On 26th January last year, IPS officer Ankit Garg who was charged with sexual assault of Soni Sori, was conferred the President’s Police Medal of Gallantry. Conferring this award amounts not only to condoning the sexual torture inflicted on Ms Sori and the violence which is being perpetrated in the name of anti-Naxal operations, but actually encouraging it. Today, when the nation’s conscience is stirred by heinous sexual crimes committed against women and the government is promising zero tolerance for sexual crimes, what signal does a gallantry award to Ankit Garg give? At best it means that even the President’s office does not take too seriously the complaint of sexual assault of an adivasi woman, even after it has been independently verified by some of the nation’s best medical practitioners. At worst, it signifies that some sexual assaults are not only tolerated by the government, but also decorated.
A year on, the campaign to withdraw the medal continues. Below is a letter to the President of India, demanding for its withdrawal together with a signature campaign. Read on and join in!
The Honourable President of India
Mr. Pranab Mukherjee
Subject: Take back the President’s Police Medal of Gallantry awarded to Ankit Garg, who has sexually assaulted a tribal woman, Soni Sori
Dear President Mukherjee,
On 26th January last year we learnt, much to our dismay and horror, that Ankit Garg, an IPS officer of the Chhattisgarh cadre, had been conferred the President’s Police Medal of Gallantry. Strongly protesting this award, we immediately informed the President’s office that this IPS officer has been charged with sexual assault of Ms. Soni Sori, an adivasi woman, when she was in police custody in Dantewada. A team of women leaders met with the then-President, Mrs. Pratibha Patil, to impress upon her the immense blow that this conferment of the award signifies to the national struggle for women’s rights and dignity.
However, even after a year of registering our complaint with your office, we are yet to receive news of any action taken by your office to withdraw this medal, or to explain how it could be awarded to an officer under such a cloud of ignominy. We are writing to you on this occasion, one year after its conferral, to again demand its immediate withdrawal. Now that the whole country is alive to the issue of sexual violence against women, and is awaiting decisive measures taken by the government to combat this growing menace, it is imperative that your office shows its commitment to the cause of women’s rights and dignity by taking back this medal from a tainted officer, whose act of assaulting a woman prisoner in his custody cannot be described as “gallant” under any definition.
Please sign the petition to take back the President’s Police Medal of Galantary awarded to Antik Garg – http://petitions.halabol.com/2013/01/21/take-back-president%E2%80%99s-police-medal-gallantry-awarded-ankit-garg
Video of the protest by women’s groups and activists as they storm the NCW office, demanding action – http://youtu.be/ahCqI3kBNco
Brief facts of the case:
Ms. Soni Sori is an adivasi teacher at the government-run Jabeli ashram school, in Dantewada, Chhattisgarh. She was arrested in Delhi on October 4th 2011 and remanded to the custody of Chhattisgarh Police by the Delhi High Court on October 7th. Taking cognizance of the grave apprehension and well-grounded fears expressed by Ms Sori, about her safety in hands of the Chhattisgarh police, the Delhi High Court issued directions to the Chhattisgarh police to ensure her safety while in their custody and had specifically ordered the Commissioner of Police in Chhattisgarh to file an affidavit in the Delhi High Court outlining steps taken to keep Ms Sori safe. But, in what can only be termed to be an act of flagrant contempt of court and of all constitutional safeguards, the Chhattisgarh police brutally tortured her on the night of October 8th / 9th, when she was in their custody.
In a letter to the Supreme Court, Ms. Sori writes that while in police custody, 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 command to name well-known social activists, such as Swami Agnivesh and Medha Patkar, as Naxal supporters. The brutal torture went to the extent of inserting stones and batons into her private parts. This has been confirmed by an independent medical examination conducted by the NRS government hospital in Kolkata under the direction of the Supreme Court in October 2011.
Case of national and international importance:
After the facts of this case became publicly known, it has attracted a lot of national and international attention. National Human Rights Commission took suo motu cognizance of the case, and questions have been raised about it in the Parliament. Human Rights Watch wrote to the Prime Minister, Shri Manmohan Singh, seeking an independent probe into this, while Amnesty International has declared Soni Sori a prisoner of conscience. National and international women’s group have been monitoring the case closely, since this is one of the few cases where the custodial torture has been so closely followed and so well documented.
An Award of Impunity?
In light of the above, the fact that your office awarded Ankit Garg the President’s Police Medal for Gallantry, even after his role in Ms. Soni Sori’s torture had come to light in the Supreme Court hearings, is a slap in the face of the women’s rights movement of the country. Conferring this award amounts to not only condoning the sexual torture inflicted on Ms Sori and the violence which is being perpetrated in the name of anti-Naxal operations, but actually encouraging it.
Today, when the nation’s conscience is stirred by heinous sexual crimes committed against women and the government is promising zero tolerance for sexual crimes, what signal does a gallantry award to Ankit Garg give? At best it means that even the President’s office does not take too seriously the complaint of sexual assault of an adivasi woman, even after it has been independently verified by some of the nation’s best medical practitioners. At worst, it signifies that some sexual assaults are not only tolerated by the government, but also decorated.
It is for this reason, Sir, that we, the undersigned, once again seek your urgent intervention to promptly recall the President’s Gallantry award bestowed on S.P. Ankit Garg,facing serious allegations of custodial torture and sexual violence. Failure to do so would only serve to highlight the hollowness of this government’s commitment to women’s rights – how can we expect violent crimes against women to be curbed, when police officers committing such heinous acts continue to enjoy some of the nation’s top honours?