Op-Ed: A Litany of Unanswered Questions

What exactly has happened to Rajeswari (Mita) Kamila? What rendered the woman, who was fit enough to throw eggs at the Chief Minister’s dais during the Talasari beach festival on Wednesday, so sick that she had to be shifted to the SCB Medical College on Monday? Did the BJD workers beat her up so severely? Or was it something that happened to her after she was taken into custody by the police? Did she carry some disease that we don’t know about? Was it the separation from her suckling eight-month old son?

Nearly a week after the unfortunate incident, no answers are forthcoming from any responsible official in the government to any of these questions. All that the Balasore CDMO Dr. Vivekananda Das revealed before she was shifted to Cuttack yesterday was that the woman ‘complained of headache and chest pain’. Instead of clarifying anything about the condition of the woman, the answer ended up raising more questions. Is the Balasore district hospital so ill-equipped that it cannot take care of something as commonplace as headache and chest pain? Do these symptoms point to something so serious that an eight-member team of doctors had to be constituted for her treatment?

There are just far too many unanswered questions to suspect that there is more to the woman’s condition than meets the eye. Significantly, Sec 307 (attempt to murder) was struck off the list of charges pressed against the woman on the day she was shifted to Cuttack after all-round condemnation. The charge was dropped after it was found during investigation that she had no intention of killing anyone, Balasore SP Niti Shekhar explained. In that case, why was it pressed in the first place? The SP should have also explained why none of those who assaulted the woman in full public view has been arrested nearly a week after the incident? He should also tell us whether it is not a fit case to press Sec 307 against the assailants in the light of the apparent gravity of the lactating mother’s injuries?

Suspicions about the air of secrecy over the condition of the woman are not without basis. The SCB Medical College enjoys a much deserved reputation as one of our finest tertiary care hospitals in the government sector. But of late, it has come under the scanner for all the wrong reasons in respect of some ‘high profile’ and not to high profile patients admitted here. Months after Cuttack Sadar MLA Pravat Biswal, an accused in the chit fund case, was admitted here (barely four days after he was arrested by the CBI), no one really knows what exactly he is suffering from. No clear answers are forthcoming on what was the Kunduli victim being treated for either. If it was a case of an overdose of iron tablets, as the SCB authorities would have us believe, why was no one, including her mother, allowed to go anywhere close to her for the duration of her stay here? And finally, why was she allowed to leave midway through her treatment if her condition was really so critical? In view of what has happened in the recent past, there is reason to suspect that Rajeswari has been shifted to SCB to keep her away from the TV booms.

Such suspicions would not have arisen had the government been honest, transparent and truthful in dealing with these politically sensitive cases. The more the government tries to be secretive, the more it leaves the field wide open for conspiracy theories.

“The law will take its own course” is perhaps the most-repeated statement of Naveeen Patnaik in his 18 years as Chief Minister – and Home Minister. But in practice, the law has seldom been allowed to take its course. If anything, it has been forced to take an altogether different course in case after case where ruling party politicians or the government has been in the dock. Just look at the stark contrast between the courses followed in two cases of more or less the same genre. An egg is thrown at Baijayant Panda in Mahanga, which actually hits the ruling party MP from Kendrapara on the head. No action is taken against the perpetrators. And now consider the Balasore case in which a woman throws an egg at the Chief Minister’s dais that doesn’t hit anyone and Sec 307 is promptly pressed against her! That the charge has now been dropped doesn’t explain away its invocation in the first place.

Eggs vendors are evicted and their stock seized ahead of the Chief Minister’s visit to a place in the state. Scarves of women are routinely seized for fear that they may use them as makeshift black flags to wave at him. Guests, including those on the dais, are subjected to a humiliating frisking to find possible stocks of eggs ahead of the CM’s arrival at a meeting at Jayadev Bhavan in Bhubaneswar, of all places. How paranoid can one get?

The fault doesn’t necessarily lie with the Chief Minister. For all one knows, it could be a case of an overzealous police – or the Chief Minister’s minders – going bonkers to ingratiate themselves with him. But the least the CM could have done was to instruct his police force to be a little more sensitive and prudent in dealing with political protests, especially by women, if not take a leaf out of his late father’s book and take on protestors head on – as he did in February, 1993 when he came out of his Third Floor office, against the advice of his then principal secretary Pyari Mohan Mohapatra, only to be hit on the head by an irate secretariat employee and start bleeding!

 

 

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are 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.)