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Politics, sex, dhokha
A deadly interplay of ambition, lust and power has in the last two decades led to a string of high profile rapes and murders of women in Bihar. But the cases met an early death because of the clout of the accused. Have apathetic governments in Patna then left those like Rupam Pathak no recourse but to take the law in their own hands?
It was a foggy morning on January 4. Wrapped in a woolen shawl, Rupam Pathak, a 40-year-old principal of a private school in Purnia, approached the local BJP MLA, Raj Kishore Keshari, 53, at his residence as he held a 'junta darbar'. She then asked him to step aside for a private conversation. Alone with him, she suddenly took out a dagger and stabbed him twice in the abdomen.
Keshari died a few moments later. Earlier, Pathak had filed a report with the police alleging that Keshri, along with his aide, had raped her. The four-time MLA possibly became the first lawmaker in the country to be killed by a rape victim, who in most cases in India is either done to death or forcibly silenced by her violator(s).
In Bihar, though, Keshri isn't the first neta to become a casualty at the hands of a sexual-abuse victim. In 1994, a Dalit woman castrated the ruling Janata Dal MLA, Yogendra Narayan Sardar, when he attempted to rape her. Back then, television news was dominated by staid, state-run Doordarshan;else, there could have been awardwinning footage of a profusely bleeding Sardar screaming and running out of the woman's mud house in Chhatapur in Supaul district. She left him sexually-disabled and forever incapable of violating another woman.
In both cases, the victims had said their rape - or attempts at it - by the politicians had led them to commit such violent reprisals. But similarities in these two incidents end there. While the Dalit woman was rewarded by then chief minister Rabri Devi for her extraordinary courage (and the bobbitised MLA was denied a ticket), Pathak, who was assaulted by the slain MLA's bodyguards minutes after the murder, is lodged in jail.
Following public and political outcry over both the murder and subsequent imprisonment of Pathak, chief minister Nitish Kumar hurriedly recommended the case to the CBI for investigation. His political rivals, smelling blood, promptly alleged that his deputy Sushil Kumar Modi was influencing the police probe by branding the woman a blackmailer. Modi was also attacked for giving a clean chit to his slain party MLA.
"The stabbing of an MLA by a woman in full public view is gruesome enough to stand out in recent history. But what made the woman take such an extreme step? That is something which needs to be probed, " says Abdul Bari Siddiqui, a Rashtriya Janata Dal leader. Similar demands were made by the Congress and Left parties. Subhasini Ali of the CPM visited Pathak in jail and petitioned that she be given proper treatment and adequate facilities.
While Pathak and the unnamed Dalit girl were lucky to be alive to fight their battle, there are many others who were brutally murdered the moment there was so much as a hint of rebellion or protest. In most of these cases, the perpetrators of the crime have remained untouched by the law because of their political might. In fact, it is a common practice in Bihar to transfer such sensitive cases to the CBI, which in recent years has hardly shown itself to be the strong investigative agency it is touted to be.
Transferring such cases to the CBI has been a win-win strategy for the government.
In the early '80s and the late '90s, two such high profile murders of women had been taken up by the investigative agency only to be suddenly closed in the absence of any conclusive evidence. In 1983, Shwetnisha Trivedi, aka Bobby, a telephone operator in the Bihar Assembly, was murdered under mysterious circumstances. The needle of suspicion fell on some Youth Congress leaders, including the kin of the then Assembly speaker, Radha Nandan Jha. Old newspaper reports on the case say Trivedi was a good looking, ambitious woman who hobnobbed with netas and got enmeshed in the web of power and politics.
Kishore Kunal, who was senior SP of Patna then, got Trivedi's body exhumed during the course of investigation. But just when he was about to submit the chargesheet, the case was arbitrarily referred to the CBI by the then chief minister and senior Congress leader Jagannath Mishra. He also shunted out Kunal, who is now chairman of the Bihar Board of Religious Trusts.
Talking about his investigation, Kunal says, "The police had made a foolproof case, but the CBI didn't take it to its logical conclusion. "
Another case that drew national attention was the recovery of the semi-nude bodies of a young boy and a girl from a parked car in Patna in July 1999. The girl, Shilpi Jain, was the daughter of a Patna-based trader and the boy, Gautam Singh, was a business associate of Sadhu Yadav - an MLA back then and brother of the then chief minister Rabri Devi. The double murder caused a political uproar and the police was accused of hushing up the case to save the skin of some politicians, including Sadhu.
To appease the Opposition and the public, the case was handed over to the CBI which continued its investigation for four years and ultimately closed it saying the couple had committed suicide by consuming poison. "There is no evidence to suggest that Gautam and Shilpi were murdered, " the agency declared in its closure report submitted to the special CBI court.
There was an allegation that the girl had been gang-raped. The vaginal swab of Shilpi was sent to Hyderabad for DNA testing. The report confirmed she had been raped by more than one person before she died. But the blood sample of the main suspect, Sadhu, could not be obtained as he brazenly refused to cooperate in the investigation despite growing pressure from the media.
The agency gave a clean chit to Sadhu, who by that time had become a Lok Sabha MP.
Soon after the CBI closed the file, an informant in the case, Bimal Kumar, petitioned the special CBI court and alleged that the agency had not collected the evidence properly. "This was done to save the accused, " he said.
Expelled from the Congress in 1998 and no longer in political currency, Mishra now openly accuses the premier investigative agency of getting bullied by politicians. He admits that the agency failed in the Bobby murder case. Of course, he conveniently evades confessing his own involvement in letting the culprits go scotfree. "Had the case been probed impartially, some high profile politicians would have been charged, " he says with a straight face only our politicians can pull off.
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