At first, I could think of nothing because of the excruciating pain and burning sensation. My eyes wouldn’t open and when they did I couldn’t recognize myself.

Soni Sori is a 41-year-old tribal rights activist. But what made a teacher-turned-warden turn into an activist? What makes a person leading a normal life turn into a crusader?

Grave injustice! And that is exactly what happened with Soni Sori the tribal activist.

Soni Sori The tribal activist

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Born in the Sameli village, Soni has turned into a political leader and dedicated her life to fight against police cruelty. Her story starts when she was arrested on the charges of being a mediator for the Maoists in 2011. She was tortured and sexually assaulted.

I was often made to sit naked in my cell. And then one day stones were inserted in my private parts. I thought this was the end.

Humiliated, Soni kept the incident to herself but eventually the brutality got to her. She wrote to a Delhi-based human rights activist and that letter became public.

With each passing day of torture, Soni grew strong and joined forces with other female inmates to demand a decent meal, clean water, newspaper and humanized treatment.

Her husband who was also arrested at about the same time for the same reason, got to know about the abuse and Soni’s newly found activism. He did not support her.

When he got to know about the sexual torture from other inmates and newspapers, he was furious and said I had brought him shame for life.

The jail torture led to her husband’s death and Soni was left alone to face the cruel world.

I did not read books to become an activist – the jail time made me one.

Soni was discharged for almost all the cases registered against her and granted bail. After that she contested in the April 2014 general elections in Bastar but failed to win. That didn’t stop Soni from working for her people.

Soni Sori The tribal activist

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In February 2016, Soni was attacked with a hazardous chemical in the Dantewada district of Chattisgarh. At 2200 hours, three unidentified men on a motorcycle, stopped Soni and her friend, smeared her face with the chemical and threatened her. Soni told BBC,

It was dark, I couldn’t see their faces and all I heard were threats that if I didn’t stop raising my voice against police atrocities, they’d attack my daughter next.

Her face got swollen and her skin started to peel and fall off from her face.

Soni Sori The tribal activist

Booker prize winner¬†and celebrated Indian author, Arundhati Roy describes Soni as ‘absolutely extraordinary, fearless and tremendously articulate’. Even after this gruesome attack, Soni rose and made it to public speaking. She gave an astounding speech at JNU after the attack, announcing that she is not backing down.

Soni Sori The tribal activist

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I am fearless, the more I am tortured, the stronger I become. If they are successful in silencing me, they would show me as an example to silence everyone else.

Bastar in under threat from both the Maoists and the police. The tribal population is being harassed from both the sides and the situation is extremely vulnerable. Soni’s cousin has written an open letter to the President asking to intervene and rescue the people of Bastar from the cruelty.¬†Bastar IG SRP Kalluri has denied all allegations of harassment. Till anyone comes to help the people of Bastar, they have Soni by their side. Win or lose, Soni will fight and as she says,

My face today is the face of Bastar’s fight!