It is a strange paradox that has not been adequately studied, discussed or analysed. The BJD government continues to be universally hailed for its supposedly pro-women measures even as crimes against women keep rising in the state at an alarming rate.
It is all there in black and white. According to the annual ‘Crime in India’ report released by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) last month, crimes against women in 2020 rose nearly 10% over the previous year, one of the biggest spurts in the whole country. Significantly, the rise came during a year when the state was under a prolonged lockdown due to the Covid pandemic. At 112.9, the rate of crimes against women in the state per lakh of population was the second highest in the country, after Assam. Even Assam reported a drop in the crimes against women in 2020 even as Odisha registered a 10% rise. The entire report makes for depressing reading and underscores Odisha’s dubious distinction as one of the most unsafe states for women in the country.
How does one explain this strange dichotomy – of a state with the most women-friendly government and policies which is also among the most unsafe places for women? The Mamita Meher murder case in Bolangir provides a probable clue. True, the main accused has been arrested and has already confessed to his crime. But look back at the way the case has unfolded since the beginning and you will get the drift.
Mamata’s family members went to the Kegaon police station in Kalahandi to lodge an FIR on October 8, the day she went missing. But were turned away by Kegaon police on the ground that the case did not fall under its jurisdiction! Even if the family members did not know about it, the now suspended IIC of the police station certainly knew about the ‘zero FIR’ rule, which makes it mandatory for the police to register an FIR irrespective of the place of occurrence. Forget another district, the officer was duty-bound to register the FIR even if the incident had happened in another state. And yet, he refused to lodge the FIR – and no prizes for guessing why. The officer clearly refused to entertain the FIR only because the person named in it was Gobinda Sahu, a man who wielded tremendous clout in the area due to his alleged proximity to the minister of state for Home Capt Dibya Shankar Mishra. Who knows, Mamita may have been saved had Kegaon police registered the FIR and acted with the alacrity such a case warranted. Even if she was dead by then, her family members would at least have been spared the nightmare they underwent for the next week or so, till it emerged that she was murdered on October 8 itself, wondering what had happened to her. All through this period, they were led up the garden path and assured by the police that Mamita was alive and would come back!
More importantly, the refusal of Kegaon to register the FIR provided Sahu with ample time to tamper with evidence of his complicity. The fact that Mamita’s mobile phone, which would have been a crucial evidence in court, hasn’t been traced even a week after Sahu’s arrest. There are also reports that he frequented a particular room in the ladies’ hostel of the Plus Two college in Mahaling (where Mamita taught) during the period from October 8 and October 13, when the FIR was finally lodged and Sahu arrested. It is possible he erased any evidence that would have nailed him during these visits.
The fact that he has been arrested, which the police and the state government tom-tom as a huge achievement, amounts to precious little if the case is not taken to its logical conclusion and Sahu is not convicted of murder in a court of law. As anyone with even a cursory knowledge of criminal jurisprudence knows, the initial investigation and evidence gathering is the most important factor in securing conviction. If the probe has been botched up at the very first stage, the chances of securing a conviction are extremely slim – as has been proved in several cases in recent years, including the Bebina murder case in Pipili, the Itishree murder case in Tikiri and the infamous Kunduli gang-rape case (which the police flatly denied) in Koraput. No wonder the conviction rate in crimes against women in Odisha is a dismal 9.2%, one of the poorest in the country, and the pendency rate in courts a high 98.9%, the second highest in the country.
This being the case, there is little deterrent for the prospective perpetrator of crime against women in the state. He knows very well that there is little chance of conviction if he plays his cards well – and spends some money. And if he also has a patron in the ruling party, as Sahu apparently has, he can literally get away with murder!!
(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)
More From The Author: Life Is Cheap In India, Cheaper In Odisha