Face to Face: Vrinda Grover
The conviction rate in Dantewada and Jagdalpur is one and three per cent. The entire objective appears to be to keep them in jail
Souzeina Mushtaq Delhi
The brutal assault on tribal school teacher Soni Sori by policemen led by an officer in Chhattisgarh, involving stones inserted in her private parts, had shocked the nation. Her continued imprisonment, after being branded a Maoist, on “false charges and fabricated evidence”, has been widely criticized by civil society and human rights groups in Indiaand abroad. Eminent lawyer Vrinda Grover, who is representing the case of Soni Sori and her nephew, Lingaram Kodopi, recently met them when they were brought to the court in Dantewada, and also in Jagdalpur jail, Chhattisgarh. Excerpts from an interview with Hardnews:
You met Soni Sori and her nephew, Lingaram Kodopi, in jail. What is the status of their cases?
I had gone to Chhattisgarh, particularly to Jagdalpur and Dantewada, to argue on behalf of Soni Sori and Lingaram Kodopi. Soni Sori was facing six cases; she has been acquitted in four of them, in one case she has got bail. This particular case is the last one, and is still going on. Lingaram Kodopi was facing two criminal cases. He has been acquitted in one, the other is pending.
It is important to underline that in all these cases, the chargesheets filed had serious criminal charges against both of them, such as attacks on an MLA’s house or burning of trucks or being part of a larger Naxal crowd that has attacked some place. The sections invoked in those chargesheets were of a very serious nature, including the Arms Act, the Explosive Substances Act, and serious sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). However, in all of the cases, they have been acquitted. The attempt was to project them as dangerous, dreaded Naxal leaders, and they were not given bail in any of them. Since there was no evidence against them, the court had no option but to acquit them.
However, they have been in custody since 2011. So, two years are over. In this particular case, the allegations were that a contractor, BK Lala, on behalf of Essar company, was paying off the Naxals not to disrupt their work. And that Soni and Lingaram were the conduits and they had come to take the money and pass it on to the Naxals.
Ironically, in this case, the seizure memo says that Lala was in possession of Rs 15 lakh; but he is out on bail. The Essar manager, who is alleged to have benefitted from this, is also out on bail. The only two people in jail are Lingaram Kodopi and Soni Sori, who stood to gain nothing in this entire so-called transaction. I am not even for a minute saying that the transaction is true; the whole case is totally fabricated and false.
Soni’s father, who came to meet her in the Dantewada court, was on crutches. His right foot was severely swollen and he had tied a little rag around it. The foot was in a very bad shape. I am not sure, if, medically, his foot can be retrieved anymore. He received this injury because Naxals shot him, as he refused to become a Naxal informer. So that is the real story of this family which is playing itself out, and which actually illustrates the story of the adivasis in Chhattisgarh who are today facing multiple assaults by the State.
How do you call these cases false and fabricated?
Take this case as an example. Framing the charge is the first stage of a criminal trial. The two people who stood to gain from this so-called financial transaction are out on bail. They do not care if the case trials drag on. In fact, it is in their interest to delay and drag the case. The evidence, if at all, is against them. There is no evidence against Soni and Linga. So they are interested in delaying and protracting the issue before the court. The judge herself told me that, for the last one-and-a-half years, Lala and his counsel did not argue. Even this time, his counsel did not argue. He did not turn up. He put in some
This incident happened in September 2011. By October-November, the chargesheet should have been filed. From 2011 to 2013, why have the charges not been framed? What is the explanation for this? Why is nobody in the entire legal system worried or concerned that two people are in jail for no fault of theirs?
The maximum punishment under the sections that they are being accused under in the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act is two years. In this case, they will get acquitted because there is no legal evidence against them. However, they have already served a punishment. What kind of legal system allows this? Why is the court allowing these kinds of delays to happen? Why does the court allow these adjournments?
Why do you think this is happening all the time? Surely, Soni Sori’s case is not the only one…