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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Odisha rape: ’22 years too long… always believed I deserve justice, and will get it’

Anjana Mishra was sexually assaulted at gunpoint for nearly four hours on January 9, 1999, after the car she was in with a journalist friend was forcibly stopped.

Written by Alaka Sahani | Bhubaneswar |
Updated: February 26, 2021 12:02:57 pm
Anjana Mishra (left) at a press conference in Gajapati district of Odisha on February 22. (ANI)

After years of wait, Anjana Mishra says she had lost hope that the mastermind behind her gangrape would ever be caught, or that the “political conspiracy” behind the crime be exposed. But, she never stopped fighting.

On February 22, more than two decades after Mishra, then 29, was assaulted while on her way from Bhubaneswar to Cuttack, prime accused Bibekananda Biswal alias Biban was arrested from Lonavala, Pune, where he was living under an assumed identity. “Twenty-two years is too long a period. There was talk of the accused being dead or having been sent out of the country,” says Mishra, speaking on the phone from her parent’s home, adding that she is not done. “It is crucial that the involvement of powerful politicians be exposed. The three accused assaulted me at their behest… I will get some sort of closure if the conspiracy angle is proved.”

Mishra was sexually assaulted at gunpoint for nearly four hours on January 9, 1999, after the car she was in with a journalist friend was forcibly stopped. Mishra was at the time fighting an attempt-to-rape case against then state advocate general Indrajit Ray, known for his closeness to Chief Minister J B Patnaik. She snubbed multiple offers to “compromise” and drop her charges against Ray, whom she had met regarding her divorce from her IFS husband.

Two decades ago, a woman thus going public with rape charges, especially taking on the high and mighty, was unheard of. Soon after the gangrape charges, Patnaik stepped down. A CBI court in February 2000 upheld the attempt-to-rape allegation against Ray.

Mishra continues to hold that Patnaik and Ray were behind the attack on her, to intimidate her into dropping the charges. Both Ray and Patnaik are now dead.

Mishra hopes that the next legal battle that looms will finally lead to the CBI establishing the “conspiracy” angle. “He (Biswal) will be questioned, tried and convicted. I want him to be hanged or to stay in prison for the rest of his life.” One of Mishra’s earliest supporters, Saila Behera, secretary of the Cuttack-based NGO Basundhara, says the political involvement in the case must be probed.

Fifty-one now, Mishra admits that it’s been a long and “lonely” battle — a far cry from what the high-scoring school student who pursued literature, and who got married at 17 to a man 13 years older, imagined for herself. “When you are raped, your life is destroyed. However much you try to be normal, it (the pain) doesn’t go away. There is certainly rage and it will always be there.”

Her family doesn’t want her attracting attention, and hence she is almost always indoors at her parents’ house, she says, refusing to meet for an interview. In the days following the gangrape, Mishra used to interact with journalists (including this reporter) at the gate of her parents’ home, ignoring disapproving eyes from inside.

She can’t really explain what gave her the courage to go on, says Mishra. In 1996, she was found in a mental hospital in Ranchi, put there by her husband, and got out by approaching the State Human Rights Commission and social activists. When the divorce came through in December 2000, she lost custody of her two sons as, she says, she was not financially independent.

Mishra points out that it has not got any easier for women two decades later. “The judicial process is not easy,” she says. However, her advice is to not give up. “I have always believed that I deserve justice, and I will get it.”

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