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Op Silent Viper: How a rapist was caught after 22 years

By SYED FIRDAUS ASHRAF
February 26, 2021 11:28 IST
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'When a criminal assumes a new identity he think everybody knows them by that name only.'
'Criminals forget that the police are always hunting for them to put them in jail.'

IMAGE: Dr Sudhanshu Sarangi, Bhubaneswar-Cuttack Police Commissioner, seated right, and the Op Silent Viper team with Odisha Director General of Police Abhay, centre, at the Odisha police headquarters. Photograph: Kind courtesy, @SarangiSudhansu/Twitter

Twenty-two-years ago, a rape case shocked Odisha, then known as OrisSa, and led to Janaki Ballabh Patnaik'sresignation as chief minister.

The victim was the estranged wife of an Indian Foreign Service officer.

She was raped on January 9, 1999, when she was travelling from Bhubaneswar to Cuttack.

At the time of the incident, she was accompanied by a journalist friend and a driver when three men waylaid the vehicle and gangraped her.

Two rapists were subsequently arrested, but the third -- Bibekananda Biswal alias Biban alias Jalandhar Swain -- escaped.

Before the rape, the victim had filed a molestation case against former advocate general Indrajit Ray, a close associate of then Congress chief minister J B Patnaik.

After the gangrape, the victim accused Ray of orchestrating the sexual assault on her, to force her to withdraw her FIR against him, and Patnaik of shielding him.

The gangrape and subsequent allegations led to a public outcry and the Congress's central leadership, faced with an assembly election the next year, got J B Patnaik to resign.

Not that it helped the party, for in the 2000 assembly election, Naveen Patnaik of the Biju Janata Dal was elected chief minister and remains in power till date.

The gangrape and its fallout had faded away from public memory when, on February 22, Bhubaneswar-Cuttack Police Commissioner Dr Sudhanshu Sarangi announced that the third accused, Biswal, had been arrested from Maharashtra, where the latter had been living under a false identity all these years.

Rediff.com's Syed Firdaus Ashraf spoke to Dr Sarangi to find out about Operation Silent Viper by which the police arrested the third rapist after 22 years.

Here is his first person account.


In November 2020, there was a robbery at private lender India Infoland's loan and investment centre in Cuttack.

This robbery happened in broad daylight when dacoits covering their faces with masks entered the India Infolandoffice and decamped with gold worth crores.

While investigating the case, I started checking CCTV footage in and around the area to see if I could get some dacoit's face on camera.

Finally, I did get some faces, but they were not clear.

I then went to prison and told the jailor that I wanted to meet all the convicts to show them the face of these dacoits from the CCTV grab and see if some of them could identify them.

During the investigation, I met Dhirendra Mohanty who was serving a life sentence for raping the Indian Foreign Service officer's wife.

I recalled his crime because at that time Orissa was in turmoil because of this case.

It was a brutal gangrape that shocked every citizen of the state.

I recalled there were three men involved in the rape: Dhirendra Mohanty, Padia Sahoo and Biswal.

So I reopened the 22-year-old file and found that Sahoo and Mohanty had been caught.

Sahoo subsequently died in prison.

Biswal escaped and had never been arrested by the police.

I wondered where did he disappear? Why was he never caught?

I then launched Operation Silent Viper.

Its aim was to catch the third rapist, Biswal.

Over the years, the ability of the Indian police has improved vastly by tackling cases of left-wing terrorism in the country. We have developed new skills of catching underground Maoist cadres.

I felt when we have done all this. why can't we catch a rapist who is absconding?

Frankly speaking, now when I look back, it was like low hanging fruit.

We used the same technique that we used to catch Maoist cadres.

Let us not get into details on how we do it, but just imagine that we do it the same way as they do in the movies.

The key to this operation is to never go and check with the family of the accused as they then get alerted.

This used to happen in films of the 1980s, but not any longer in real life while solving such crimes.

Never let an accused know that policemen are searching for him.

None of my investigating officers in this case went to Biswal's house or even to his village.

We did nothing that aroused suspicion on his side.

This entire operation was a secret and only a few dedicated officers were working on it, so that no news would be leaked to anyone.

After investigating the case for some time, we found out that there was a man known as Jalandhar Swain working in Amby Valley city, Lonavala, a hill station 200 km from Mumbai.

The trouble was that there are 14,000 people in Amby Valley and we could not take a chance by just landing up as the police.

If we had done that, this man would have escaped immediately.

We first made sure that this man was the same person who we were looking for and had changed his identity to Jalandhar Swain.

We were worried that if we just landed up there and someone told him, Mr Swain, someone from Orissa is looking for you, he would have escaped for sure.

When we reached there, he tried to run away, but we caught him after a short chase.

For this operation, I got in touch with Bipin Kumar Singh, who was my batchmate and is commissioner of police, Navi Mumbai.

He then provided me logistical support and help with the local police in Lonavala.

Three teams then got into the act -- our police, the Navi Mumbai police and the Lonavala police -- to catch the rapist.

Finally, an eight-member team caught the rapist.

The biggest challenge was to confirm his identity as he was living in disguise.

It took three months to confirm his identity.

After we identified him, the arrest part took just three days.

On February 19, I was sure that I had found our man.

Next day, I sent my team of three people by the first flight to Mumbai.

When we caught him he said, 'Take me back to Orissa. I will tell you the entire story.'

He knew his story had come to an end.

He told us that he had been in some place near Pune and then shifted to Lonavala in 2007 with a different identity.

He was staying at the staff quarters in Amby Valley, Lonavala.

He was employed as one of the maintenance staff.

And when I met him, he said, 'You are a good officer for I never thought I will get caught.'

The trouble with every criminal is that when he or she assumes a new identity they think everybody knows them by that name only, especially with a new PAN card, new Aadhar card, etc.

They become very confident about their own new identity.

In this case there was a degree of carelessness that set in him as time passed.

Criminals forget that the police are always hunting for them to put them in jail.

And this is what happened with Biswal.

He has finally ended up in jail for his heinous crime.

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SYED FIRDAUS ASHRAF / Rediff.com
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