Kunduli shame… What, when, how & what next?

Bhubaneswar: From Kunduli to Bhubaneswar, from Koraput to New Delhi, the controversy surrounding the alleged gang rape of minor girl Sasmita in October 2017 and her suicide last month is certainly not coming to an end. Beyond politics, administration and judiciary, the incident has created ripples in the society in general.

Recently, chief minister Naveen Patnaik ordered an SIT probe into the alleged gang rape and suicide incident. Let’ take a look at the complete array of events that have been at the helm of public discourse for quite some time.

A ‘gang rape’ & suicide

Kunduli gang rape survivor allegedly committed suicide by hanging herself inside her house at around 2: 30 pm on January 22. The girl was rescued in a critical condition and was rushed to Kunduli hospital where she was declared brought dead. The survivor had brought rape charges against four security personnel posted in the region on October 10, 2017.

On November 18 last year, the girl had allegedly attempted suicide following which she was admitted to SCB Medical College and Hospital in Cuttack.

The antecedents

The girl had alleged that she was gang raped by four jawans engaged in anti-Maoist operations in Koraput district on October 10, 2017. As per allegations, four persons suspected to be security personnel abducted the minor to a forest near Sorispadar village under Pottangi police limits and gang raped her.

Sources said the incident occurred at around 12 noon when the girl was returning home after school. The accused persons detained the victim and after touching her inappropriately, they abducted and took her inside the forest. Later they gagged her mouth with her ‘duppatta’ and raped her.

The girl’s brother had then said, “Four BSF jawans in uniform and weapons abducted and gagged her mouth and took her into the forests where they raped her. Somehow she managed to save her life and one of our aunts rescued her and admitted to hospital.”

The incident triggered state-wide outrage following which police and Crime Branch probe were ordered.

 

Political outrage

From day 1 when the rape charges were brought against security personnel by the Kunduli girl, the incident has been a topic of hot political discussions and debates. After the suicide of the victim, Union Minister Jual Oram said Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik should resign on moral grounds. Similarly, Petroleum and Natural gas Minister Dharmendra Pradhan targeted the CM for his failure to provide justice to the girl.

“For how long Patnaik will remain insensitive towards the plight of the people? The CM must answer,” said Pradhan after her suicide.

Food Supplies and Cooperation Minister Surya Narayan Patro, however, said that the government is serious about the incident and will take appropriate actions.

The BJP and the Congress first demanded a CBI investigation into the suicide. BJP’s Mahila Morcha launched a two-day statewide stir. Locals backed by senior leaders of Congress including Pradip Majhi blocked NH-26 by placing the body of the girl and staged demonstration a day after the suicide.

Normal life was affected in Odisha on January 24 due to a dawn to dusk state-wide bandh and hartal called by Opposition parties Congress and BJP.

Plethora of probes

A string of probes one after the other was ordered into the incident. First police probe followed by Crime Branch and then a judicial probe was ordered. The Crime Branch of Odisha Police in its action-taken report submitted to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) on December 14, had dismissed the allegations of gang rape brought by the Kunduli girl.

In the report submitted on December 14, the Crime Branch said in a bid to hide her affair with a minor boy of Kunduli, the girl had levelled false allegations that four personnel of CoBRA unit of CRPF had sexually assaulted her.

A day after the minor girl brought gang rape charges, the police took her to the Kunduli Community Health Centre (CHC) for medical examination. Later she underwent another medical examination at the Saheed Laxman Nayak Medical College and Hospital. Again a team of experts of FMT department of MKCG Medical College examined the girl, the Crime Branch report mentioned.

All the medical examinations found no signs of rape, the Crime Branch report said. Besides, the girl’s clothes were sent to the State forensic laboratory for examination which also found nothing unusual.

Apart from this, the police also traced the movements of the security personnel including CoBRA forces and found no truth in the charges, the report stated.

The probe by the Human Rights Protection Cell (HRPC) ADG also refuted the gang rape theory.

On the other hand, a petition was filed by human rights activist and Supreme Court lawyer Radhakanta Tripathy before the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) demanding a probe either by the CBI or a team of NHRC into the alleged gang rape of Kunduli girl who committed suicide.

Citing ‘sensitivity’ of the case, Tripathy in the petition sought probe into three aspects.

The petitioner questioned why the alleged gang rape survivor had to undergo medical tests at four hospitals if the charges were false; why the State government provided Rs 50,000 compensation to the girl’s family and why the girl committed suicide despite counselling.

On 7 February, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik ordered a Special Investigation Team (SIT) probe into the alleged Kunduli gang rape and suicide incident. The SIT probe will be monitored by the court.

Speaking to the media, Patnaik said that the state government is committed to ensure justice to the victim at the earliest and in a most transparent manner.

A five-member team of the NHRC also carried out a probe into the incident. Similarly, a team of National Commission for Scheduled Castes is also scheduled to visit Odisha on February 11 to probe the incident.

Contradictory forensics

In a shocking revelation, a preliminary inter-divisional report of the State forensic laboratory surfaced mentioning that there were traces of semen of two persons on the clothes of the victim.

On January 26, OTV telecast the findings of the report which put the Crime Branch in dock as the investigating agency in its report submitted to NHRC had mentioned that ‘no foreign articles’ were found.

The State Forensic Science Laboratory (SFSL) report also indicated that the two persons whose traces of semen were found have A and B blood groups, respectively. The tests were conducted at SFSL in October last year.

When OTV team tried to contact Crime Branch to ascertain whether the report was also sent to them or they received some other report, the officials refused to comment.

After the telecast of the report on OTV, the SFSL, Bhubaneswar in a release clarified that the findings were from a preliminarily inter divisional report which was not the final one that has been issued to the honourable court or the investigating agency.

The role of SFSL came under scanner with starkly contradictory findings in its ‘preliminary inter-divisional report’ on Kunduli gang rape and its final report as experts claimed that there is little likelihood that two reports from the same agency could be so divergent.