The Interview: Soni Sori
I am fearless, the more I am tortured, the stronger I become. If they are successful in silencing me, they would show me as an example to silence everyone else
Soni Sori is a human rights defender who advocates for the rights of indigenous peoples in India, with a focus on women's rights. She works in Chhattisgarh, where the long-term conflict between Maoists and government security forces has greatly affected the indigenous people in the area. Together with her cousin, journalist Ms Lingaram Kodopi, she uncovered human rights violations committed by both sides of the conflict.
Soni Sori has been targeted by the authorities on several occasions. In 2011 she was imprisoned on trumped-up charges relating to eight cases where she was accused of being involved in attacks against the police. In prison, she repeatedly suffered torture and sexual harassment by prison staff. By April 2013, she had been acquitted of six of the eight cases filed against her. She was released in 2014 and has since been repeatedly subjected to harassment and intimidation by the police.
On 20 February 2016, Soni Sori was attacked by three unidentified men as she travelled from Jagdalpur to her home in Geedam in the state of Chhattisgarh. The perpetrators halted the vehicle in which the human rights defender was travelling and threw a black substance on her face, resulting in intense burning and her hospitalization. During the attack, the perpetrators threatened to carry out a similar assault on the daughter of Soni Sori, lest the human rights defender halt the efforts she had undertaken to bring justice against a high-ranking police official from the Bastar district of Chhattisgarh. At the time of the chemical attack, she had been helping tribal women register official complaints of sexual assault against the security forces.
Also Soni Sori’s family has been harassed. On 12 March 2016, the brother-in-law of human rights defender Ms Soni Sori was released by Jagdalpur police after having been arbitrarily detained at a local police station for over two days. On 11 March 2016, the human rights defenders' sister was picked up by police and detained for questioning, before being released later on the same date. Earlier that day, other family members of the human rights defender were verbally abused and threatened by a high-ranking member of the Bastar police.