'India is my country and we will raise our voice against anybody who harms the interests of Adivasis, be it the state government or the Maoists.'
Firebrand Adivasi leader Soni Sori -- who has allegedly suffered sexual exploitation by the police as well as acid attacks for her fight for the tribals of Chhattisgarh -- will lead a 200 kilometre-long padyatra from Dantewada to Gompad village, where an Adivasi teen, Madkam Hidme, was allegedly raped and killed by security forces.
The march will highlight the brutalities faced by the people in the battle between the government and the Maoists in the tribals' name.
Sori spoke to Rediff.com's Prasanna D Zore about her "historic fight" to seek justice for Hidme and many other women by hoisting the Tricolour in the remote village of Gompad.
What is the main purpose of your padyatra from Dantewada that begins August 9 and culminates on August 15 in Gompad with the hoisting of the Tricolour?
August 9 is the day when Mahatma Gandhi launched the Quit India movement against the British. August 9 is also considered as International Adivasi Diwas.
We will be highlighting the injustices done to the Adivasis of Chhattisgarh by the police during this padyatra and raise questions about fake encounters of the Adivasis by the police and sexual exploitation of Adivasi women by the state.
We have chosen Gompad to end our padyatra because it was in this village that the police brutally killed Madkam Hidme (the Chhattisgarh police claim she was a Naxalite and killed in an encounter with the police) after sexually assaulting her.
These areas happen to be 'liberated zones' of the Maoists where hoisting the Indian national flag is not allowed.
By hoisting the Tiranga we will highlight the police atrocities against the Adivasis of these tribal areas and also send a message to the nation that even these so-called 'liberated zones' are part of this country.
What is the route you will be taking?
Beginning August 9 from Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Park in Dantewada we will be covering over 200 km across the state and reach Gompad on August 15.
The Chhattisgarh police have begun a devious campaign of dividing the Adivasis and inciting the tribals against me by saying that I purposely started my padyatra on August 9 -- International Adivasi Diwas -- to disturb the various programmes planned by various tribal associations in the state. They are telling the gullible Adivasis that I am not fighting for their rights and upliftment.
I have met all my Adivasi brothers and sisters (24 Adivasi organisations are part of this padyatra) and convinced them the police is trying to divide the Adivasis by such dangerous propaganda.
How is the Chhattisgarh police trying to scuttle your padyatra?
Till now, they have kept us hanging as far as the permission for the padyatra is concerned. They are trying to create a rift among the Adivasis by saying that Soni Sori is only interested in her welfare and political career.
I have succeeded in convincing my fellow Adivasis how the Chhattisgarh government is trampling the rights of the Adivasis, killing them in fake encounters, sexually exploiting our mothers and sisters and we have to fight against such injustices now.
We can't stand such atrocities any more and the government and the police should now know that we have lost our patience with this system that only suffocates the Adivasis.
It is amply clear that the police don't want us to succeed in taking out this padyatra and highlight such gross injustices.
Do you think the police can detain or arrest you in their bid to stop this padyatra?
Both possibilities cannot be ruled out. These people (the police and the state government) can do anything to me.
But let me warn them that such intimidators cannot hold us back now. This is not just Soni Sori's padyatra; this is the padyatra of the Adivasis of Chhattisgarh who are affiliated to almost 24 organisations under the banner of the Sanyukt Sangharsh Manch for saving Bastar.
So, the padyatra will go on even if you are arrested?
Zaroor chalegi! (of course, the padyatra will go on!).
If they arrest us then on the day Irom Sharmila has decided to end her indefinite fast in Manipur (August 9), we will be launching a similar fast in Chhattisgarh.
If the police create a Manipur-like situation here, we will have to do what Irom Sharmila did there.
Gompad is part of the area that the Maoists of Chhattisgarh call a 'liberated zone' and you will be hoisting the Indian flag there on August 15. Have you received any threats from the Maoists?
Not yet. I haven't been threatened by the Maoists yet.
But there are chances that the Maoists will try to disturb your flag hoisting programme in Gompad.
I have the interests of the people of Bastar and Chhattisgarh in my heart. So, I am not scared of the state government or the Maoists.
It will be an open padyatra through the main roads and villages. Let them (the Maoists) do anything they want to stop this padyatra, but we will go on with our programme.
Why should I hide from anybody? My struggle is very clearly for the justice of the people of Chhattisgarh and against the atrocities of the state police.
It will not be just Soni Sori, but the people of Bastar who will be a part of this padyatra. Ten women who have been raped by the police will be part of our padyatra; the state government is responsible for their rapes; the police are just the perpetrators.
