It will be fair to assume that we all remember writing – or thinking of writing – a letter to God at some point in our lives, typically when quite young. Those were letters of various kinds but more often than not they encapsulated our acute feelings whose redress we had not been able to obtain from other sources. They were often in the nature of requests or registered some feeling of grave injustice for which we were convinced that we had to make a personal appeal to the highest arbiter or wish-granter. We often had profound unanswered questions, questions that we had turned over in our own heads endlessly but found no earthly answers to give us any comfort. We were totally at a loss and did not know what else to do or who else to turn to. So we finally decided to write to the Supreme Being, the One who was supposed to know all reasons for things that went terribly wrong and have all the answers.
Soni Sori’s letters from her incarceration, most recently to Supreme Court judges, seem to be in similar vein: pained, stupefied missives seeking some answers to what she has been through, to seek even the most basic explanation possible. There are times when the entirety of one’s life experience is not enough to provide one with any insight into what one is overtaken by. Then all one can do is issue a plea for help soliciting some answers. The stupefaction is complete.
Such is the state that Soni displays: a complete incomprehension of why she finds herself in the current situation, among the people who previously tormented her. So much so that she asks the judge, “Why did you give me a new lease of life then? You should have left me to die,” referring to the fact that she was provided life-giving medical attention in Kolkata upon the court’s order but then handed back to the very people among whom she had been tortured. She prefers death to the continued threat her life has been in. That should tell us something about the trauma she has been subjected to already.
But despite undergoing reprehensible treatment at the hand of the state, notice her simple-minded and sincere gratitude towards the judicial system: “I live, thanks to your order, which I’ll never forget,” she tells the judge she addresses the letter to. She feels a certain welling gratitude towards a part of the very state that is also after her limb and life. It is possible her adivasi values inform her to give thanks where she can, to not see an all-pervasive evil in the systems around her. However that same life-giver, that Supreme mai-baap, also causes her utter befuddlement: how could the very institution that ordered her treatment that saved her life suddenly forget how her life was endangered and feign complete ignorance of circumstances by entrusting her back to the people who caused her pain? She expresses herself plaintively thus: “But the esteemed Court had more faith in the police than in their daughter and because of that, I have lost everything today. The Court still doesn’t understand…”
Daughter! She refers to herself as “their daughter,” trying, in her naivete and idealism, to claim some sort of socio-cultural role under which women are accorded respect as being either daughters or sisters. “This is a plea from a helpless daughter,” she repeats in the next paragraph. The reader wonders why she is doing this, why is she debasing herself by trying to invoke familial relationships with an institution and a state that has no interest in her, for whom she is party to the “gravest internal threat to the country,” for whom, she, an adivasi and a woman, of limited means and influence at that, has no claim to any close relationships; she is probably no more than a case number in a court-system to be dealt with “in accordance with law.” Her tormentors, the other upholders of law and order in the state have already told her as much and much worse:“[Y]ou are a whore, a bitch…What’s your status anyways, you think the big stalwarts will support such an ordinary woman like you[?]”. Soni’s spirit does not seem to be crushed so easily by the vulgarity and depravity she has been subject to. She still feels she can make appeals to an impersonal, insensitive, uncaring system as a daughter to a father figure…
But her questions rack her like the pain that is also constantly with her: “Why this injustice to me? Giving electric shocks, stripping me naked, shoving stones inside me – is this going to solve the Naxal problem?” “Sir Judge, my body is in great pain,” the proud adivasi teacher from the “Gandhian school Rukmani Kanya Ashram, Dimripa” is forced to admit to the “Sir Judge,” the “Judge Sahab.” But no amount of Gandhian virtues and principles of non-violence can mitigate her pain. There is no great ideal of satyagraha that she can invoke. All she can do is send out these cries of help. As if to God, her last hope. But as she too realizes, even Krishna did not come to her aid, as he did for Draupadi.