'Best Administrator', 'Ideal CM' are just some of the awards conferred upon the long-serving chief minister of Odisha Naveen Patnaik in the recent past. In fact, the 'conferment' of the 'Ideal CM' award was splashed all over national dailies, published from Delhi, with full front page advertisements.
However, happenings in the state over the past few months shows that Patnaik is neither the 'Best Administrator' nor an 'Ideal CM'. Had it been the case, a 14-year-old tribal girl belonging to one of the poorest districts of the state – the victim of an alleged gang rape by four men in uniform, that came to limelight 10 October last year – would not have committed suicide.
The girl committed suicide on 22 January, just a day after Patnaik was conferred with the 'Ideal CM' award by a Pune-based institute. What is more worrying is that for four long months, the police department – which is under the chief minister, who is also the home minister of the state – miserably failed to give justice to the girl.
According to the deceased tribal girl, a class IXth student, while returning from school on 10 October in Kunduli of the Koraput district, she was waylaid by four persons in uniform and raped. Though the police registered a case of rape and put it in the "red flag" category, as is done for heinous offences like rape, little progress was made in unearthing the case.
The victim was examined in four different hospitals and if allegations are to be believed, she underwent treatment as well. However, nothing came about. Once the issue gained traction, a complaint was filed before the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC). The body directed the DG police to submit a report and directed that a payment of Rs 50,000 be paid as interim compensation. Subsequently, the state government scurried and handed over the case to the crime branch in the month of November.
The ordeal of the tribal girl didn't end though and bizarrely the Human Right Protection Cell (HRPC) of the Odisha Police said that there was no truth to the allegation made by her and denied any evidence of gangrape.
Faced with uncertainties and denial of justice, the deceased attempted suicide on 18 November last year, prompting Patnaik to order a judicial probe. However, what is interesting is that till date, such inquiry has not seen the light of the day and doubts have been raised if such an order was in consonance with the extant law or if it was a mere eyewash.
In the meantime, on being directed by the NHRC to file an 'action taken' report, the State Crime Branch in its 14 December response submitted that in a bid to hide her affair with a minor boy, the deceased had levelled false allegations of gang rape by four uniformed personnel. The report further went on to say that the deceased had demanded of the minor boy to marry her and on being refused tore her school uniform and threatened the boy that she would level rape charges.
The report further said that the minor boy agreed to marry the deceased and in order to hide the fact about her torn uniform, the tribal girl hatched the theory of gang rape by men in uniform. The report also says that the tribal girl was examined in four different hospitals that ruled out any sign of rape. However, the report of the State Crime Branch is not beyond pale of doubt in view of the findings of the State Forensic Laboratory, which in its preliminary report found traces of semen in the undergarments of the victim, now deceased.
However, the case took a curious turn when in its final report, the same laboratory denied such findings and all these twists and turns have given rise to more questions than answers.
What makes the entire episode murkier is the allegation levelled by the now deceased tribal girl's family member that the police had threatened them to withdraw the case or face dire consequences.
The suicide of the tribal girl sparked widespread protests, with the BJP and Congress giving separate bandh calls on 25 January. They demanded that the case is handed over to the CBI. However, Patnaik seems to be non-committal and despite his tall claims of "work and safety" for women of the state, he has not lived to the expectations of the people.
Rather than providing succour to the family of the deceased, his party, as alleged by his opponents, expelled a sitting Member of Parliament in a bid to divert attention from the suicide of the tribal girl. However, the demand for an impartial enquiry and handing over the case to CBI has risen in the past week putting the state government in a peculiar situation where its options are seemingly limited.
Cases of this nature are not new to the state. Not in the distant past, during 1999, another rape had shaken the then ruling Congress government and the state police found itself in an embarrassing situation when the CBI faulted its officials for manipulating forensic reports. This had led to the fall of the then ruling establishment.
Whether this incident will snowball into an issue of change of establishment is a question that would be answered in the next elections. But one thing is now certain, Patnaik, for all practical purposes, cannot flaunt his award of 'Best Administrator' or 'Ideal CM' unless he acts swiftly and gives justice to 'Nirbhaya' of Odisha.
The author is a practising Supreme Court lawyer and former president JNU Students' Union.
Updated Date: Feb 02, 2018 15:14 PM