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Amnesty International calls her a "prisoner of conscience". Noam Chomsky and Jean Dreze have written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh protesting against the "brutal treatment meted out" to her in jail. But for the Chhattisgarh police, she is a Maoist supporter, booked for several offences, including sedition. Her cousin and neighbours talk of her Maoist connections and of her role as a police informer. So who is Soni Sori? An educated tribal woman, a social worker framed by the police or a woman who flirted dangerously with both sides of this war—the police and the Naxals?
The truth lies somewhere in between, often falling through the gaps. Sori's story over the past two years is that of a woman who was exploited both by the police and the Maoists—some would say she let them use her—and now by her activist friends. "Samaj sevika (activist)? Aisa to kuch nahi tha...woh apna kaam nikaal rahi thi, bas (She was just getting her work done)," says Sori's sister-in-law Jyoti.
Sori was arrested in Delhi on October 4, 2011, a month after the Chhattisgarh police allegedly caught Essar contractor B K Lala trying to pay protection money to Maoists through Lingaram Kodapi, a "Maoist conduit" and Sori's nephew. Sori too was allegedly present at the spot but gave police the slip.
After her arrest, Sori was brought to Dantewada jail, where she sustained injuries in custody. This led to frenzied campaigns in the media, among human rights activists and lawyers who called for her immediate release and petitioned the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, letters purportedly written by Sori in jail reached her mentor Himanshu Kumar in Delhi. These letters detailed the 'torture' she had been subjected to in police custody and how SP Ankit Garg allegedly stripped her and forcibly inserted stones into her body. The letters triggered global outrage. Her lawyers filed an additional petition in the Supreme Court, which then directed that she be taken to AIIMS for a check-up. She returned to Chhattisgarh in June and is now in a Raipur jail.