Family of ‘raped’, dead Odisha girl recounts struggle to be heard

In October 2017, the girl, from a village in Odisha’s remote Koraput district, alleged rape by four Central forces personnel.

Written by Sampad Patnaik | Koraput | Updated: January 29, 2018 4:53:33 am
odisha, odisha rape, odisha girl gangraped, Odisha girl suicide, CRPF, Naveen Patnaik, Dharmendra Pradhan, bjp, cbi, indian express The girl was buried in family graveyard in Koraput. (Express Photo: Sampad Patnaik)

North of Sunki-Salur mountains, a sub-range of the Eastern Ghats that naturally cleave Odisha and Andhra Pradesh, lies a village where a 14-year-old girl cried rape and sought justice for more than three months before being found dead of apparent suicide. With her death sparking a political row and forcing the government to order a judicial probe, officials are tightlipped on all details regarding her case, including the two FIRs and her medical examinations.

In October 2017, the girl, from a village in Odisha’s remote Koraput district, alleged rape by four Central forces personnel. The family described the perpetrators as “kabra police”, a local term for the dark green uniform with camouflage patches.

The girl was returning from a market, some 6-7 km from her village, that assembles thrice a week. The lonely road she took is framed on both sides with bush-covered hillocks. “That day, my sister took an auto that dropped her at an intersection and turned right. As she was walking down the other road, she was grabbed by four kabra policemen.

READ | Day after rape victim’s ‘suicide’: Odisha cops face heat from ruling party MP

They dragged her up the ghati (hillock) and later dumped her at the foothill. She walked home in a trance and broke down in front of her aunt,” says a cousin of the alleged victim.

For the next three months, even as her case rocked the state, the family says they struggled against police attempts to “brainwash” her to change her account of rape to a “love affair”. In December, the girl herself said she was offered bribe of Rs 90,000 by Odisha DGP R P Sharma, an allegation he denied.

After the alleged rape, the girl underwent preliminary medical examination at a Primary Health Centre, followed by detailed tests at Laxman Nayak Medical College, Koraput. Officials refuse to share details of either these, or of the two FIRs registered, into the alleged rape and her death.

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After the girl’s death at her home on January 22, the Congress announced a state-wide bandh on January 24, while the BJP called for a 12-hour-long hartal. The body was buried in the family grounds as per the rites of the household’s Alekha Dharma.

“The police and doctors colluded to prove my sister was either a liar or mentally unstable,” says her brother, 23, who drives an autorickshaw. Their third sibling, the youngest, is 12.

Says the cousin, “She had threatened suicide earlier if the guilty were not punished. This was her second suicide attempt. In November, she consumed excess iron tablets at a childcare centre in Koraput. She was taken to SCB Medical College (Cuttack). After that, she was staying with us in Jeypore and seemed normal. A week before her suicide, she insisted on going home to see her family.”

The cousin says that the 14-year-old had stopped going to school after the incident, and on the day she killed herself, “she was upset that none of her friends had asked her to accompany them to Saraswati Puja celebrations”.

Recounting what happened, he adds, “She sent her mother to get oil from the market. One brother was at work and the other at school, when she used her dupatta to hang herself.”

Koraput Superintendent of Police Kanwar Vishal Singh, who is among those the victim’s family blames for turning the girl away, could not be reached despite numerous attempts. Dr Sudeepa Das, who heads the Forensic Medicine Department at MKCG Hospital (Berhampur) and led a four-member team that examined the victim on October 11, a day after the alleged rape, declined to comment or share medical reports, citing the ongoing judicial probe.

BJD MP Tathagata Satpathy accused the state police and government doctors of “celebrating” the girl’s death, in a newspaper column. Asked whether he had shared the same with Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, Satpathy responded that he had said what he had to in his column.

Saila Behera, a women’s activist who says she met the girl soon after the alleged rape, says, “It is my personal assessment that the girl was hammered with so many questions and subjected to so many agendas that she killed herself.”

Police sources also doubt the possibility of security personnel, such as CRPF, roaming around in uniform in small groups in these parts, for fear of Naxals.

However, one of Odisha’s highest-ranked police officers said, “A traumatised 14-year-old may not be in command of the details, which does not mean her story is completely false.” He said police need trained psychologists, “who can extract details in a sensitive manner”, in such cases.

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