"When I was a student, I was taught that students are the future of the country. But now the future is being charged with sedition," tribal activist-turned-politician Soni Sori told Firstpost. She was in JNU on Monday to express solidarity with students who are protesting the sedition charges slapped on them by the police.
Making her first public appearance after she was discharged from Apollo Hospital where she was undergoing treatment following the acid attack on her in Chhattisgarh, Sori said she was "brutalised" for questioning "the oppressive policies of the state government and the excesses being committed by the police on tribals."
"My face today is the symbol of our struggle for Bastar. The condition there and here in JNU are the same. Kanhaiya (Kumar, the JNU Students' Union president) and others have been booked under sedition charges in the same way I was sent behind bars on fake charges of being associated with Maoists. When we question the oppressive policies of the governments and raise our voices against it, we become seditious and are branded anti-nationals. It is not in the domain of the government to judge and distribute certificates of patriotism and anti-nationalism. We strongly reject it," she said. She added the more they attack her the more she would get strength to fight back.
"If the government," Sori said, "has to accomplish its ideas of Young India, Skill India and Make in India, it will have to do justice to its students instead of branding them anti-nationals."
Asked about her views on "azaadi" (independence), she was quick to reply that she and thousands of her fellow tribals and adivasis also want "azaadi" from "government oppression, from the witch-hunt and the way we are targeted by the state". She said innocent persons were being picked up and killed in cold blood by the police and security forces on the pretext of being Naxalites. "We cannot sleep peacefully at night inside our houses. There is always this fear that we will be picked up and framed as Naxalites."
She said their "resolve to create a just and independent society cannot be weakened by acid attacks, threats and cold-blooded murders. We will continue to fight till the last breath and we shall win one day."
Bastar is one of the most steadfast bastions of Naxalism in the country and one of the few remaining places where Red insurgency continues to hold sway. It is seeing an upswing in police operations. It involves not just more boots on the ground but deployment of 'surrendered Maoists' in greater numbers.
Sharing her experience of spending time with students in JNU, Sori said she was extremely delighted and not scared of anything. "I am feeling as if I am azaad here. There is no fear. But when I return to Bastar, the same fear and suffering will welcome me. Ladai karne wala kabhi safe nahin rehta (those who fight never remain safe). I will have to go back to captivity which is surrounded by heavy deployment of police forces, rape and other harassments. But I am not scared. I accept it as a challenge. The fight against injustices meted out to my fellow tribals and adivasis will go on and one day, truth and peace will prevail," she said.
Asked why she was attacked, she said the "assault on me might be a warning not to raise the issue of alleged encounters and question police forces led by nationalist IG SRP Kalluri".
Recently, 40-year-old Hidma was killed by the police in an alleged encounter in Sulenga village in the Madum area of Bastar district. The police said that he was a Naxalite and had a reward of Rs 1 lakh on his head, but Sori claimed that he was an "innocent farmer, a father of seven, who was asked by the force to show them the way into the jungle". She had also questioned the authenticity of another alleged encounter in the same village on 7 February after which she was attacked.
Asked if JNU student Umar Khalid, who is under arrest on sedition charges, could be part of the plot to attack her as he had taken her name during a speech — as alleged by IG Kalluri — she said, "I can only laugh at this conspiracy theory". "It is completely nonsense and absurd. The nationalist Chhattisgarh police are attempting to frame an innocent young man to hide their failure and help justify the crackdown at JNU conducted by their counterpart in Delhi," she added.