The brutal murder of Patna University’s Prof. Papiya Ghosh and her elderly maidservant at her home in Patna on December 3 shocked the academic community in Bihar. A brave and popular singleton, Prof. Ghosh taught history to postgrad students at Patna University.

In a state where college education is in a shambles and elite private tutors hire armed bodyguards as they teach batches of 200-500 students to rake in big bucks, the brutal murder of this popular academic has come as a huge blow to the already demoralised academy. That a serious academic could be killed in such a barbaric manner in one of the most upscale residential localities of the state capital has conveyed a chilling message: the state is still at the mercy of anti-social goons and criminals and the role of the police is merely to reconstruct crimes without much hope of successful arrest and prosecution of perpetrators.


Yet the silver lining to this cruelly-executed murder is that public protests in Patna continued for over a fortnight with widespread condemnation of the heinous crime pouring in from all over the country. The police was quick to describe the murders as robbery-related and arrested four local youth on December 15. Goods stolen from the professor’s modest home were recovered following intensive investigation driven by a sustained campaign by local media.


Born in 1953 the late professor was the daughter of an IAS officer and had received her school education in Patna. One of her sisters is also an IAS officer and currently posted as officer on special duty with Lok Sabha speaker Somnath Chatterjee. A graduate of Patna Women’s College, Ghosh pressed on to pursue her Masters and Ph D in history at Delhi University. Thereafter against the advice of all, she returned to teach history at her alma mater, Patna Women’s College. It proved to be a fateful decision.


Although the police insist that the motive of the crime is common robbery, the local media is rife with stories of how she was threatened by some politicians and the land mafia to part with her house which is in a prestigious neighbourhood. In 2004 Ghosh had filed a complaint with the police in this connection. After that she never received any fresh threats. Nevertheless the opposition Lalu Prasad-led Rashtriya Janata Dal party has demanded a CBI probe with the state government insisting that the local police has already solved the case. Yet there is considerable disquiet — indeed fear — in the city that a murder most foul was committed in broad daylight in the upscale Pataliputra colony.


Yet this much-lamented murder and the intense speculation it has aroused is indicative of the reality that despite good intentions, the new Nitish Kumar-led state government which was voted to power in 2005, has a long way to go before restoring citizens’ faith in the police and law and order machinery.


Meanwhile the state government’s effort to attract high quality teachers into the promised new Bihar has suffered a severe setback.


(Published in Education World online)