The main accused in the case of the two-decade-old gang-rape of the wife of a former Indian Forest Officer that almost brought the J. B Patnaik-led Congress government in Odisha to its knees has been arrested.
Biban Biswal alias Bibekananda Biswal was arrested from the Amby Valley City Project near Navi Mumbai by Commissionerate Police for Bhubaneswar and Cuttack on Sunday. He had been on the run for the past 22 years.
“Both the CBI and the Odisha police had tried hard to catch hold of the accused but all efforts had gone in vain. For 22 years, his whereabouts remained an unsolved question for many. Some said he had died,” said Sudhansu Sarangi, Commissioner of Police, who led the team.
“Three months ago, we launched operation ‘Silent Viper’. It was perplexing as to where and how was the snake [accused] lying low? I headed a small team to track Biswal down. He was residing in the Amby Valley project situated between Mumbai and Pune and working as plumber,” said Mr. Sarangi.
“He had assumed a new identity in the name of Jalandhar Swain and identifying him among the 14,000 employees of Amby Valley was quite a difficult task. He had generated all documents such as Aadhaar and a bank account in his new name and had a permanent job. But he did not change his village address. The accused was sure that he would not be caught in his lifetime,” said Mr. Sarangi.
With help of the Mumbai police, a team of the twin-city had gone to the Amby Valley project. Though the police team was in plainclothes, he started running after sensing danger. But he was caught immediately. He was produced in the CBI court here on Monday.
Three criminals, Biswal, Dhirendra Mohanty and Pradeep Sahu, gang-raped the woman on the night of January 9, 1999. She was having tea from a roadside stall with her friend when she was kidnapped by the criminals. She was gang-raped near Barang.
Expressing dissatisfaction over the sluggish pace of investigation by the State police, the Orissa High Court handed over the probe to the CBI. The premier investigation agency filed a charge sheet on May 5, 1999. The District Session Judge, Khordha, sentenced Sahu and Mohanty to life imprisonment on April 29, 2002. While Sahu has died, Mohanty is lodged in the Choudwar Jail.
J. B. Patnaik had to step down following the murder of Christian missionary Graham Staines in 1999. But the gang rape case also acted as a trigger. He was criticised for not letting the police administration function independently and arrest the accused. Subsequently, Giridhar Gamango took over the reins of chief ministership from Patnaik.
The former Chief Minister’s name was dragged into controversy for his close proximity with former Advocate General Ranjit Ray, who was convicted and sentenced to three-year imprisonment for molesting and attempting to rape the victim on July 11, 1997.
Speaking to The Hindu after the arrest of her chief tormenter, the survivor said, “it has been a long battle of 22 years. I had lost hopes that the criminal would be caught. It brings happiness to me. I am relieved. I would not settle on anything less than capital punishment for Biswal. I have died thousands times in all these years.”
The survivor narrated, “despite being subjected to public humiliation, I stood my ground and challenged the powerful system which tried to pin me down. I had faced murderous attack on numerous times. Police did not take any action.”
Political parties hailed the arrest of Biswal. Political observers pointed out that the gang rape was a turning point in Odisha’s political history and the Congress had earned bad names for not letting the police work independently. A perception grew that the government was more lenient towards criminals and the grand old party found it difficult to break the perception barrier. Since then, the Congress has not returned to power.
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