July 08, 2020
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Dirty Laundry

A murky harassment case casts a shadow on the chief minister

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Dirty Laundry

WHEN 29-year-old housewife Anjana Mishra filed charges of dowry torture and intimidation against her husband Subhash Mishra and sister-in-law, she had no idea it would lead to a confrontation with the establishment. The case, which started out as a domestic conflict, took a dramatic turn last July when Anjana accused state advocate general (AG) Indrajeet Roy of attempted rape.

Since then the saga has turned murkier and murkier, with allegations of bribery, sexual misconduct and conspiracy being flung against Roy and chief minister J.B. Patnaik. In what was all along seen as a controversy with far-reaching political ramifications, l'affaire Anjana has culminated in a demand for Patnaik's ouster.

The sordid tale came to a head when former DGP Amiya Bhusan Tripathy filed an affidavit in the high court on September 15 accusing the chief minister of various unsavoury charges including a massive cover-up attempt. He alleged that Patnaik was trying to save the AG's skin because the duo were partners in sin.

Tripathy's litany of allegations were filed in response to a PIL charging that the CBI, which is probing the matter, had failed to record his statement under Section 161 of the CrPC. It also claimed that the State Forensic Science Laboratory report on Anjana's clothes had been diluted at the behest of the AG.

Tripathy corroborated the charge in his affidavit. He alleged that the chief minister transferred the director, forensic science, in order to suppress the original report which implicated Roy. Patnaik has vehemently denied all charges and has pointed out that at no point has the CBI complained that the state administration was impeding an impartial inquiry. Indeed, the high court had gone on record praising the impartiality of the state police. (The case was handed over to the CBI last August.)

Patnaik also turned a deaf ear to the public clamour for Roy's sacking. While the opposition was apprehensive the AG would obstruct a fair inquiry, Patnaik insisted that Roy was innocent until proved guilty.

Tripathy's sensational statement, which far overstepped his brief and came almost a year after his retirement, has raised more questions than answers. Why was he silent for so long and why has he levelled these charges now? Patnaik claims that Tripathy bargained for a government post on his retirement and lashed out after failing to get it. He has accused the former DGP of colluding with "some frustrated politicians".

Meanwhile, Anjana remains confident. She claims she was abused, beaten and finally dumped in the asylum at Kanke (Orissa) by her estranged husband. The daughter of a former chief engineer, she married a divisional forest officer as a minor. She says her husband lured her to Kanke after making her sign a memorandum saying her parents were torturing her and should be restrained from interference in her marriage. The mother of two sons, Anjana spent a year-and-a-half in Kanke before being rescued by women activists.

 In May 1997, Anjana lodged an FIR against her husband and sister-in-law and in June met Indrajeet Roy for the first time in his office. After that he began to take an "unusual interest" in her case. According to Trip-athy, Roy had boasted to him that he would soon have Anjana running to him. He alleges that he was asked by the chief minister himself to consult the AG in the case.

The alleged molestation took place in Roy's quarters at Cuttack on July 11 where he had invited Anjana to discuss her case. Two days later, Anjana submitted a petition to the chief minister about the incident. She claims to have done this instead of lodging a complaint, on the behest of the investigating Officer of her case, DIG (central range) Surendra Swien. On July 19, finally, Anjana filed a complaint in Cuttack's cantonment police station, alleging attempted rape. Tripathy says Patnaik told him that if a case were to be registered, it should just mention assault with intention to outrage modesty. But Anjana's lawyers insisted on levelling charges of rape under Section 376 of the IPC.

On July 21 Anjana filed a petition with the chief justice and in August the court ordered a CBI probe. Patnaik insists this was done to "save the government embarrassment", as Roy was still AG. By November 1997, the CBI completed its investigations and chargesheeted Roy. Nine months later, when the high court rejected his plea for quashing criminal proceedings against him, Roy succumbed to public pressure for his resignation. Anjana's comment on the resignation was a jubilant "good riddance to a bad rapist". As she says now, "I knew the truth would ultimately prevail."

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