Every year, on Republic Day, Indian state governments recommend names of soldiers and police personnel for the President’s Police Medal for Gallantry Award in recognition of the “highest degree of valour and selfless sacrifice”. The list is sanctioned by states, approved by a central committee and signed off by the Prime Minister of India. It is one of the highest medals of honor and courage thus awarded in the country.
This year the award was presented to Ankit Garg — a police officer whose active participation in the custodial torture of Soni Sori is documented by testimonies, court documents and medical reports and whose case is pending ongoing trial in the Supreme Court. Ankit Garg, himself, does not dispute the charges. Soni Sori’s story is at the center of an ongoing national media and activist campaign against state repression of adivasis that is supported by international groups like Amnesty International (who have called for Soni Sori’s release).
Not only is the Indian government unconcerned that a woman was sexually tortured, beaten and electrocuted — but it has celebrated these acts as examples of valor and courage. According to the Indian government, it takes bravery to watch, participate, and supervise a woman being beaten and sexually assaulted by a group of men. The Indian government believes it is gallantry to claim that she slipped and fell in the bathroom to explain her wounds.
From a recent press release from the Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression
[…] It is shocking to note that in spite of wide publicity and protests over SP Ankit Garg’s inhuman conduct by a large number of women’s and civil liberties groups, nationally and internationally, the government has deemed it fit to confer him with a gallantry award. It is even more baffling to note that this has occurred at a time when the Honourable Supreme Court itself has expressed anguish at the happenings and is still looking into these violations. Compounding the very serious charges of a heinous crime of sexual violence against Ms. Soni Sori that SP Ankit Garg faces, is that fact that this crime happened when she had been entrusted into his custody as a senior police officer. After the report from the Kolkata NRS Medical College and Hospital, this is no longer a case of mere allegations against the police, but there is also solid evidence by a government medical team to support her charges. However, none of this appears to have placed even a shadow of doubt on the gallantry of this Officer as far as the government is concerned. By giving an award in the face of these complaints which have not even received a cursory investigation, both the Central and State governments are condoning this sexual violence which is being perpetrated in the name of anti-Naxal operations.
It is a dark day for Indian democracy today. While Ms. Soni Sori, the victim of this heinous torture languishes in the Raipur Central Jail, with a deteriorating health condition, and waits for her case to be listed in the Supreme Court, women’s teams who have been taking up the case of her torture have been refused permission to meet her. She is still under the custody of the same state police has that inflicted this torture on her.
We are also appalled to note that a majority of “gallantry” awards this year have been given out for anti-Naxal and counter-insurgency operations. Civil liberties organisations have been pointing out the widespread human rights violations that are taking place in these areas in the cover of counter-insurgency operations. This raises grave concerns and points to a movement in the direction of a military state, which can have no place in a democratic republic such as ours. […]
You can read the whole thing here.
There’s a petition to be signed. One of at least two petitions. Sign as many as you can find.
In a disgusting display of obtuseness, Vishwa Ranjan, Director-General of Police (Home Guards), has said that the “The Police Medal for Gallantry is for a specific instance … it is not like the award for Meritorious Service … Ankit Garg led one of the teams in the Mahasamund [encounter].”
With this logic, bravery medal candidates should include all perpetrators of violence and all criminals at large — just in case they have done something “courageous” in life. Sanjeev Mahajan does a nice job responding to Vishwa Ranjan and shedding light on the Mahasamund encounter.
Kamyani Bali Mahabal’s blog — Kractivist is an excellent source for current information about Soni Sori (and also other news).
According to Kractivist, the latest update on Soni Sori is as follows:
Soni Sori’s petition did not come up for hearing on Jan 25th . Despite the last order on Dec 2nd stating that it should be listed among the first three items scheduled to be heard today, it got listed as item 14. the 26th was aholiday, of course, to congratulate ourselves on the Constitution. Soni also needs urgent medical treatment for the consequences of her torture. Her lawyers presented a motion in the Supreme Court last week. They expected it to come up for hearing today. But it didn’t either. No date has been set for the next hearing. while we await justice.
Finally, I wanted to say a word about the poster that has been going around, highlighting this injustice.
A woman’s experience of sexual assault should never be turned into a logo — this is doubly true when her voice is absent from the decisions on how her story will be depicted. The red person shown is a stain on this otherwise powerful and well-deserved indictment of Ankit Garg. An unfortunate misstep of design that disrespects a sexual violence survivor’s experiences. Ankit Garg deserves shaming (and jailing). Not Soni Sori.
Another poster with Ankit Garg’s face is floating around! Glad that I can share a poster without feeling gross about it.
[Previous posts on Soni Sori here and here.]