Odisha: 22 years after gangrape case, last of the 3 accused arrested from Maharashtra
The incident had created a state wide outrage, with the survivor also accusing the then Odisha CM JB Patnaik and his associate of having played a role in the incident, leading to the CM's resignation in 1999.
The last of the three accused in the gangrape case, that led to the exit of then Congress chief minister JB Patnaik, was finally arrested by Odisha police from Maharashtra’s Ambi Valley, 22 years after the crime.
Bhubaneswar-Cuttack police commissioner Sudhansu Sarangi said Bibekananda Biswal alias Biban, one of the three accused in the 1999 gangrape, was arrested from Amby Valley in Lonavala where he was working as a plumber using the pseudonym of Jalandhar Swain.
“On a tip-off, we started Operation Silent Viper to nab him and tracked him down with the help of Pune Rural Police,” said Sarangi, adding that case witnesses identified Biswal.
Meanwhile, on hearing of Biswal’s arrest, the survivor has demanded that he be hanged. “The CBI sat over the case and never bothered to give me justice. I am as good as dead, living with the pain and trauma. Over the years, multiple attempts have been made to eliminate me. My house was vandalised. I was not allowed to stay in my own house. I am forced to live with my mother,” she said, alleging that Biswal managed to evade arrest in the first place due to the patronage of Congress politicians.
Biswal and two others, Padia Sahoo and Dhirendra Mohanty, had allegedly gang-raped the woman, then a 29-year-old homemaker who had kicked up a controversy by accusing the then advocate general of Odisha, Indrajit Ray, of molesting her in his chamber. She had earlier accused her Indian Forest Service husband of dowry torture and had reportedly gone Ray’s chambers to discuss her case where he allegedly tried to sexually assault her. While the survivor dragged Ray to court, chief minister Patnaik too got drawn into the controversy for allegedly tried to bail Ray, a family friend. A CBI court in Bhubaneswar later sentenced Ray to three years of imprisonment along with a fine of ₹5,000.
Then, on January 9, 1999, the survivor was travelling from Cuttack to Bhubaneswar with one of her friends when Biswal, Mohanty and Sahoo allegedly intercepted their vehicle at a desolate place where they allegedly gang-raped her at gunpoint in front of her journalist friend.
The survivor then lodged a First Information Report (FIR) in which she accused Patnaik of engineering the assault to intimidate her into withdrawing the case against Ray.
As the gangrape led to an unprecedented public outrage in Odisha triggering statewide protests, an embarrassed Congress chief Sonia Gandhi asked Patnaik to resign.
Meanwhile, two of the accused were arrested soon after the survivor’s FIR. The Orissa high court then ordered the Central Bureau of Investigation to probe the case and a charge sheet was filed. In a judgment in April 2002, a designated CBI court in Bhubaneswar sentenced Sahoo and Mohanty to life imprisonment and a fine of ₹5,000 each. In 2010, the Orissa high court upheld the verdict. Sahoo died last year while serving his sentence.
Police commissioner Sarangi said Biswal had almost managed to evade the police by getting an Aadhaar card and voter identity card in his new name. In his Aadhaar card, however, he had given his village name as Naranpur. “He used to send money to his family. He was asking his family to get a death certificate so that Biswal can be shown as dead in police record. We have informed the CBI about his arrest and are waiting to hand him over,” he said.