A district court in Odisha sentenced a former school sub-inspector (SI) to life in jail on Tuesday for the murder of a school teacher, a case that became a major political issue in the state.
The district and sessions court of Rayagada found SI Netrananda Dandasena guilty of masterminding the murder and pronounced its verdict on the basis of the charge sheet filed by the state police’s crime branch.
BK Sharma, special director general of Odisha crime branch, said Dandasena was awarded the life term under several sections of the Indian Penal Code for criminal conspiracy, abetment and murder. “In our investigation, Dandasena was the only accused. We had filed the charge sheet after recording the statements of 36 witnesses and appointed a special lawyer to argue our case,” Sharma said.
Twenty-nine-year-old Itishree Pradhan was a contractual teacher at a primary school in Tikiri, Rayagada, more than 600 km southwest of Bhubaneswar. She was set alight by an unidentified person in her room in the hostel on school premises on October 27, 2013.
Six days after the incident, Pradhan succumbed to her injuries in a hospital in Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh. She was survived by her aged parents and an unemployed brother, who she supported with her monthly earning of Rs 4,000.
Former Biju Janata Dal MP, Jayaram Pangi, who Pradhan accused of protecting Dandasena, welcomed the verdict, saying the case had been unnecessarily politicised. “I was the first person to demand (a) CBI inquiry into the case,” he said.
Pradhan’s death caused widespread resentment across Odisha as she was murdered despite lodging a sexual harassment complaint against Dandasena on July 18, 2013, and approached a host of officials – from the district collector to even the chief minister – for protection.
The teacher was apparently harassed for denying sexual favours to Dandasena and was targeted by a local gang that was politically backed.
The state government ordered the crime branch to investigate the case after Pradhan’s dying statements before magistrates in Rayagada and Vishakapatnam came out.
Pradhan said she was attacked because she refused to withdraw her complaint against the sub-inspector and accused Pangi of protecting him.
Following investigations, Dandasena was arrested, two officials of the Tikiri police station were dismissed and few government officials were suspended. However, the man who murdered Pradhan has not been caught yet.
The Supreme Court ordered the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to take over the case following a petition by a law graduate, Sudipta Lenka. The CBI began investigations last February and is still probing the involvement of Dandasena’s alleged accomplices in the murder.