A Note of Dissent

Why is Chhattisgarh Police afraid of Soni Sori?

The Aam Aadmi Party leader was attacked on Saturday night.

Operation Eviction is underway in Bastar. The police and its supporters want all those who ask questions to leave.

They have managed to evict Scroll.in contributor Malini Subramaniam, who was writing about alleged rapes and killings by security forces, and lawyers Shalini Gera and Isha Khandewal of the Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group, who were defending adivasis and giving them legal assistance to challenge the police. In an extraordinary coincidence, both the journalist and the lawyers were served eviction notices on Thursday, after their landlords were called in for questioning by Jagdalpur police.

The next day, policemen came looking for the landlord of Bela Bhatia, scholar and activist, who lives on the outskirts of Jagdalpur, and has documented the spate of rapes and sexual violence in the region.

But the same strategy will not work with Aam Aadmi Party leader Soni Sori. Unlike other human rights defenders who moved to the region to stand witness to the forgotten war between Maoist rebels and government security forces, the 40-year old adivasi woman is a local. Born and raised in Dantewada, she has a large, extended family, long history, and deep roots. The former school teacher survived police arrest and alleged custodial torture in 2011, only to emerge stronger, contesting Lok Sabha elections in 2014 on an Aam Aadmi Party ticket.

She cannot be driven out. She needs to be silenced.

On Saturday night, Sori was returning from Jagdalpur, where the lawyers had addressed a press conference to place on record the police intimidation that had forced them to leave the town. She was travelling on a motorcycle with her colleague, a young woman named Rinki. On the highway to Dantewada, about ten kilometres short of Geedam town, where she lives, three men on a motorcycle overtook and stopped the women. They threw a black substance on Sori's face, which led to intense burning. In the initial panic, her family and friends thought it could be acid. Later, it turned out to be grease oil, though it is possible that the substance was laced with corrosive materials.

On Sunday morning, Sori told lawyer Shalini Gera that she was still in pain and had difficulty opening her eyes. The identity of the attackers is not known but they had told her to "stop complaining against the IG, stop raising the issue of Mardum, and if you don't behave yourself, we will do this to your daughter as well." The IG is a reference to Inspector General SRP Kalluri who heads the police in Bastar region. Sori has been trying to file a complaint against him. Most recently, she had taken up the case of Hidma, a resident of Mardum village who was killed by the police in January. The police claimed he was a Maoist, but the entire village contested that claim. Keen to get the case more attention, Sori had taken Hidma's family to Raipur, where journalists were shown his voter identity card and bank account papers. A few stories appeared in the national newspapers, which Bastar police was unlikely to have appreciated.

The black taint might not leave permanent scars. It might not even scare Sori, who has endured worse. But it might still serve its purpose of silencing others who dare question the police.

Last Monday, Sori was in Raipur, planning a protest march from the villages in Bijapur where women had been allegedly raped and molested by security forces, all the way to Jagdalpur, a distance of nearly 200 kilometres.

She wanted the march to begin on February 20 and wind up in Jagdalpur on March 8, International Women's Day.

She wanted people from all over Chhattisgarh and India to join it.

But the plans had to be put on hold. The forced evictions of the journalist and lawyers had sullied the atmosphere for democratic dissent.

The attack on Sori has darkened the horizons further.

Update at 11 am on February 23: While doctors in Jagdalpur told Scroll.in that the substance was "grease oil", doctors in Delhi told reporters that Soni was admitted with "chemical burns on her face".

Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Tracing the formation of Al Qaeda and its path to 9/11

A new show looks at some of the crucial moments leading up to the attack.

“The end of the world war had bought America victory but not security” - this quote from Lawrence Wright’s Pulitzer-Prize winning book, ‘The Looming Tower’, gives a sense of the growing threat to America from Al Qaeda and the series of events that led to 9/11. Based on extensive interviews, including with Bin Laden’s best friend in college and the former White House counterterrorism chief, ‘The Looming Tower’ provides an intimate perspective of the 9/11 attack.

Lawrence Wright chronicles the formative years of Al Qaeda, giving an insight in to Bin Laden’s war against America. The book covers in detail, the radicalisation of Osama Bin Laden and his association with Ayman Al Zawahri, an Egyptian doctor who preached that only violence could change history. In an interview with Amazon, Wright shared, “I talked to 600-something people, but many of those people I talked to again and again for a period of five years, some of them dozens of times.” Wright’s book was selected by TIME as one of the all-time 100 best nonfiction books for its “thoroughly researched and incisively written” account of the road to 9/11 and is considered an essential read for understanding Islam’s war on the West as it developed in the Middle East.

‘The Looming Tower’ also dwells on the response of key US officials to the rising Al Qaeda threat, particularly exploring the turf wars between the FBI and the CIA. This has now been dramatized in a 10-part mini-series of the same name. Adapted by Dan Futterman (of Foxcatcher fame), the series mainly focuses on the hostilities between the FBI and the CIA. Some major characters are based on real people - such as John O’ Neill (FBI’s foul-mouthed counterterrorism chief played by Jeff Daniels) and Ali Soufan (O’ Neill’s Arabic-speaking mentee who successfully interrogated captured Islamic terrorists after 9/11, played by Tahar Rahim). Some are composite characters, such as Martin Schmidt (O’Neill’s CIA counterpart, played by Peter Sarsgaard).

The series, most crucially, captures just how close US intelligence agencies had come to foiling Al Qaeda’s plans, just to come up short due to internal turf wars. It follows the FBI and the CIA as they independently follow intelligence leads in the crises leading up to 9/11 – the US Embassy bombings in East Africa and the attack on US warship USS Cole in Yemen – but fail to update each other. The most glaring example is of how the CIA withheld critical information – Al Qaeda operatives being hunted by the FBI had entered the United States - under the misguided notion that the CIA was the only government agency authorised to deal with terrorism threats.

The depth of information in the book has translated into a realistic recreation of the pre-9/11 years on screen. The drama is even interspersed with actual footage from the 9/11 conspiracy, attack and the 2004 Commission Hearing, linking together the myriad developments leading up to 9/11 with chilling hindsight. Watch the trailer of this gripping show below.

Play

The Looming Tower is available for streaming on Amazon Prime Video, along with a host of Amazon originals and popular movies and TV shows. To enjoy unlimited ad free streaming anytime, anywhere, subscribe to Amazon Prime Video.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Amazon Prime Video and not by the Scroll editorial team.