Odisha’s Naveen Patnaik Government In the Dock

Odisha’s BJD Government has been rocked to the foundations by protests against the brutal gang rape and attempted murder of a 19-year-old dalit girl in Arjungoda, in Pipili constituency of Puri district. In the wake of the incident and the protests, Naveen Patnaik has been forced to get a Cabinet Minister Pradeep Maharathy to resign following allegations that he has been shielding the rapists.

Maharathy is a notorious mafia of the area and is the BJD MLA from Pipili. The four rapists are known to be close associates of Maharathy and members of BJD’s local goon brigade. They gang-raped the 19-year-old, and then strangled her, leaving her for dead. Her parents found her in a coma. But when they went to the Pipili Hospital, they found that the hospital, under pressure from Maharathy, refused to admit her. The Cuttack Medical College Hospital also refused to admit her. The Pipili Police Station refused to let them lodge an FIR. When they approached the State Women’s Commission in Bhubaneshwar, they were told to ‘come back tomorrow.’

Only when the parents approached the State Human Rights Commission did they get some relief, with the SHRC demanding an explanation from police and doctors for their inaction. The media also picked up the story at this point.

The victim’s family had first approached the police station on November 18. But the FIR could be lodged only on January 9, following intervention by the Odisha High Court.

The girl is the key eyewitness in the gang rape of her friend in 2008. Her friend was mysteriously killed and she herself was attacked twice since 2008, in an attempt to silence her. And now, she herself has been gang-raped and left nearly dead, but the BJD Government has been protecting the perpetrators.

The first protest in the state on this issue was held by the AIPWA and CPI (ML) Liberation in the state capital, Bhubaneshwar, on 9 January. The protest was led by State Committee member Radhakant Sethi, Sanjukta Panigrahi of AIPWA, Mahendra Parida, National Secretary of AICCTU, Comrades Janaki Rao, Upendra Sahoo, Seema Sethi and others.

Subsequently, all Opposition parties in the state protested the incident, demanding a CBI probe and resignation of the Chief Minister. The entire spectrum of political opposition, media, social groups and NGOs united under the banner of Odisha Gan Samaj, convened by two senior journalists.

The Odisha HC has directed the Government to provide proper treatment to the girl, protection to her and her family, and punishment for culprits and officials who tried to cover up the matter.

The girl is unlikely to recover, since she has suffered from a brain haemorrhage. In a face-saving attempt, Naeen Patnaik has got Maharathy to resign from the Cabinet and has ordered a judicial probe. But judicial probes are widely perceived as eyewash in Odisha; since in Naveen’s tenure there have been 17 judicial probes on various issues. Many of them are yet to submit a report, and in cases where reports have been submitted, no action has been taken. The Inspector-in-Charge of Pipili police station, Amulya Champatiray, was first transferred to police HQs at Puri, and then suspended on charges of dereliction of duty.

But these measures cannot assuage the outrage felt by people in the State against the heinous gang rape and murderous assault and cold-blooded cover up and protection of perpetrators by the ruling establishment. The protests continue demanding a CBI enquiry and resignation of the CM.

Liberation Archive