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IAS officers involved in sex racket: NCW

By Our Staff Correspondent

BHOPAL OCT. 18. The National Commission for Women's chairperson, Poornima Advani, today said after a marathon hearing here that "in the Commission's opinion very senior IAS officers who have come before us are implicated in a sex racket in the State capital".

"It is shocking that persons holding positions of authority who should protect the law had connived with a journalist to ruin the life of a hapless woman," Ms. Advani said.

Ms. Advani was briefing newsmen after conducting a preliminary hearing into a complaint of sexual exploitation and harassment lodged by a school teacher against a journalist and some senior IAS officers from the Madhya Pradesh cadre.

Briefing newsmen about the "detailed'' hearing conducted by the Commission's fact-finding team over the complaint of sexual exploitation lodged by Archana Gupta, a local school teacher, Ms. Advani said that the allegation by some of those accused in this case that "some journalists were involved in raising the sex racket controversy'' was only an attempt to divert attention from the shocking sex racket. Under no circumstances, the accused would be allowed to divert investigations to narrow lanes and by-lanes, she said while emphasising the need for a thorough probe into this case by an independent investigating agency.

Besides Ms. Advani, the other members of the Commission's fact-finding team were Justice S. Dwivedi, a former judge of the Madhya Pradesh High Court and C. Chellappan, a former IAS officer and member of the National Commission for SCs and STs. They too were present at the press briefing.

Ms. Advani told newsmen that there was continuous hearing yesterday and special precaution was taken to avoid any lapse due to the sensitivity of the case. The victim was there with them for almost three hours, Ms. Advani said, adding that she was in a pathetic condition and repeatedly broke down. She is so harassed that in the end she said "compared to the agony she has been through, any justice at this stage would be too trivial''.

Ms. Advani said "the victim was very clear in giving details of sexual harassment, assault and her long sordid story lasting for over seven years''. The victim, she said, comes from a poor environment. She was known to an influential journalist for a long time, Ms. Advani said, adding what is really troubling is that someone with the power of the pen and others in high authority have been using a weak woman in a sex racket. She went on to observe that this was only the tip of the iceberg.

Regarding S.S. Asthana, the prime accused in this case, the Women's Commission Chairperson said, "his role is obnoxious and needs to be further investigated". She emphasised that this was not the result of a "media war'' as was being argued by Mr. Asthana and his friends. "The Commission is of the view that senior IAS officers are involved in this organised sex harassment racket''.

Those who deposed before the Commission, Ms. Advani informed newsmen, were Man Dahima, who has recently resigned from the IAS to become the State Congress unit spokesman and was said to be seeking Congress ticket for the coming Assembly elections, D.R. Bhagat, who too has retired from the IAS recently, and Vidhan Chandra, an Indian Forest Service officer. There are a total of six IAS officers whose names were being mentioned by the victim and two of these have deposed before the Commission so far, Ms Advani added.

"We do not know the total number of women involved in this racket though there are indications that there are several more who were being exploited.''

Reacting on behalf of the Commission in a different case, Justice Dwivedi said the death of a young housewife, Archana Hardenia, wife of a local journalist, Ambreesh Hardenia, and daughter-in-law of L.S. Hardenia, a former journalist and the vice chairman of the State unit of Rashtriya Ekta Parishad, was most shocking.

Ms. Advani said Archana's death was in "non-normal circumstances''. It remains to be investigated whether she had committed suicide or had been murdered. This can only be ascertained by the post-mortem report.

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