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".

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Five of the world’s most incredible magic tricks that went wrong

Even the best planned illusions are often unpredictable and can have unfortunate consequences.

Magic has a special hold on our imagination, especially when magicians and illusionists perform death-defying tricks. But magic, much like life itself, is unpredictable. These are some of the world’s most audacious magic tricks that show how even some of the best magicians often miscalculate the risk:

The bullet catch. In this trick, a bullet is fired at a magician on stage who appears to catch it in his mouth. The bullet, before being fired, is marked by a member of the audience to ensure that it is the same bullet that’s caught by the magician. The bullet catch has been described as the most dangerous magic trick in the world and around 15 magicians have reportedly died performing it.

The Chinese water torture cell. In this illusion, the magician, with feet locked in iron restraints, is lowered face first into a glass tank filled with water in full view of the audience. The magician then has only minutes to undo the restraints and escape before drowning. Many magicians have attempted variations of this trick, and as recently as 2015, an escape artist called Spencer Horsmann nearly drowned when he failed to escape.

Buried alive. Legend has it that this illusion has its origins in India. There are many variations of the trick with the essential feature being that the magician is trapped underground in a box. In a famous 1999 event, the American magician David Blaine was buried in a Plexiglas coffin for seven days. He survived the trick but many others have not. Joe Burrus, an American magician attempted the trick in 1990 and died when his coffin broke underground.

Sword swallowing. This ancient art involves the magician inserting a sword or other sharp metal objects down his or her throat and into the stomach. Many variations have been performed with magicians swallowing long swords, multiple swords, bayonets and even hot swords to make it more dramatic. It is estimated that over 25 magicians have died performing it since the 19th century.

Death-defying escape under the sea. This magic trick was first performed by the Indian magician PC Sorcar Jr in 1969. Sorcar was sealed in a mail bag and locked in a wooden crate that was strapped with steel, welded, chained and thrown into the ocean. Sorcar managed to escape from the crate within 90 seconds and became a legend. In 1983, an escape artist called Dean Gunnarson performed a similar stunt in which he was handcuffed, chained and nailed into a coffin that was immersed into a river. The stunt went wrong, and Gunnarson had to be rescued by his support crew and resuscitated back to life.

Despite the best preparations, magic tricks can go awry and leave families without financial security. The video below takes the lens of humor but drives the point home.

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