This Article has been written for The New Indian Express.
The bullet that traveled through Sodhi Sambo’s leg didn’t just shatter her bone. It didn’t just leave her without medical care for twelve days of writhing agony in her village of Goompad, Dantewada District, where nine of her neighbours were killed in an alleged encounter on the 1st of October. It didn’t just take her to Delhi, to AIMS, to the Supreme Court, away from her four children and her husband. It didn’t just ensure that she’d become an intrinsic character of a drama that is played out between activists, the press, the police and the supreme court.
She was initially detained at Kanker on route to Delhi for treatment, on the 3rd of January and two days later she was found under guard at Maharani Hospital in Jagdalpur.
‘It is a medico-legal case. We haven’t arrested her, nor have we detained her, we’ve just brought her to collect her testimony on the said incident of Goompad. The police is accused, I understand but the whole police is not accused.’ Said Superintendent of Police Amresh Mishra, who had given journalists the permission to visit Sambo when they were in Dantewada to collect her own version of the story.
But by the time the press got to Maharani Hospital in Jagdalpur, this permission was mysteriously denied. Tehelka journalist Tusha Mittal was literally pushed out of the ward by policewomen. The journalists had gone back to the SP, the DIG, the IG, the Collector, from both Dantewada district and Bastar district yet no one was forthcoming. The plain clothes police personnel would ask for written permission. Every official who was contacted, forwarded responsibility to another. Many didn’t take calls, others mysteriously transformed into some other individual when informed they were speaking to journalists. Many of them refused to meet the press, IG Longkumer of Jagdalpur mysteriously leaves from the back as the press wait for him.
The red tape for the journalists was a gagging order on any testimony of Sodhi Sambo. No one shall be allowed to talk to her and there was never any intention to let anyone talk to her. The Director of the Hospital, Dr.Paikra had given full permission for journalists to talk to Sodhi yet the plain clothes police still refused permission. The head constable at the hospital admitted his fear of his superiors, DIG Sitaram Kalluri and S.P. Mishra, not the law. Advocate Colin Gonzalvez, Sambo’s lawyer, armed with a supreme court order that the State of Chhattisgarh is directed not to prevent or create any obstacles to Sodi
Shambo, was not allowed to meet her either. Chief Secretary Joy Oomen had told lawyer Kavita Shrivastava, ‘I can’t meet you, and I don’t want to meet you.’
Sodhi Sambo stayed in ‘protection’ of the plain-clothed police, who called every visitor ‘a naxalite’ or ‘naxalite sympathizer’. The S.P. Amresh Mishra had also claimed that her parents were with her yet when informed that her parents had passed away, her relatives who were attending to her, had turned into a mysterious ‘maasi’ and ‘maasa’. Yet the other attendants or nurses in the ward have little notice for any such ‘maasi’ or ‘maasa’. Her doctor Sudeep Thakur would only communicate with her, via the translation provided by another patient’s attendant, not any ‘maasi’ or ‘parent’.
Sambo is shy, vulnerable and barely talks to anyone, and the police say she is free to go where she pleases and she did not protest to come with them in the first place. Yet she still has no access to anyone but the police.
She was eventually referred to Medical College Hospital, Raipur for bone-grafting surgery, or limb-lengthening, as Maharani Hospital in Jagdalpur had no such facilities. Yet she stayed in Jagdalpur for three days, uselessly waiting for treatment she could not receive in the hospital. She was only taken to Raipur at Ramakrishna Care hospital where she was again referred to AIMS. At the whole time, neither the press nor her lawyers were allowed access to her. At one point, she was said to be in Delhi by Director General of Police Vishwa Ranjan, when she was actually still in Raipur. As of now, it is confirmed that she is in the private ward of AIMS in Delhi, and has no access to the outside world.
Meanwhile, her husband and one of her children had arrived for the Jan Sunwai on the 6th of January and had been taken away by the police. More than 25 villagers had arrived for the Jan Sunwai and there is no news of them. According to Supreme Court lawyer Colin Gonzalez, ‘Apparently all the 12 tribal petitioners from the writ petition have been picked up and are in custody of the police, and it is possible that they will be coerced to withdraw from the case.’