Via IADHRI

The Supreme Court of India on May 2nd, 2012, ordered the government of Chhattisgarh to bring Soni Sori to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in New Delhi for immediate and independent medical evaluation and treatment. The order came after a special hearing following reports of serious problems with Soni Sori’s health and complaints of denial of treatment by Chhattisgarh jail authorities. The International Alliance for the Defence of Human Rights in India (IADHRI) welcomes the Supreme Court order, but with serious reservations.

Prior to the Supreme Court hearing, IADHRI had submitted to the Prime Minister and other senior officials an open letter endorsed by more than 200 individuals, including Aruna Roy, Jean Dreze, Prof. Noam Chomsky and several other activists and other concerned individuals from around the world#. We have been distressed and extremely concerned about the unethical behaviour of doctors at the Raipur hospital, who have not taken her medical complaints seriously. The Supreme Court order validates our demand that Soni Sori should be given immediate access to health care outside of Raipur.

While we are hopeful that Soni Sori may finally receive at AIIMS the medical treatment that she has long needed, we also have several concerns:

  1. Sori is going to be under the control of the Chhattisgarh police while undergoing evaluation and treatment at AIIMS. It is this same police who subjected her to severe torture and sexual abuse. As the Supreme Court observed in its order, the investigating authorities have not satisfactorily explained the discovery of stones lodged inside Sori’s private parts. And there has been no investigation until now to hold the responsible officials accountable. Therefore, in the same spirit in which the Supreme Court ordered independent medical examination and treatment for Soni Sori, it should also have entrusted her to the independent custody of the Delhi police.

    We are also concerned because the Chhattisgarh police has a history of willful violations of Supreme Court orders. Of particular relevance here is the case of another adivasi woman, Sodi Sambho, who was a witness to a massacre committed by security forces on October 1, 2009, in the village of Gompad in Chhattisgarh. In January 2010, while she was en route to seek medical treatment at St. Stephen’s Hospital in Delhi for a bullet wound she had suffered during the massacre, Sodi was seized by the Chhattisgarh police and forcibly brought to AIIMS. This was in clear contravention of a Supreme Court order of January 7, 2010, which explicitly directed the police not to interfere with Sodi Sambho in any manner. The AIIMS security staff, in collusion with the Chhattisgarh police, prevented concerned citizens and those who had accompanied her from meeting with Sodi at AIIMS. Sodi’s current whereabouts are unknown. A writ petition regarding the massacre Sodi witnessed is still pending before the Supreme Court.

  2. Soni Sori has undergone severe physical and psychological trauma resulting from torture and its aftermath, which was further aggravated by the hostility, ridicule and indifference she has encountered from the jail and medical personnel in Chhattisgarh. We ask that the Board of Doctors constituted by the Supreme Court evaluate both physical and psychological aspects of her condition and provide appropriate treatment and counseling.

  3. The Supreme Court order makes clear that Sori’s advocate Colin Gonsalves will be entitled to visit her in AIIMS to ensure that the order is properly carried out. We are concerned that the Chhattisgarh government would interpret this restrictively and prevent others from meeting Sori while she is undergoing treatment at AIIMS.

    1. Sori is the mother of three young children. These children and their guardians should be allowed to see her in the hospital.

    2. As is well-known, Sori has been falsely implicated in several criminal cases. All her lawyers should be entitled to meet her while she is at AIIMS.

    3. Even convicted prisoners are allowed to have visitors. Undertrial prisoners like Sori have even more rights. They are allowed to receive a reasonable number of visitors including family, friends, advocates and their juniors,. It would be an unreasonable restriction on Sori and an arbitrary punishment that she receive no visitors at AIIMS other than two named advocates, one of whom represents the state.

    4. N. Baijendra Kumar, Principal Secretary to the Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh, had assured a women’s group in New Delhi last October of Sori’s safety and invited the group to visit her in the Raipur jail. However, a delegation sent by the group in January was turned away by the Raipur jail authorities. Considering the nature of abuse and her continuing custody with the accused police force, it is essential that representatives of concerned women’s groups be able to visit Sori at AIIMS to ensure that she is not subjected to further torture or harassment.

Bearing these concerns in mind, we call upon the government of Chhattisgarh to carry out the Supreme Court order in letter and spirit immediately and faithfully this time.

We also call upon the administration and the medical staff of AIIMS to follow the Supreme Court order and to remember their legal and ethical obligations. While examining and treating Soni Sori, AIIMS personnel, including the medical doctors, must bear in mind that:

  • Standards of medical ethics  and the law require that AIIMS personnel provide the same high quality care to Sori that they would provide to any other patient.

  • The medical doctors must examine both her physical and her psychological health and provide the required treatment remembering that she is a victim of torture and abuse.

  • Torture is unconstitutional and illegal under Indian and international law. Assisting torture in any way, including in its cover-up, is also an offense under these laws. It would also be completely unethical since medical professionals are duty-bound to alleviate the suffering and pain of their patients.

  • They should make sure that the Chhattisgarh police do not further harass or torture Soni Sori, physically or mentally, while she is in the hospital.

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