Kunduli Victim would haunt Naveen govt for the rest of its term

The victim of the Kunduli ‘gang rape that wasn’t’ could not have chosen a worse time to commit suicide. Conspiracy theorists in government and ruling party circles may even be looking for an ‘opposition design’ in the suicide on a day when Naveen Patnaik was making a triumphant return to the state capital after being conferred with the ‘Ideal Chief Minister’ award at Pune!

But the truth is if there was any conspiracy at all behind this tragic death, it was orchestrated by the state police acting at the behest of the state government, which has systematically botched up the case from the start to make sure that the truth would never come out. First, it sat over the report of the medical test conducted on the hapless minor girl by a team of 10 doctors, including three FMT experts, at the Shahid Laxman  Nayak Medical College and Hospital (SLNMCH) in Koraput in the immediate aftermath of the girl alleging gang rape by ‘four uniformed men’ on October 10 last year. When it did reveal the report on November 7 – nearly a month after the incident and that too only after the Odisha Human Rights Commission (OHRC) rapped it on the knuckles – it became obvious why it was holding on to it. There was no rape, forget a gang rape, said the report presented at OHRC by the ADG, HRPC of Odisha Police! May be it knew no one will believe in its ‘non-rape’ theory.

As pointed out in a previous article in this space, the preposterous claim by the police did not answer a single question asked at the time and threw up a host of questions instead. What was she being treated for, under 24X7 surveillance by the police, at the hospital if there was no rape? Why were four youths from the victim’s village picked up, tortured in custody and one of them made to undergo a lie detection test? Why were leaks slyly planted in pliable sections of the media that it was actually a case of teenage love gone horribly wrong? Why did she have to be shifted to the SCB Medical College Hospital in Cuttack? Why did the police not allow her mother to meet her at SCB? Why did it take a dharna by activists before the police relented and allowed her to return home? Why was her mother not allowed to accompany her when she was shoved into a vehicle on her way back home? Why was the girl’s charge that the DGP offered her a bribe of Rs 90, 000 while she was in SCB never probed and dismissed off hand with a perfunctory press release from his office instead? The questions were endless, but the authorities did not feel the need to answer any of them.

On his part, the Chief Minister, who doubles up as the Home minister as well, was content to entrust the inquiry to his most trusted – and the most untrustworthy as far as the public is concerned – agency, the Crime Branch, to probe the incident and then followed it up with a judicial inquiry to run concurrently with the CB probe, whatever that means. It is clear that no one in the current dispensation wanted the truth to come out. In fact, everyone strained every sinew to make sure it remained buried in a maze of claims and counter-claims.

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In hindsight, it is remarkable how the teenage girl remained steadfast in her charge till the end and never wavered once in the face of all the inducement, intimidation and insinuation she was subjected to even as the police kept derailing the investigation and came up with weird theories at every stage. One must take a bow to her courage, composure and conviction regardless of the fact that in the end, she was pushed to the end of the tether to take the drastic step today.

Now that she is dead, the least we can hope for is justice for her. That justice is not possible if state agencies continue to probe the incident is stating the obvious. If the Naveen Patnaik government really wants to clear its name and prove that it is indeed keen to ensure justice for her, the least it should do is to hand over the investigation to the CBI on its own without waiting for the courts to intervene and order one. Given the fact that all evidence has been systematically erased in the three months since the incident, it is possible that even a CBI probe may end up meeting a dead-end, as it did in the Itishree Pradhan murder case. But at least it will help dispel the impression that the government is trying to sweep the case under the carpet.

 

It may be far-fetched at this stage to make comparisons with the Chhabirani case of the early 1980s, which was among the major reasons that sunk the JB Patnaik led Congress government in 1989 after its 10-year reign and reduced it to just nine seats in the Assembly. But no matter what ultimately happens from now on, there is little doubt that the Kunduli case would continue to haunt the Naveen Patnaik government for the rest of its fourth term – and maybe even beyond!         

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