Don't the Maoists also indulge in sexual assaults on the tribal women who oppose their ideology or who side with the state government?
Whenever such incidents come to our notice we will raise our voice against such acts. We will speak against the Maoists too.
Ours is not a one-sided fight; we have chosen this path because we want to fight all kinds of injustices against the poor tribals of this region.
India is my country and we will raise our voice against anybody who harms the interests of Adivasis, be it the state government or the Maoists.
Don't the Maoists wave black flags on Independence Day instead of the Tricolour?
You are right. They (the Maoists) do what they think is right, but we will do what we think is good for our brothers and sisters. Accordingly, we are charting our path.
Aren't you scared that the Maoists can attack you? On the one hand, the police are making, as you say, all efforts to scuttle your padyatra and then there are the Maoists who use violence to oppose the hoisting of the national flag in their so-called 'liberated zones'?
I have immense faith in the people of this country. With huge support from them I think it will be very difficult for the Maoists to attack us or forcibly stop our flag hoisting ceremony on August 15 in Gompad.
I am fighting a battle in a democratic and Constitutional way and that gives me the strength to fight against the police brutalities and the violence of the Maoists.
This government (in Chhattisgarh) is blatantly violating the Constitution of India and those sitting in power are exploiting the hapless Adivasis by making use of the state's law and order machinery.
This government has refused to accept the basic human rights of Madkam Hidme, who was brutally raped by men in uniform in Gompad. They are labelling the Adivasis of Chhattisgarh as 'Naxals' and using that as a ploy to illegally eliminate them in fake encounters and sending them to jail in false cases, and they call it development.
We will restart the schools in Gompad under the banner of the Indian flag and also highlight the grave injustices suffered by many women like Madkam Hidme.
These people have no voter IDs, no ration cards, no human rights, enjoyed by the other citizens of India.
If the Maoists want to oppose our just fight against the system, it is their wish. But they won't be able to stop us.
We will fight for the rights of the Adivasis and are ready to pay any price for it.
The day these Adivasis come out against the Maoists and say they also exploit them, then we will also voice our opposition to the Maoists too. But the people have to come out against the Maoists.
Why is your padyatra culminating in Gompad? What is the message that you want to send to the state government and the Maoists?
This is a fight for seeking justice for Hidme and we will wage it in a democratic way.
What better way to highlight the atrocities committed against a poor tribal by the police on the orders of the state government, but to hoist our national flag and organise people to fight against the exploitation of Adivasis?
Hidme is one of the many Adivasi sisters, who was dragged out of her house, raped in the jungle by the police, and then killed in cold blood and labelled a Maoist.
While the focus of our padyatra and flag hoisting is seeking justice for Hidme, our overall plan is to highlight how brutally the state government is suppressing its own people in the name of development.
The fight for justice for Hidme will become a historic fight and we will continue our fight till we get justice for the women of Chhatisgarh who have met Hidme's fate.
Hidme has become a symbol of rapes against the tribal women of Chhattisgarh.
We will also be questioning the system that allows 76 of its own policemen to be killed in a violent encounter with the Maoists (in one of the deadliest attacks on security forces 76 Central Reserve Police Force personnel were killed by Maoists on April 6, 2010 in Chhattisgarh's Chintalnar village).
As a reaction to such brutal killings the state government requisitions more police force to quash the Maoists, but despite getting more additional forces the fight against the Maoists continues forever.
The 76 CRPF personnel who were killed by the Maoists are our brothers too and fought for the security of the country.
But the question is: Why do these jawans have to sacrifice their lives?
Why hasn't the fight against the Maoists come to a definitive end?
Why is this war still raging on in Chhattisgarh?
Instead of putting a lid on Maoist activities more police forces in the state has led to more killings, rapes and arrests of the Adivasis. Till when will this bloodshed continue?
So, you will also seek justice for the 76 CRPF personnel who were killed by the Maoists during this padyatra?
I will question the state government on why our jawans are dying in Chhattisgarh.
Despite sacrifices of so many of our jawans as well as innocent Adivasis, the state government is still fighting against the Maoists with no success.
Why hasn't the state government succeeded in diluting the influence of the Maoists among the tribals of Chhattisgarh?
We want to ask the state government if this strategy of employing more police force into Chattisgarh against the Maoists has failed.
If so, isn't it time they change tack and put an end to this bloodshed of the people?
But, on the contrary, we are seeing more forces being called in, more money being spent on them, more arms and ammunition being bought and in effect, fanning the flames of further bloodshed.
Why is there no peace in Chhatisgarh?