More than a year after she was killed, justice still eludes Itishree Pradhan, a contractual teacher who used to work in a primary school in Tikiri in Rayagada district of Odisha.
Reason: Twenty-nine-year-old Pradhan was a temporary state government employee with no one to support her, while her tormentors had access to ‘high places’ in Tikiri, a remote tribal area where the local police and the top ruling party men are the face of the government.
It took Pradhan’s dying statements to force the administration to take some steps. Even now, there are moves and countermoves to suppress Pradhan’s death mystery.
A law graduate, Sudipta Lenka moved the Supreme Court in November last year, demanding a CBI inquiry into the incident. The top court ordered the state government to initiate an inquiry by a senior official. Meanwhile, the trial of her case has begun in a lower court.
Pradhan’s agony began in 2011, when she arrived in Tikiri – about 600 km from her home in Puri district – and continued till she was murdered on October 27, 2013, when an unidentified person entered her room in the school hostel and set her ablaze.
Pradhan, who used to earn Rs 4,000 a month to support a family of aged parents and an unemployed brother, died six days later in a hospital in Vishakhapatnam.
Sources in Tikiri made it clear that there was no immediate provocation for the murder, but Pradhan had long been a target of a locally powerful gang for denying sexual favours to one of their own – Netrananda Dandasena, a sub-inspector of schools.
Sources said Dandasena offered to help her when Pradhan initially found it difficult to get an accommodation. But after he allegedly misbehaved with her, she stayed away from him. Pradhan started living at the hostel with the approval of the school headmaster, Chandrashekhar Panda.
But Dandasena allegedly kept harassing Pradhan and pressure her through district officials to vacate the hostel room. Even, Panda alleged that then BJD MP Jayaram Pangi had made threatening calls to him because he allowed Pradhan to live in the hostel.
On July 18, 2013, Pradhan lodged a sexual harassment complaint against Dandasena with the Tikiri police station. But she had been pushed relentlessly to withdraw the complaint. During the next three months, she approached virtually everybody – from the district collector to even the CM. But nothing happened.
Finally, when her dying statements before magistrates in the Rayagada and Vishakhapatnam hospitals came out – saying she was attacked because she had refused to withdraw her complaint against Dandasena – the administration had to sit up and take note.
Dandasena was arrested, two officials of the Tikiri police station were dismissed and a few government officials suspended. But the assailant, who set her on fire, is still at large.
Pradhan even identified Pangi as Dandasena’s main backer. But Pangi said, “I never interfered in the case nor did I back Dandasena”, although several police officials in Tikiri now allege that Pangi had called them, asking them not to touch Dandasena.
Rayagada-based social activist Bidulata Huika said, “The investigation did not go beyond arresting Dandasena”, while local sources said the political clout of Dandasena, who rose from the position of a primary school teacher, stemmed from his closeness to Pangi.
The state government inquiry by IAS officer Rajesh Verma said on October 27, 2014 that Dandasena was given a promotion on October 15, 2013 when he was officially declared an absconder.