What Is The Police Hiding In The Kunduli Gang Rape Case?

There is absolutely no doubt that Koraput police has messed up the Kunduli gang rape case big time. Over three weeks after the gang rape of a Class IX girl allegedly by a group of four armed, uniformed men in Kunduli that sent shock waves through the state, the police is no closer to identifying the culprits than it was on the day the FIR was filed by the girl’s parents. All it has done by way of investigation so far is to pick up some relatives of the victim, run one of them through a lie detection test in Bhubaneswar and float a series of fanciful theories ranging from the involvement of Maoists to it being a case of teenage love gone horribly wrong!

Twenty five days after the incident, we are yet to know whether there was a gang rape at all. For reasons that can only be speculated on, the police is holding on to the medical report that would have revealed the truth. Nor has it come out with any information on the progress of its investigation that would convince us that it is on the right track. Instead, it has issued a spate of denials – the latest of them coming today – about the involvement of men in uniform in the dastardly crime that have left us no wiser about the identity of the rapists. What has come out – not because of the police but in spite of it – instead is a mobile video showing a lady constable threatening the victim in her hospital bed.

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Now contrast this with the alacrity with which the police has acted and the manner in which it has behaved in the equally well publicized case of the murder of Laxmidutta Pradhan, the BJD councilor in Chhatrapur. Not only did it get a confessional statement by the two alleged masterminds – Krushna Nayak and Duryodhan Reddy – implicating BJP leader Golak Mohapatra in the case video recorded and distributed to media persons while the two were in police custody, it also passed on the call records of Mohapatra in the days preceding and following the murder to ‘prove’ that he helped them escape to Uttarakhand in the aftermath of the brutal murder.

Authorities at the Shaheed Laxman Naik Medical College and Hospital (SLNMCH) have been equally secretive about the girl’s condition. In a report submitted to the Odisha Human Rights Commission (OHRC) on Tuesday, all it said was the victim was ‘examined’ by a team of doctors on October 10 & 11 but made no mention of what the examination revealed! No wonder the OHRC has now asked the Director to appear in person and submit a detailed medical report on the victim’s condition on November 6.

The conduct of the Human Rights Protection Cell (HRPC) of Odisha Police has been even more bizarre. In its deposition at the same OHRC hearing on Wednesday, it came up with the incredible statement that the investigation so far suggested that it was a case of rape, but it needed to be ‘confirmed through medical examination’!

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The way Koraput police, SLNMCH authorities and the HRPC have behaved in the Kunduli gang rape case certainly raises the suspicion that there is a systematic effort to hide something. But what exactly are they trying to hide? The question can have only one answer: the involvement of uniformed men – whether of the BSF/CRPF as initially reported or the SOG as BJD Dalit Cell head Bishnu Das said before backtracking – in the heinous crime. May be the police – and the state government – is concerned about the effect any admission of the involvement of men in uniform in the gang rape would have on the morale of the security forces. May be it is worried about its fall-out on the coordination between central paramilitary forces and state police in anti-Maoist operations in the area. It is also possible that it is just trying to protect its own (assuming that Bishnu Das’ mention of SOG was not a slip of tongue as he claimed later).

Whatever it is, Odisha Police, which DGP Dr. RP Sharma grandiosely announced in the immediate aftermath of the incident had been given the status of a ‘Red Flag’ case, is not doing its image any good by appearing to hide things rather than get to the bottom of the case. Given the way the state agencies have conducted themselves so far, even a Crime Branch probe – as demanded by Bishnu Das – would scarcely inspire any confidence: more so given its past record in sensitive cases from the murder of Umerkote MLA Jagabandhu Majhi to the group suicide of the Paralakhemundi siblings. There is thus a need to hand over the case to the CBI. But then that is the last thing the Odisha government will do. Hence, it is now up to the Orissa High Court now to order an inquiry by the central agency which, despite its ‘caged parrot’ tag, remains the best bet in such cases.