International Human Rights Defenders award to Soni Sori

Indian Adivasi activist Soni Sori was awarded the the Ireland-based rights group Front Line Defenders 2018 award for the International Human Rights Defenders at Risk. They have recognized her struggle for justice for Adivasi community in the Bastar region of Chattisgarh.

Soni Sori is an Adivasi school teacher, by profession and the warden of a government school for tribal children in Jabeli, Dantewada. This was one of the few schools still operational in the country side in the district of Chattisgarh, till the Chattisgarh police forced her to flee from Dantewada in early September 2011. Soni Sori was arrested for allegedly having ties with Maoist insurgents in the state. She was sexually and physically assaulted during her time in prison by police authorities. Soni Sori mobilized women prisoners and demanded prisoner rights. After much national and international outrage in 2014, she was released from prison.

She contested as a candidate of the Aam Aadmi Party in the local elections but was unsuccessful in getting elected. This did not deter her fight for the human rights of the Adivasi community. Soni Sori has been leading protests against alleged fake encounters and sexual violence committed by security forces in conflict zones. According to a press release, she has also defended a number of educational centres from destruction from Maoist groups. In 2016, unidentified men attacked her in the Bastar region and she is still recovering from the chemical attack. This sent her to a hospital for about two weeks and doctors who have treated her say they don’t know exactly what she was attacked with. Sori says, “I am fearless, the more I am tortured, the stronger I become. If they are successful in silencing me, they would show me as an example to silence everyone else.”

“The human rights defenders we are honouring today work in some of the most dangerous areas of the world, sacrificing their own security to peacefully demand justice and human rights for their communities,” said Andrew Anderson, executive director of the human rights organisation Front Line Defenders, which established the award. “The award demonstrates that these defenders have the support of the international community, that their sacrifices have not gone unnoticed and that we stand in solidarity with their unrelenting bravery.”

Arundhati Roy, Booker prize winning author and political activist, in reference to Soni Sori says, “She is absolutely extraordinary, fearless and tremendously articulate. She speaks up for those who are being crushed. She tries to create a space in that conflict for ordinary people who are not armed Maoist guerillas but who are fighting for their rights in some other ways.”