Dr. Fakira Mohan Nahak
THE TELEVISION NEWS INDUSTRY IN ODISHA HAS GONE THROUGH A PROGRESSIVE JOURNEY IN THE PAST TWO DECADES. IN THIS SERIES DR. FAKIRA MOHAN NAHAK PRESENTS THE MEDIA HISTORY BLENDED WITH HIS CLOSE OBSERVATION ON THE FAST-CHANGING INDUSTRY.
Children are the incarnation of God. They are full of innocence and regarded as the future of the nation. There is a dedicated Ministry of Women and Child Development of the government. Yet the children are the most vulnerable ones.
There are growing incidence of child abuse, child trafficking, child labour, child marriage and what not. One such incident that still stirs up the mental state is the torturous story of eight year old orphan kid Prasanta Nahak in Lal Mahal, the royal palace of Khariar that was aired by ETV Odia. The people of the state haven’t forgotten that heinous incident yet.
It was July, the rain season of 2003. Bijay Sahis was ETV’s Nuapada district correspondent. He was active and uncompromising in his work. He specialized in investigative reporting.
One day, some people working near the Khariar palace informed him that a small child with multiple scars on his body was in great pain and was trapped inside the palace. That child is not allowed to go out. So steps need to be taken to rescue him. Bijay couldn’t accept this information. This kind of allegation against the royal family was hard to believe.
People in the locality have lot of respect and loyalty towards the royal family and the palace. He was worried about how he would be able to report the news without a thorough investigation. However, after getting the information from the general public, he always kept an eye on Lal Mahal, the Khariar palace.
When Bijay tried to follow Pushpalata Singh Deo, the queen of the palace, while she was taking the child out of the palace, she was alert and returned to the palace. Despite investigating the news for several days, no concrete evidence has been obtained. Bijay tried to question King Bhubaneswar Singhdeo and his wife Pushpalata Singhdeo, but failed. Eventually, both the royal couple left the palace for Raipur, but he was able to take some pictures of Prasanta Nahak, the child who was trapped inside the palace.
However, after learning that the evidence had reached Bijay, other members of the royal family pressured him directly or indirectly to refrain from broadcasting the news. Bijay was persuaded not to publish the news claiming that the news would tarnish the royal family’s reputation. But, in spite of all this, he filed the story.
When the big news was aired on ETV, there was an atmosphere of fear all over the place. As soon as the news broke, the state government took immediate action. Local police immediately raided the Lal Mahal and rescued Prasanta. Police ordered the royal couple to take the responsibility of sending the victim to his native place. The public in Prasanta’s locality were enraged after watching the report in the TV.
Prasanta was born in Sodak village in Ganjam district and was an orphan. He was living with his grandparents. However, since queen of Khariar Pushpalata Singhdeo’s house was in the area, she took him to the palace. Everyone hoped that by working in the royal family, the orphaned child would live a better life. But no one thought he would be subjected to unspeakable torture in that palace.
As the local representative, Nilachal Mohapatra from Balangir later joined Bijay Sahis. ETV found a lot of information during their joint investigation. Various parts of the child’s body were stabbed and his blood was used to do some superstitious rituals in the midnight.After receiving information about such a heinous crime, the ETV team headed to the village to find out the truth from others.
About eight to ten children from the local area told ETV that they had similar incidents. A girl and her mother from Junali, a nearby village also opened up in front of ETV and narrated similar kind of torture. Even then, the girl’s body was found to have multiple signs of abuse.
The royal couple were surrounded by the villagers when they reached Sodak to drop off Prasanta. However, after the intervention of some locals, they managed to escape from there. Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik had ordered a crime branch inquiry into the incident after a series of regular follow ups got broadcast on ETV.
Duryodhana Nayak, the then DSP of the crime branch, spent a long time camping in Khariar to search for the couple. The royal couple had been missing for several days for fear of police investigations, media reports and arrests. In this case, the Khariar JMFC (Judicial Magistrate First Class) court issued a non-bailable arrest warrant. Even four passenger buses and houses of Bhubaneswar Singhdeo were sealed as per the court order. The Hon’ble Orissa High Court also rejected the anticipatory bail petition of Bhubaneswar Singhdeo and Pushpalata Singhdeo on July 29, 2004.
The couple was arrested a few days later from Kantabanji of Balangir district. Despite Bijay Sahis and Nilachal Mohapatra’s efforts, the locals were not prepared to speak in front of the camera about the royal family. Everyone was scared. However, a local NGO called “Lokadrishti” came forward. Abani Mohan Panigrahi, a member of the organization, demanded a high-level investigation into the incident and called for action against the perpetrators.
On the other hand, when Prasanta Nahak arrived in Sodak village in Ganjam district, ETV correspondent Umakant Mishra met him at his house. Umakant was temporarily in charge of ETV’s Berhampur bureau at that time. The viewers were stunned seeing the reporting he did on the brutal and horrific tortures that Prasanta had faced in the royal palace. The incident was truly insane and inhumane.
Following Umakant’s report, the Ganjam district administration immediately intervened and Prasanta was shifted to MKCG Medical College, Berhampur. After improvement in his health condition, he was eventually sent to SOS Village, Bhubaneswar.
For many years, Prasanta’s condition in the SOS village was monitored. He was in high school at the time. There were also reports that he had a good score in the exam. Today, Prasanta may have forgotten all those painful days of his childhood and moved on in life, but that tragic report that was aired on ETV Oriya at that time is still fresh in the mind. Had it not been for the report on ETV that day, it may not have been possible to say where Prasanta would be today. People will never forget ETV Oriya and the concerned reporters for such a great job. Hats off !!
(Dr. Fakira Mohan Nahak is a writer and former media professional. He is currently working as the Head of the Department of University Institute of Media Studies, Chandigarh University at Mohali, Punjab. Views are Personal)
Tags: #ETVOriya #MKCGMedicalCollege #GanjamDistrict #NaveenPatnaik #CMOdisha #SodakVillage #BalangirDistrict #LalMahalcase #ETVnews #ChildAbuse #ChildTrafficking #ChildLabour #ChildMarriage