“I CANNOT talk about it because I want to forget it. I have been humiliated enough,” says the girl, gesturing to her family members to not talk about the incident. Her molesters had even uploaded a video of her being forcibly stripped in public in Bhubaneswar last month.
With similar videos of molestation and stripping going viral in the state this year, Odisha police are confronted with disturbing statistics that have taken them by surprise. Women in the state are increasingly becoming victims of harassment, with the act being caught on camera and uploaded on the Internet.
In 2014, the National Crime Records Bureau, for the first time, collected data on assault or use of criminal force on women with “intent to disrobe”, under a separate category. Odisha accounted for the maximum cases (see box on page 2), with 18 per cent of the 6,412 registered nationwide. In 2015, the state totalled around 23 per cent of all such cases and in 2016, about 22 per cent.
“It is quite surprising to see Odisha lead in this category, but if the NCRB is saying, then it may be so,” says Dr Sudhansu Sarangi, director, State Crime Records Bureau.
“But the underlying (district) data does not specify if intent to disrobe results in actual disrobement. For example, in a factional fight in a village, someone’s saree was pulled and a case was registered under 354B of IPC,” he says.
Intent to disrobe using criminal force is dealt with under 354B of the IPC, which was added to the Criminal Law Amendment Act 2013, following the December 2012 gangrape in New Delhi. It is a cognizable and non-bailable offence that can merit imprisonment between three and seven years, the Act says.
Y B Khurania, police commissioner of Bhubaneswar-Cuttack, says the statistics reflect better reporting standards by police, which has dedicated women units. However, he admits that the highest figures in the nation for such crimes “needs research by sociologists”.
According to Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, 93 victims approached police this year till the end of November, more than double of 40 who came forward last year, after objectionable videos linked to them went viral on the Internet — Patnaik was replying to a question in the recently concluded Odisha legislative assembly session.
Police say that in many cases, including in Baripada, Bargarh and Bhubaneswar, the women targeted were in the company of men not related to them.
“Odisha has been a feudal society and of late, the state has become very unsafe for women,” says Dr Hiranmayee Mishra, a scholar on women’s issues in Odisha. “Prices of gadgets, such as smartphones, have spiralled down and are within reach of people who are not aware of the ethics of using mobile phones and Internet. These crimes are a reaction of exposure to technology meeting a feudal, patriarchal mindset,” she says.
“A woman in Odisha is considered ‘loose’ or ‘available’, if she is in public in the company of a male friend or boyfriend or colleague,” says Parinita Tripathy, a former teacher at a government engineering college in the state. “I have personal knowledge of an incident, when a female student, seen with her boyfriend in public, was stripped by a group of men,” she says.
“While punishment is important, raising consciousness is critical. People must realise that women will have to go out for education and work,” says Dr Namita Mohanty, who teaches psychology at Utkal University.
According to the NCRB’s 2016 report, Odisha recorded the third highest crime rate against women. In 2015, the sex crime rate in Odisha was the second highest among all states, at 22.2 against the national rate of 21.4.Says Lopamudra Buxipatra, chairperson, State Commission for Women, “I think there is more reporting (of sexual crimes) nowadays because of greater awareness.”