If you thought a bodily injury would stop the indomitable Soni Sori from making her voice heard in the face of oppression, you probably don't know her well. Her face was blackened with a chemical in Chhattisgarh's Bastar district and the moment the tribal activist was discharged from hospital, the first place she visited was not her home, but the boiling campus of the Jawaharlal Nehru University to raise some vital points about subjugation and civil rights.
Last week, a senior police official in Bastar, SRP Kalluri, alleged that the brutal attack on Sori was a “conspiracy” and that JNU student Umar Khalid, who is under arrest on sedition charges, could be part of the plot. In defiance, Sori met the very students in JNU who backed Khalid to pledge her support to their cause.
She was introduced by Kanhaiya Kumar to the audience at the varsity's administration block as "a real hero" and someone who has been fighting for azadi in her own region. Taking the centre-stage, Sori said they fight for azadi, or freedom, is a common one.
“My face today is the face of the fight in Bastar, the condition is the same. I was also jailed in a fake case of being associated with Naxalites, the same way he (Kanhaiya) has been framed for his so-called terror links,” Sori told the students.
“I am happy to be among you all. It is good to see how you all are fighting for your rights. Your struggle is not very different from that of the tribals in Chhattisgarh. We tribals, adivasis also want azadi, we want azadi from the government oppression, from the way we are targeted by the state. We cannot sleep peacefully at night inside our houses. There is always this fear that we will be picked up by the CRPF men and framed as naxals,” she said.
"I want to ask the government, just because we demand our rights and question you are we anti-nationals? We are nationalists, not terrorists," Sori said.
She was attacked by three unknown man near Kodenar in Bastar on the evening of February 20 who forcibly stopped her vehicle on the road and smeared her face with a tar-like substance, causing intense burning and pain. She was taken to the Geedam hospital and later moved to Jagdalpur hospital.
The 44-year-old Adivasi school teacher was arrested by the Delhi Police's Crime Branch for the Chhattisgarh Police in 2011 on charges of acting as a conduit for Maoists. During her imprisonment, she alleged that she was tortured and sexually assaulted by Chhattisgarh state police. By April 2013, the courts had acquitted her in six of the eight cases filed against her due to lack of evidence.
Watch her speech here.