A school teacher was set on fire in Odisha’s Rayagada district on Sunday night, allegedly because she refused to withdraw a sexual harassment complaint against a sub-inspector of schools, who has been hiding for the past two months.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau’s statistics for 2012, Odisha had recorded the third highest number of crime against women in the country. This year, too, the state has been rocked by several cases of rape and murder.
Sunday’s incident has sent shockwaves across Odisha for the sheer brutality.
The incident occurred at the hostel of a primary school at Tikiri, about 600 km southwest of Bhubaneswar.
Police said the contractual teacher, Itishree Pradhan (27), was about to go to sleep when an unidentified person barged into her room, set her on fire after pouring kerosene oil on her and fled.
She was first rushed to the local hospital and later shifted to a hospital in Vishakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh where she is struggling for life with more than 80 per cent burn wounds.
In her statement before a magistrate, Pradhan said she was attacked because she did not withdraw her sexual harassment complaint against SI Netrananda Dandasena.
Though police are yet to establish the attacker’s links with Dandesana they are looking for him on the basis of the girl’s statement.
Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik on Tuesday condemned the incident as “inhuman and brutal”.
“Stringent action will be taken against the culprits,” he said, adding that the state government would bear the expenses for her treatment.
The opposition Congress, on the other hand, demanded Patnaik’s resignation. “It is a shame to the state. A chief minister who cannot establish the rule of law has no moral right to continue in office,” Congress spokesperson Narasingha Mishra said.
He added Patnaik should also immediately take action against the collector and superintendent of police of the district for failing to protect a woman despite having prior information about the threat to her.
After the incident, collector SB Padhi suspended Dandasena for his alleged involvement in the crime while district inspector of schools (DI) Dharanidhar Behera was also suspended for not taking against the SI despite receiving a complaint from Pradhan.
“An inquiry has been initiated into the incident. Further action will be taken accordingly,” he said.
Superintendent of police Rajesh Pandit suspended police sub-inspector Muralidhar Pradhan for dereliction in duty.
Pradhan had lodged her complaint against Dandasena in the local police station on July 18. As there was no action, she moved the district collector and Odisha State Women’s Commission a month later with her grievance.
On the basis of an inquiry report, the collector had directed Behera to take action against Dandasena, who by that time had gone into hiding.
Pradhan’s brother alleged his sister’s repeated pleas about threat to her life fell on deaf ears as no effort was made to trace Dandasena or to take action against him.