An open letter to Sri Gopal Subramanyam
Sub: An appeal to recuse as counsel for Naveen Patnaik Government on the Itishree Pradhan murder case
Dear Sri Subramanyam,
We, the following individuals and organisations, are extremely dissappointed to know about your role as a counsel in defending the Naveen Patnaik government in the Itishree Pradhan Murder case. It is ironic that you, who were a member of the Justice Verma Committee, constituted in the aftermath of the brutal rape case in Delhi, have now come forward to defend the Odisha government, which is trying every possible means to oppose a genuine demand for justice for a woman, who was brutally murdered while fighting for justice.
Women’s groups and rights groups have been agitating in Odisha demanding a CBI inquiry into this case since they have reasons to believe that there can not be a free, fair and impartial investigation of the case by the State Crime Branch police, which is presently invetigating into it. Many groups have given memorandums to the Governor of Odisha requesting him to look into the case and advise the Odisha government for a CBI inquiry. The family members of the victim have been demanding for a CBI inquiry of the case as they too do not expect justice from the State Crime Branch. The National Commission for Women, after doing its fact finding has already recommended to the Odisha government for a CBI inquiry. A Writ Petition has been filed in the Supreme Court by a concered law student praying for the same. The Odisha government, predictably, instead of conceding to this demand has decided to challenge the petition in the Supreme Court.
Let us have a look at the facts of the case and you will perhaps realise why a CBI inquiry is being demanded. Ms. Itishree Pradhan, a contractual school teacher posted in an Upper Primary school at Tikiri in Rayagada district of Odisha, was subjected to continuous sexual harassment by the Sub-Inspector of schools, named Netrananda Dandasena. She lodged an FIR against Sri Dandasena in Tikiri Police Station on July 18, 2013. No action was taken by the Tikiri police. On July 29 she met the district collector and gave in writing about the complaint. On July 30, she met the DG Police personally and informed him in writing about the threat to her life from the School Inspector and the inaction of Tikiri police. She approached the State Human Rights Commission and the State Women’s Commission on the same day. She also sent a letter to the Chief Minister’s grievance cell. On August 16, she lodged a second FIR after she was threatened by the family members of Sri Dandsena. Tikiri police took no action even after the second FIR. Rather, she was humiliated by the police officials at the police station. Meanwhile, the SHRC wrote to the Raygada SP asking him to take action on the complaint of Ms. Itishree Pradhan. This letter has been received by the SP on August 15 but the SP took no action. She had also lodged her complaint before the Sexual harassment complaint committee. The committee investigated the case and found her allegations true. The report of the complaint committee, after it was submitted to the designated authority, went about from one office to the other for nearly a month. Finally, the order of the district collector to take action on the recommendations of the committee reached the DI of schools on October 22. Still no action was taken. Meanwhile the accused was given a promotion. On October 27, while Itishree was resting in her room, a man entered and poured kerosene over her body and set fire on her. She died on 1st November ’13. In her dying declaration, Itishree has said that the miscreant asked her to withdraw the case against Sri Dandsena and when she refused he doused her with kerosene and set fire on her.
Within two days of the incident, the police arrested Sri Dandsena, who was ‘abscoding’ all these days. Three other officials – the District Inspector of Schools, the Inspector-in-Charge of Tikiri Police Station and a Assistant Sub-Inspector of Police – have been dismissed from service. Her family has been given a ‘compensation’ of Rs. 10 lakhs. All this happened because of a public outcry of justice for Itishree. But the person who poured kerosene and set fire on Itishree’s body is still at large. No action has been taken against the SP and the District Collector for dereliction of their duties. Moreover, the DG Police, has been saying that the two dismissed police officers have not neglected their duties and it is wrong to dismiss them from their service. When women groups met the DGP to demand an explanation for the inaction of police at every level – from the local police station to the DGP – his response was, “In Itishree’s case the police have not neglected its duty at any level. The Tikiri Police Station is not there to respond to cases related to women only. It attends to all kinds of cases under its jurisdiction and women related cases would get addressed in due course.” With this attitude of the DGP of the State, can one expect any justice from the Crime Branch, which is functioning under the same DGP and when the accused are also from the same establishment?
There are also allegations of political patronage enjoyed by the main accused. The local MP belonging to the ruling BJD party and the education minister in the Naveen Patnaik government have been named in this connection. The accused School Inspector allegedly had taken shelter in the house of the minister, before his arrest. Itishree Pradhan, in her dying declaration has also mentioned about the political connection of the main accused for which she thought the police didn’t act upon her FIR.
In this backdrop, we feel that only a CBI inquiry can ensure a free and fair investigation.
Sri Subramanyam, we are aware that as a lawyer you are within your right to defend any aggrieved party. So also the government of Odisha has the right to engage any learned counsel to defend its case. Therefore, after presenting the facts of the case, we can only appeal to you to use your conscience and decide whether in this case the Odisha government is an aggrieved party or it is simply using the machinery of law to protect its own image. By engaging you as a counsel, who was a member of the Justice Verma Committee, would surely boost the ego of the Naveen Patnaik Government. But would it help in any way in securing justice for the thousands of women who have been subjected to sexual violence in the state? We sincerely hope that you will understand the gravity of the matter and for larger interest of justice recuse yourself from defending the Odisha government in the Supreme Court in this case.
Prafulla Samantara, Convenor, Lokshakti Abhiyan Odisha
Pramodini Pradhan, PUCL, Odisha
Biswapriya Kanungo, Adovocate, Human Rights Activist
Sudhir Patnaik, Editor, Samadrusti
Lalita Misal, NAWO, Odisha
Kamayani Bali Mahabal, Feminist and human righst activits, Mumbai