Victim's death puts Patnaik govt in dock

The demand for a CBI probe into the alleged gang rape of a Dalit girl at a village near Pipli in Odisha’s coastal Puri district has gained momentum following the death of the teenaged victim at a government-run medical college hospital in Cuttack recently.

 The girl succumbed to her injuries after remaining in a comatose state for more than six months.

After the rape incident came to light earlier this year, the Naveen Patnaik administration, pushed to the wall in the face of charges that the local BJD MLA and the then agriculture minister Pradip Maharathi was trying to protect the perpetrators of the crime, had ordered a crime branch inquiry into the incident. Patnaik had also dropped Maharathi from the cabinet besides ordering a separate investigation into the incident by a one-man judicial commission. 

However, the opposition parties, particularly the Congress and BJP, had insisted that the government should handover the case to the CBI for a free and fair investigation. With the victim’s tragic death, the opposition parties have now got yet another opportunity to corner the government on the issue and reiterate their demand for a probe by the Central investigating agency.

 The Congress, which is the principal opposition party in the state, has threatened to launch an agitation across the state if the government did not heed to its demand for a CBI probe. The party had recently held a demonstration at Pipli which was attended by the entire top leadership of the party’s state unit including PCC chief Niranjan Patnaik.
"Day-long dharna

The youth wing of Congress also presented a memorandum to Governor M C Bhandare last Monday appealing to him to press upon the state government to go for a CBI probe. They also held a day-long dharna in front of the Raj Bhawan.

 Significantly, not only political parties but several other Dalit and non-governmental organisations as well as the family members of the victim have also demanded a CBI probe into the incident. This has added further pressure on the government. They have said that they have they have no faith in the probe being conducted by the crime branch. In fact, they have charged the state agency of trying to hush up the case to protect the culprits involved.

  To prove their point, they cite the example of a chargesheet filed by the crime branch against the four alleged perpetrators of the crime who have already been arrested. In the chargesheet submitted to the Odisha high court, the crime branch had stated that it was a case of attempt to murder the girl and there was no rape. The state investigating agency has now modified the chargesheet and slapped the murder charges on the four after the victim’s death.

  Refuting the allegations against the agency, crime branch sources insisted that the “no rape charge-sheet” was filed on the basis of a report given by a team of forensic experts from outside the state. Their explanations have not satisfied either the opposition parties or the family members of the victim.

 Questions have also been raised on the crime branch’s decision not to take any action against Pipli MLA Maharathi who had been charged with sheltering the perpetrators of the crime. The National Commission for Scheduled Castes which also conducted its own probe into the incident has demanded the arrest of the former minister.

  The ruling BJD, as expected, has rejected the demand for a CBI probe into the incident. “What is the need of a CBI probe when the crime branch is conducting the inquiry under direct supervision of the high court. Besides, a judicial commission is also probing into the incident separately. The opposition parties are only trying to make political capital out of the incident”, said senior BJD leader and vice-president of the regional outfit, Damodar Rout.

 Even as the controversy rages, various doctors’ associaitions in the state have threatened to launch a state-wide agitation if the government initiated any action against three doctors who have been charged by the crime branch in connection with case. This has become an additional headache for the Patnaik government. The three doctors — two from the state-run Capital Hospital in Bhubaneswar where the victim was initially admitted and one from Sriram Chandra Bhanja (SCB) Medical College Hospital where the girl died — have been charged with negligence of their duties.                         

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