Bhubaneswar: Yes, it has been 22 years. But, some memories remain with you as alive and painful as it was then.
Anjana Mishra was gang-raped. It can be stated as simply as that because she refused to be a victim of the circumstances. She had the guts, disdain and disgust for the male-dominated and ‘ijjat’- infested society where the victim has to hide and the abuser walks free.
It was early in the morning. We, Kasturi Mohapatra and I, got the information. The gut feeling was “the rogues have done it!” We rushed to Cuttack to be with her.
At that time, Anjana was fighting battles on many fronts. She was married off at the age of 17 years. She suspected her husband of having a relationship with his sister-in-law. It was all to protect the ‘honour’ of a reputed family that she was so unfortunate to belong to that she was conveniently sent to Kanke, Ranchi “for treatment”.
The son-in-law found a willing ally in the father’s family. She was promised to be loved by the husband only after she was cured of the illness. There was absolutely no mental disorder diagnosed. She was kept under observation for 15 days. But it became a year!
She, a perfectly normal person, as you and I are, was made to stay with regularly institutionalised inmates for a whole year! Why? Because of a great rule which debarred the authorities at the mental hospital to discharge a female inmate unless some ‘guardian’ came and took ‘custody’, despite the fact that “she was diagnosed with no mental illness”. She was a free Indian citizen! And “the guardian” simply decided to forget her!
Anjana retained her sanity to be able to somehow contact the Odisha Human Rights Commission. It was then that social activist Sheila Behera and the stalwarts of Utkal Mahila Samiti, Cuttack, stepped in. A cocoon of human unconditional support was created for Anjana and she started her fight back for right to life with dignity.
Her fight was against her husband and her own family. She is very expressive, fluent in English but not surprisingly lacks self-belief.
I was fortunate to have interacted with her as a psychologist. There was discussion on allegations of her mental disorder that was supported by some psychiatrists. I was, a little known quantity, sharpening my rational weapons to destroy those characters. Thankfully the issue did not come up. Maybe the sheer force of support by so many known activists of Cuttack and Bhubaneswar deterred them.
She is far saner than us, because we just can’t imagine what she has gone through. We had no hesitation in making Basundhara and Open Learning Systems, fighting for rights, her home and fort. I saw the ladies of Utkal Mahila Samiti. I saw tigresses protecting their adopted cub. I saw the women’s power when they combine in purest form. They were middle aged with responsibilities. All went into their back-burner. What mattered was to secure justice for Anjana. I salute the spirit shown by the ladies when the gents were hiding with the tail between their legs. No, worse still, some, including a couple of rogue police officers, were busy threatening, offering financial benefits to the supporters. Even I got a few doses, in spite of I being known for what I am. But, why?
The then Chief Minister, JB Patnaik, was informed by the activists and he promised all help. Anjana met Indrajit Ray, the then Advocate General of Odisha. He thought it was a good time to take advantage of Anjana’s helplessness. She fought back. She was determined to expose the rogue. (One court did convict him of the offence committed).
For the record, we were there in the Cantonment police station to lodge the FIR. It took us a whole day! The CM was contacted and requested to remove Indrajit Ray from the post. Nothing happened. The threats and the offers piled up. And then came this. The presence of a police patrolling nearby, a minister stating that the road being built should not be used; all looked so orchestrated. It was to defame and denigrate Anjana. But, Anjana is Anjana is Anjana. The CM, AG and their lackeys got a taste of it. Anjana moved with her head held high. These fellows are parts of a history even their followers would like to forget.
Yes, I was among the few men who were there with Anjana. She faced the electronic media and stated that she was gang raped. As a counsellor, I only wish, women are told, trained and taught to believe that their ‘honour’ is not wasted when some males gang up on them. Every time, the much vaunted caring sharing society faces this, the society loses its ‘honour of being humans’. It is an abuse of the power by the really weak people who then hide or come up with stories.
My regards for the Commissioner of Police, a PhD from UK, who hides a steely determination, to go beyond the expediency of the demand of the times and help in the deliivery of justice. Yes, it does bring back some faith in the police force. If Anjana suspects conspiracy, we also did and do. Would you not if you were Anjana?
And shouldn’t I mention our popular Chief Minister, Naveen Patnaik, without whose support, police cannot truly function freely? Yes, he was also there, on the very same day, asking if Anjana then was is in safe hands. He was a central Cabinet minister then.
As Anjana stated in her TV interviews, she stood behind herself. That’s what matters.
And then there is Pramodini Roul. A victim of acid attack by an infra-human male, she is fighting back. There are many more fight backs. Namia Jee is recovering from one of the many operations she has undergone for the physical recovery of her face.
Odisha police must show its worth by bringing these offenders to book. These people must be apprehended and made to get the punishment they deserve, a life behind bars. It must show being worthy of the trust of the cleanest Chief Minister of Odisha.
I am extremely lucky to have come across so many frontline fighters and their supporters. Women must realise their strength when they are united, not under some male banner but on their own. Someday soon, hopefully.