The case of Soni Sori and her nephew Linga Kapodi is a disturbing example of the Nasty India hidden within Emerging India.
While an old man publically refusing food in New Delhi manages to rouse the country in a passion of national pride and foot-stamping insistence that ordinary people have finally become sick of the corruption that has become a daily fact of life, it is worrying that the hidden horrors of Chhattisgarh are not coming anywhere close to arousing that same kind of large scale furore.
Amnesty International has circulated the story of Soni Sori, and the crusading Tehelka newspaper has been a notable voice in the defence of Chhattisgarh’s tribals, but somehow Soni, Linga, and their people’s plight is simply not garnering the kind of attention it warrants.
More than 3000 lives have been lost over the last six year smouldering conflict in the India’s Red Corridor, also known as the Maoist Belt. A couple of big names have been actively trying to highlight the issue of the David and Goliath struggle of corporate interests Vs destitute tribals. It’s a thankless task. Dr Binyak Sen, who’s spent his career trying to improve the healthcare in this badly neglected region, was only recently released on bail following a life imprisonment sentence; the activist and educator Himanshu Kumar had his ashram and school burnt down by the authorities two years ago, and even the international literary star Arundhati Roy who has been writing blazingly articulate stories on the conflict that few middle class Indians know anything about, has been accused of sedition and treason.
But its the people on the grassroots level - people like the teacher Soni Sori and her nephew Linga, the region’s first tribal journalist, who have been living in the Kafkaesque reality of today’s Chhattisgarh. Hounded by both Maoists and the police for staunchly refusing to take sides, both currently in custody after a series of opaque run ins with the authorities.
Soni Sori didn’t turn up to her court hearing yesterday because she was so badly hurt while in police custody. The Chhattisgarh police it seems, have bathrooms so deadly that to slip on the floor of one leads to spinal and head injuries.
If it’s true that Indians have had enough of corruption and really want to take a stand, then they must make every effort to find out the truths behind the complicated stories of people like Soni Sori; they must look up the career histories of people like their Home Minister P. Chidambaram which may go some way in explaining certain political stands in places like Chhattisgarh; and they must make themselves familiar wih the work of people like Dr Binayak Sen before they buy the official accusatory lines of sedition and treason.
Soni Sori has just been transferred to a hospital in Raipur. She too has reverted to the traditional protest of the hunger strike. Unlike the plentiful photo ops of Anna Hazare however, there are no cute little tots holding up food for her to eat to the applause of thousands. Soni, who is a mother of small children, a teacher, a woman who has tried to remain true to herself and her people, is chained to her bed, unvisited and isolated. I try to imagine her pain, her terror, her bewilderment at the recent turns her life has taken - and I find that I can’t.