The Chhattisgarh government has initiated an enquiry into the mental health of Adivasi teacher Soni Sori lodged in the Jagdalpur jail to ascertain whether she should be sent to the mental asylum in Agra, according to women’s rights groups.
A legal team visiting Ms. Sori on March 15 after she failed to appear for a hearing the previous day, was informed by the jail superintendent that a psychiatrist from the Maharani Hospital in Jagdalpur had visited Soni.
In the conversation with the psychiatrist in the presence of the Superintendent, Ms. Soni was asked questions related to “anger” and advised not to complain all the time. Otherwise there was a good chance that she would be sent to Agra, according to a women’s rights activist.
“This is a devious attempt to declare her mentally unsound and create doubts about the veracity of her complaints of sexual torture in police custody and subsequent harassment in jail,” said the rights groups. Strongly condemning this act of the government, which comes on the back of a stray comment by Shamina Shafiq, member of the National Commission for Women (NCW), made to the press right after meeting Ms. Sori at the Raipur Central Jail on December 4 last year, the rights groups are demanding that the NCW make its report public.
Annie Raja from the National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW), who, along with the NCW team had visited young girls branded as Maoists at the Raipur jail and spent two hours with Ms. Soni, condemned the non-serious attitude of NCW.
“Shamina should tell us on what basis she thought Soni needs psychological help. In fact, it was Shamina who asked Soni if she had any demands and gave her a paper to write them down.”
In a handwritten letter of Ms. Soni to the NCW team, she had made seven demands. Some of them were: “We should be taken to the court whenever we are summoned. We should be provided food when we go to court. Because of Naxal cases, we are not given timely medical treatment…. I need help for my children. In the fight between the Naxals and the government I have lost everything. While the Naxals were harassing my father, I have been branded a Naxal sympathiser even though I am innocent. I have a lot to say but my fight is going on in the court and hence I cannot speak any more. Only I should not be tortured as now I do not have the strength to bear torture. Whenever I have written or spoken the truth I have been punished. This should not happen in the future.”
Ms. Raja asked how could somebody writing so lucidly be called mentally unsound?
“In case of sexual torture, victims undergo trauma and need counselling but that is in no way similar to being called unsound and being locked up in the Agra mental asylum,” said Sudha Sundararaman of the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), calling the move objectionable.
AIPWA, AIDWA, Jagori, Saheli, WSS, CCASA and NFIW have written to Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh demanding that continued harassment of Ms. Sori through “psychiatric evaluation” be stopped.