TNN | Apr 2, 2014, 09.28 AM IST
“Though those incidents are still fresh in the minds of people, women’s issues and their safety are yet to capture the imagination of the opposition candidates. Barring a few passing references to women’s safety, almost all Congress and BJP candidates are hammering away on issues like the mining scam, loan scam, chit fund frauds, irregularity in allotment of Indira Awas houses and misappropriation in the mid-day meal scheme,” said Anuradha Mohanty, a women’s rights activist.
“After the Pipili, Kendrapada and Rayagada incidents, opposition parties hit the streets and turned the heat on the ruling party. We thought the political opponents would intensify their agitation during the elections and harp on women’s safety, but they are strangely silent,” said Jyotsnalipi Nanda, a student.
Odisha has been witnessing a large number of rapes and other forms of crimes against women for quite some time. The National Crime Records Bureau said 1,458 rape cases were reported in Odisha in 2012 as against 1,112 in 2011 and 1,025 in 2010.
Debutant actor-turned-politician Aparajita Mohanty, who is trying her luck as the MP candidate of Congress in Cuttack, said women’s safety should be a topic of discussion. “Statistics show that crimes against women, especially rape, increased during the tenure of BJD. The ruling BJD is solely responsible for the worsening law and order in the state. I will definitely raise the issue and fight for the cause of women,” Mohanty said.
Judhistir Samantaray, Congress candidate of Pipili assembly constituency, said he would start his campaign against BJD nominee and sitting MLA Pradeep Maharathy in his area. Maharathy, who was then the agriculture minister, had to step down amid the growing public outcry for allegedly shielding the accused. Maharathy subsequently scoffed at the charges.
“People in Pipili are fed-up with the BJD government’s anti-women policies. Voters, especially women will give a befitting reply to the sitting MLA in the forthcoming poll,” Samantaray said.
While Maharathy was not available for comment, his supporters denied Samantaray’s allegations. “Maharathy was not involved in the death of the girl. He was falsely dragged into a controversy. Voters of Pipili are with him,” said Janmanjaya Mohanty, a local BJD activist.
BJD leaders feel the charges of opposition will not cut into their votes. “Several women’s safety and women’s empowerment measures have been taken under BJD rule. The government never tried to protect any criminal,” said a senior BJD leader.
Several BJD leaders found themselves in trouble for their alleged involvement in women-related issues in the past. Former minister and sitting MLA from Basta Raghunath Mohanty and Jayadev legislator Arabinda Dhali were reportedly denied party tickets for the ensuing elections as both them were in the eye of a storm over women’s issues. While Mohanty was entangled in an alleged dowry torture case, Dhali faced a paternity challenge from a woman. Ostensibly trying to quell the opposition, BJD president and chief minister Naveen Patnaik sidelined Mohanty and Dhali.