A 28-year-old Range Forest Officer, popularly known as Maharashtra’s “Lady Singham”, committed suicide by shooting herself with her service revolver on Thursday last week. Dipali Chavan-Mohite shot herself at her official quarters in the Harisal village near the tiger reserve. Her blood-splattered body was recovered later by her relatives and colleagues. She was 5 months pregnant at the time of her death.
A purported suicide note recovered from the slain officer said she was drawn to suicide after being subjected to sexual harassment and torture at the hands of a senior Indian Forest Service(IFS) officer. In her letter, Mohite, a female Range Forest Officer posted in the Melghat Tiger Reserve (MRT) in Maharashtra’s Amravati, pleaded with the authorities to take strict action against the Deputy Conservator of Forests (DCF) Vinod Shivkumar so that nobody else should suffer her ordeal.
The suicide note also details how Shivkumar abused his position, harassed her sexually and inflicted mental trauma on her for the past few months.
From sexual harassment to physical torture and intimidation of falsely implicating her in SC-ST act: Dipali Chavan narrates her ordeal in the suicide note
As per reports, on several occasions in the past, Dipali had officially lodged complaints against Shivkumar with his senior MTR Field Director, MS Reddy (IFS), who allegedly ignored her pleas and reportedly sided with the accused DCF. Dipali also pointed out Shivkumar’s alcoholism, his use of abusive and foul language for her in private and public, sexual advances and oblique hints at getting physical.
However, as she continued to spurn him, the senior officer reportedly could not withstand the rejection from his junior and punished her in the form of difficult assignments, punishing work schedules, abuses, and once even withholding her salary for a month.
She has also accused Shivkumar of not allowing her to go to Amravati to be with her family even once during the month. “He asks me to meet him at late hours in the night and speaks to me in obscene language. Many times he called me to the tourist complex and even at the Akot diversion and tried to take undue advantage of my being alone with him. He is punishing me for not submitting to his whims,” she has said.
Additionally, the slain forest officer has also accused Shivkumar of threatening her of slapping provisions of the SC-ST Act against her. In her letter, Dipali narrates an incident when some locals in Mangia village had threatened her with the SC-ST Act. When she informed Shivkumar about the incident, instead of supporting her, the IFS officer said he would see to it that the SC-ST Act applies against her and she is sent to jail under its provisions.
“On March 7, 2020, when I was busy removing forest encroachments at Mangia village, some local people abused us and locked us up in a house. When I informed Shivkumar, he said that I was lying and staging a drama. When I told him that the villagers were threatening to register offence against me under the Atrocities Act, Shivkumar said I would myself call the SP and tell him to apply atrocity to you and will see how you feel spending four months in jail,” Dipali’s note read, adding, “my mobile has a recording of this conversation with him.”
As per one of Dipali’s colleagues, in February 2020, Shivkumar had forced Dipali, who was then pregnant, to accompany him on a gruelling 3-day forest patrol, walking or driving hundreds of kilometres, ignoring her condition. As a consequence, after returning from the forest, she suffered a miscarriage that pushed her into a deep depression.
IFS officer Shivkumar arrested, his superior MS Reddy suspended
When asked about the shocking incident, Deputy CM Ajit Pawar vowed a thorough investigation in the matter. “A thorough probe is ordered and all angles will be covered. No guilty will be spared,” Pawar said.
The IPS officer Vinod Shivkumar was apprehended the next day from the Nagpur railway station while he was waiting to board Rajdhani Express to Bengaluru. He was subsequently transported to Amravati for further formalities. Following his arrest, the state government suspended Gugamal deputy conservator of forests(DyCF) Vinod Shivkumar. Shivkumar was produced before the court on Monday that sent him to judicial custody till March 30.
In addition, MS Reddy was also suspended from his position as the field director and APCCF of Melghat Tiger Reserve. Reddy was suspended after Dipali’s note accused him of shielding Shivkumar and ignoring her previous complaints of workplace sexual harassment.
Known as ‘Lady Singham’ for her daring audacity to take on the local forest mafias
After joining the Maharashtra forest department, Dipali rose into prominence for her bold and unsparing action against the local forest mafias. Her heavy-handed approach in dealing with the illegal encroachments in forests earned her the nickname of “Lady Singham”.
Dipali had created a sensation in the police force five years ago when she chased in her official car a gang of four smugglers that were escaping to Madhya Pradesh on a train. At the next station, she intercepted the smugglers trying to get away with five tonnes of a valuable jungle produce ‘lac’, arrested them, confiscated the consignment and brought the accused back to Maharashtra.
Known for her integrity and unparalleled dedication towards her duty, Dipali inspired terror and fear among the forest mafias. On many occasions, Dipali had caught forest mafias red-handed for poaching small and big animals.