Claiming that the attack on tribal activist Soni Sori was a “conspiracy”, Bastar IG S R P Kalluri on Sunday said JNU student Umar Khalid, who is under arrest on sedition charges, could be part of the plot as he had taken her name during a speech.
A press release issued by Kalluri said, “Umar Khalid, who shouted anti-India slogans and pro-Pakistan slogans in JNU Delhi, who is in jail on charges of sedition, mentioned the attack on Soni Sori and the (Jagdalpur) Legal Aid Group. CPI (Maoist) spokesperson Vikalp in his press note on February 21, has also mentioned the smearing of ‘khallikh (black ink)’ on Soni Sori and the attack on (journalists) Malini Subramainam and Alok Putul, which shows that the Soni Sori incident has been conducted because of a conspiracy, and it is essential to expose the case… The investigation is being conducted scientifically and soon, the criminal conspiracy will be unearthed. “
It was essential for facts to come to light, police said, “so that anti-Naxal programme could be resumed in earnest”.
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Umar Khalid had named Sori and the Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group during his speech in JNU when he had resurfaced on the campus, while police were looking for him. He had later surrendered.
Contacted by The Indian Express, Kalluri said he “could not clarify any further”. “I have issued a press release. That is my version.”
Police have announced a Rs 30,000 reward for arrest of unknown accused in the Sori attack, as well as a Rs 1 lakh reward for information that helps “expose” the case.
The release by Kalluri also talked about Sori’s “non-cooperative stance”. “It is the intention of the IG, Bastar Range, that the truth of the incident be revealed as soon as possible, so that the anti-Naxal programme can be continued apace. For the investigation of the incident, Kalyana Elsela, ASP Bijapur, is in Delhi. The main eyewitness and witness in the case is adopting a non-coperative stance, but many facts have been revealed. With some more evidence, the police will soon reach a conclusion, and incident will be exposed, so that anti-Naxal operations can continue.”
Elsela is part of the SIT set up by Kalluri to investigate the attack on Sori. In a report to the IG, he said, “The team met the doctor who is treating Ms Sori and it was found that she was never in a critical state as reported in the media. She is under treatment to prevent any infection on her face and does not require any plastic surgery. She was admitted with irritation caused due to some unknown substance. The traces of the substance (were) sent for forensic analysis by police earlier. It was unusual that after the substance was wiped off the face at Gidam and Jagdalpur, she appeared with dark black substance on her face when she reached Delhi. However the doctor advised that a final opinion can be given only on completion of treatment.”
Saying the SIT will speak to Sori after she is discharged from hospital, the report added, “The doctor had no objections in letting the team meet Ms Sori. It is important to speak to the victim to reconstruct the incident and to establish the leads found in investigation so far. However due to unwarranted pressure by advocates, colleagues and co-workers of Ms Sori that she is in isolatiaon and still under shock, the team deemed fit to wait till the discharge of Ms Soni.”
On February 20 night, Sori was travelling from Jagdalpur to Geedam after meeting Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group’s Isha Khandelwal and Shalini Gera, when three men allegedly stopped the motorcycle Sori was on and applied a grease-like substance to her face. Soni has since then been hospitalised, first in a local hospital and now in Delhi.
The Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group and Scroll.in’s Subramaniam have left Bastar in the past 10 days allegedly under police pressure, while BBC journalist Alok Putul has written a piece saying he was told by Kalluri and Bastar SP R N Das that police only “work with patriotic journalists”. Putul also alleged that he was warned by people in Jagdalpur that “there were people looking to attack him”.
Aam Aadmi Party Chhattisgarh convenor Sanket Thakur told The Indian Express, “It is clear what the Bastar police is doing. By alleging a conspiracy, they are manufacturing a new conspiracy. Additionally, I am surprised that a police officer of the rank of IG can connect something said in JNU to this case. What is the connection?”
On the allegation that the SIT was prevented from meeting Sori, Thakur said, “Soni Sori is recovering but the new skin is very soft and highly susceptible to infection, therefore doctors at Apollo have not allowed her to meet anyone. Yesterday, members of the SIT visited Apollo but they were not allowed to meet Soniji by Dr I P Singh, plastic surgeon, Apollo.”