested and remanded by the Delhi courts to the custody of Chhattisgarh Police. In view of her concerns about threats to her life from the police, the Court issued explicit directions to ensure her safety and to file a report before them about steps taken in this regard. Yet, while in police custody in Dantewada, she was sexually tortured by the Chhattisgarh police.

This happened on the night of October 8th 2011. Soni, naked, administered electric current, had stones, pebbles and batons shoved into her private parts.  The full brutality of this torture was confirmed by the NRS Medical College and Hospital, Kolkata, which conducted an independent medical exam on her and discovered three stones still lodged deep inside her body and injuries to her spine. Instead of initiating any action against him, this SP was recently conferred the President’s Gallantry Award for bravery, totally ignoring the serious charges that have been made against him of ordering torture of a woman in custody.

WHY ARE WE CONCERNED ABOUT SONI SORI’S CASE?

  •  Publicly available material indicates that the charges against Soni Sori are false and politically motivated and currently her petition on this is in the Supreme Court.
  • That Soni Sori has suffered custodial violence at the hands of the Chhattisgarh Police, in spite of the attention of the explicit orders of the Delhi High Court to ensure her safety, is extremely worrisome. It points towards a dangerous and flagrant contempt for law by the police in Chhattisgarh.
  • Despite repeated petitioning, the other state institutions for protection of citizens’ rights have been indifferent towards these violations and the contempt for court orders by the police. This raises further concerns of their impunity and lack of accountability.

Soni Sori’s case is not an isolated one, as she herself has said in her letter. Increasingly, arrests and detention under false charges are being used by the state as a form of punishment and repression to silence activists, to put down mass struggles by the marginalised people for their rights and livelihoods and to curb any form of dissent.  In this situation, poor women from the most marginalised communities have become even more vulnerable and are bearing the brunt of the violence and persecution by the law-keepers.

Available reports show that many jails across the country are witness to torture and other cruel practices perpetrated on prisoners, both women and men.

#      According to the National Crime Records Bureau’s (NCRB) prison statistics, till the end of 2010, women formed 4.1% of the total prisoners. There were 4532 women convicts (with 497 children) and 10252 under trials (with 1,166 children). Also the report mentions 34 deaths of women inmates in 2010, of which 5 were suicides.

#     According to the Director General (Prisons), Tihar Jail, Neeraj Kumar, 73.5% inmates (8,911 out of 12,124 which also include 410 women) from Tihar Jail, Delhi, were undergoing trial. This is much above the national average of 66.4% undertrials in Indian jails. At the same time, we are also concerned by reports of violence against women in “protective” custody in other state institutions, such as in shelters and remand homes.

In view of this situation, we need to bring out the facts about prison conditions, highlight the conditions of women in custody and the violations of their rights as undertrials and convicts. We need to formulate effective strategies to make state institutions more responsible and accountable and ensure that the rights of all people, including those of women, are not violated under any circumstances.

It is with these concerns and objectives that some organisations in Delhi have got together to hold a day-long public meeting on the issue of custodial violence and women prisoners. Lawyers and activists from different part of the country (including some who have also been jailed under repressive laws) will be present to share their experiences.

We invite you to participate in this meeting and share your strategies to safeguard our democratic and constitutionally guaranteed rights and liberties.

In solidarity,

SAHELI, People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR), People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) and Women against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS)

For the Hindi write-up, click here

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