Gender and rights activists have protested against the Union government presenting a gallantry award to a Chhattisgarh cadre police officer who allegedly supervised the torture of Soni Sori, a school teacher accused of assisting the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist).
On Republic Day, the officer, Ankit Garg, was awarded the Police Medal for Gallantry for his role in an October 9, 2010 counterinsurgency operation, in which about 250 members of the State's Special Task Force and district police ambushed Maoist guerrillas in Mahasamund district. Six Maoists were killed and two civilians, including a deaf and mute manual labourer, died in controversial circumstances. The police maintained that the civilians were caught in the crossfire in the course of a fluid operation.
Mr. Garg was subsequently appointed Superintendent of Police of Dantewada when Ms. Sori was arrested in October 2011 and accused of acting as a Maoist courier.
In a series of letters submitted to the Supreme Court, Ms. Sori says Mr. Garg verbally abused her and directed police personnel to torture her. She alleged that Mr. Garg watched as junior police personnel stripped her naked, administered electric shocks and assaulted her. According to her lawyers, a medical examination found two stones in Ms. Soni's genital tract and another in her rectum.
“Is this, then, the gallant behaviour of our Dantewada police under the able guidance of SP Ankit Garg, which the government is now felicitating? Is this an award for ruthlessly torturing people? Does the government approve of these methods? Is this an accepted way of carrying out war against their own people in the name of anti-Naxal operations?” asks a press note circulated by Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression, a national network of women's and rights organisations.
Mr. Garg has, however, categorically denied the allegations. “I can only say that the accusation has been made in the Supreme Court and the court has taken a decision on the 25th [of January]. More than two months have passed [since these allegations were first made.],” said Mr. Garg, who has subsequently been recalled to the police headquarters in Raipur.
“The final hearing is yet to begin,” said Colin Gonsalves, Ms. Sori's lawyer, disputing Mr. Garg's assertion that the court had come to a decision.
Vishwa Ranjan, Director-General of Police (Home Guards), said: “The Police Medal for Gallantry is for a specific instance … it is not like the award for Meritorious Service … Ankit Garg led one of the teams in the Mahasamund [encounter].” He added the Soni Sori case was a separate issue that was now sub judice.