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Updated: March 17, 2014 01:43 IST

“I fear that the more I speak the truth, the more I’ll subject myself to danger”

Rahul Pandita
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RAY OF HOPE: Politics is the only way to change things in Bastar, to empower people, says Soni Sori.
The Hindu RAY OF HOPE: Politics is the only way to change things in Bastar, to empower people, says Soni Sori.

Interview with Adivasi school teacher Soni Sori, the candidate for the Aam Aadmi Party in the Bastar Lok Sabha constituency

The Indian state’s war against Maoists has resulted in the incarceration of thousands of Adivasis in Chhattisgarh and elsewhere, many of them on flimsy charges. They continue languishing in state prisons, with very bleak prospects of speedy trials.

In Soni Sori’s case, it took a Supreme Court bench to finally grant her permanent bail last month, but not before she had spent about two years in various prisons. Ms Sori was a teacher in a government-run tribal school in Chhattisgarh’s Dantewada district when the police issued a lookout notice for her. They charged her and her nephew of acting as Maoist conduits. They alleged that the two of them had been in touch with a contractor and a General Manager of Essar Steel for facilitating funds for the Maoists. Ms Sori escaped to Delhi, but she was arrested from a bus stop on October 4, 2011.

After repeated requests, a lower court in Delhi allowed the Chhattisgarh police to take her on remand. Subsequent medical examinations revealed that she had been tortured in prison. A few months after their arrest, the two employees of Essar Steel were granted bail by a Dantewada district court. But the Chhattisgarh High Court, last year in July, denied the same to Ms Sori and her nephew.

After the Supreme Court’s intervention, an earlier restriction on Ms Sori to travel to Chhattisgarh was also lifted. She has returned home to take care of her daughters. Soni Sori said, in an interview with Rahul Pandita, that she will begin campaigning a day after Holi. She said she will go to all the interior villages where candidates of other political parties don’t venture into, to bring a little semblance of hope in the lives of the people there. Excerpts:

What made you decide to join politics?

I felt if I have to change things in Bastar, politics is the only way. I realised that it was only through politics that I can empower myself, and when I am empowered, I would be able to empower people in Bastar as well. The freedom of my people has been curtailed. I want to give their freedom back to them.

Why did you choose the Aam Aadmi Party?

I have fought a long battle. All this while, when I was going through an ordeal, no one from any political party came to support me. It was the AAP which approached me. Its leaders said they wanted to field me as their candidate in Bastar. I thought about it and came to the conclusion that this was the only way to reach out to the people. I have the party’s support and I want to bring about a change.

What are your priorities as a Lok Sabha candidate?

Bastar has turned into a battlefield today. Innocent tribals are being killed for no fault of theirs. Gunpowder has entered into the lives of people there. Bastar is my birth place. And my first priority will be to replace guns with education. Some of those who witnessed the recent Maoist attack in Jeeram Valley say many of the guerillas were women and children. They were carrying guns. Children should not be carrying guns; they should have pens in their hands.

Before I was imprisoned, there were 100 children enrolled in the school where I taught. Now there are only seven. Where have these children gone?

What kind of challenges do you foresee in your political journey?

The biggest challenge is that what the government did to me must not be repeated – not only to me, but to anyone else. I fear that the more I speak the truth, the more I’ll subject myself to danger. But I cannot keep silent any longer. I will not be deterred. What the government and the police have done to the poor Adivasis must be known to all. The truth has to come out.

Is there anything you’d like to tell the Maoists?

What do I tell them except that the gun solves nothing; the only way forward is through peace, through dialogue. Bastar has seen enough of violence. Let’s all work together to put an end to this bloodshed.

I want to make sure that hundreds of innocent tribals, who are currently in prison, are freed. They tell me: “Sister, we have been here for ten years. When will we come out? Help us.” And I ask them to have hope. I tell them that the world is watching.

rahul.p@thehindu.co.in

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My wishes with Ms. Sori. You WILL win in the election, you WILL get your chance to
get justice. Good Luck!

from:  mbasappa
Posted on: Mar 19, 2014 at 03:46 IST

very good interview and it is befitting reply to all who say's soni sori is naxal. some sentences like "And my first priority will be to replace guns with education" are really inspiring and problem solving

from:  girijesh
Posted on: Mar 19, 2014 at 00:52 IST

"After the Supreme Court’s intervention, an earlier restriction on Ms Sori to travel to Chhattisgarh was also lifted"
It was Supreme Court itself who had put that restriction while granting her an interim bail.

from:  Mohit Singh
Posted on: Mar 19, 2014 at 00:33 IST

We are reading a lot of politics now a days before election. Greedy parties break, form
coalitions. All those stories where from the cities, where there are not many issues. This is
definitly a unique story. She is right to empower others, first she should empower herself.
Expecting more stories like this from other constituencies.

All the best to Soni Suri.

from:  Ratheesh G
Posted on: Mar 18, 2014 at 13:43 IST

If such steps of bringing the tribal people into mainstream politics would have been taken 50 years back, perhaps there won't be any naxalism today. Better late than never..

from:  Santosh Gupta
Posted on: Mar 18, 2014 at 09:42 IST


How come ESSAR Execs. got Bail earlier while she didn't for same
fault....All because of money & corruption....

System is fully rotten today & AAP is the hope as they have guts to talk
& fight this openly....

from:  RajJ
Posted on: Mar 18, 2014 at 08:41 IST

It is a tough thing (almost impossible) to win against the might of BJP
or even against the weakened and tired Congress.

But, the BJP and Congress can do one good thing in this election! Both
of them should gracefully withdraw their nomination.

from:  raghavan
Posted on: Mar 18, 2014 at 06:31 IST

I like AAP in fielding Soni Sori as their candidate. It is really admirable to support people who fights against injustice even facing utmost atrocities. I don't support Maoist movement and neither Soni. Both government and Maoists make the life of poor people miserable. Tribals voice are never been heard. even Soni faced extreme assaults in police stations, no proper investigation (if i am correct) is done against those culprits. I am extremely hopeful that voices of Soni should be heard in parliament.. Best of Luck dear sister.

from:  Prakashan
Posted on: Mar 18, 2014 at 01:29 IST

Whatever happens to other candidates of AAP, Soni Sori should win and
let this be the first step to bring the wronged and exploited tribals
back into mainstream politics. This is the only way to stop naxalism.

from:  Sachin Kumar
Posted on: Mar 17, 2014 at 14:30 IST

Truly appreciate for her courage and commitment towards trying to find some justice. Good move to join AAP. But one should realise that she and AAP are fighting against deadly criminals fielded as candidates by those political bigwigs. Unfortunately truth and honesty have long gone in our country and common man are forced to be corrupt in order to survive and to even do some basic everyday things. There are many good hearted people in India too but media don't like to cover them as they don't sell. All the Best

from:  Ananth
Posted on: Mar 17, 2014 at 14:25 IST

I wish this lady all success and victory in the forthcoming elections.
Let her fulfill the aspirations of the tribal people and bring in peace and harmony.

from:  K.GOPU
Posted on: Mar 17, 2014 at 10:25 IST

Thank you for publishing this.

from:  Mark Lindley
Posted on: Mar 17, 2014 at 07:31 IST

Good reporting and best luck Mrs. Soni Sori. Violence indeed is not the answer.

from:  Apte
Posted on: Mar 17, 2014 at 02:09 IST
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