On 20 February, Saturday, Soni Sori, the tribal rights activist and leader of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Dantewada at south Bastar in Chhattisgarh, left Jagdalpur at 9 pm and headed home to Geedam. Her friends Shalini Gera and Isha Khandelwal, who had moved to Jagdalpur in 2013 and founded the Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group (JagLAG), had been served an eviction notice on Thursday, following the questioning of their landlord by the local police. On Saturday, they held a press conference about the police intimidation that had forced them out of Jagdalpur. Sori had come for the presser, and had stayed back to bid Gera and Khandelwal goodbye. “She wanted to stay back longer, but it was getting late,” Khandelwal told me, when I spoke to her on Sunday. Sori sat on the passenger seat of a motorcycle, behind her long-time friend, Rinki Thakur. It was a 70 kilometre journey westward on the national highway number 16.
“She was scared,” said Khandelwal. “We had received information that Soni might be attacked. But around here, we receive these kind of threats every other day. We were concerned too, but couldn’t possibly think that it was going to happen that very night.”
On their way home, the women were stopped by three men. “About 17 kilometres before Geedam, three of them came from behind on a motorcycle. They stopped us, and then they took Madam [Sori] a little away from me,” Thakur told me. Sori later told Thakur that one of the men held her hands behind her back, while the other applied a dark liquid substance on her face. Sori could not open her eyes, and felt that her face was burning. Fearing that it could be acid, they rushed to a local hospital in Geedam. It was grease oil—that may have been laced with corrosive substances. Thakur told me that the hospital authorities called an ambulance after treating Sori, and sent her to Maharani hospital back in Jagdalpur.
On Sunday evening, Sori was brought to Delhi, and was immediately admitted to the Intensive Care Unit at the Indraprastha Apollo Hospital. On Monday, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal visited the activist in the hospital. The doctors told The Hindu that her condition is now “stable and there is no threat to her life.”
What happened on Saturday fits with the grim pattern of recent events that have unfolded in Chhattisgarh. Last month, on 10 January, members of the Samajik Ekta Manch, an organisation in Jagdalpur that was recently set up to counter Naxalism in Bastar and support police work, had gone to the house of Malini Subramaniam, an independent journalist. The members of the organisation had threatened her for writing articles that they felt tarnished the image of Bastar police. A month later, on 7 February, the Samajik Ekta Manch staged a protest outside her house, and hurled stones inside.