Sanjana was instantly drawn to Bibhu Prasad Swain’s profile on a prominent Indian matrimonial site. She was in her 40s and he claimed to be in his early 50s. His profile included photographs in cars with flashing red lights – the kind only very important government dignitaries owned. Swain claimed he had a stable and prestigious government job at the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. And then he sent her a message.
“He showed documents to prove those credentials when he came down to my house,” Sanjana told VICE World News. She asked to be called by a different name to protect her privacy. Barely 5 feet 2 inches in height, and rather portly, Swain wore glasses and had a thick moustache when they met in New Delhi in 2018. Sanjana said he had a way of winning her trust.
They had a whirlwind courtship and were married soon. The couple then moved 1,000 miles to the eastern Indian city of Bhubaneswar. There, things quickly turned sour.
When Swain got arrested on February 14, police revealed startling details of his crimes against Sanjana and at least 17 other women from 10 Indian states over the last four years. In a country where marriage is sacrosanct, Swain – who has since been identified as 67-year-old Ramesh Kumar Swain – used matrimonial sites to prey on women.
“He targeted women who were single and above 40 years of age, and mostly divorced. They were all well-established in life,” Sanjeev Satpathy, the assistant commissioner of police at Odisha Police, told VICE World News. “His only intention was to grab their money and also have conjugal relations with them.”
Among the women he duped were doctors, an officer in India’s paramilitary forces, a Supreme Court lawyer and a senior executive at a corporate company.
Satpathy, who is a part of the investigation team that has been tracking Swain for eight months, said some of the women were swindled as much as $30,780. Swain was constantly on the move, making it difficult for Satpathy to catch him. Last week, when Swain arrived in Bhubaneshwar, police finally caught him. Swain immediately surrendered.
He was “no casanova material”, Satpathy added, saying Swain took advantage of the women and their desire for companionship. So far, the investigative team has reached out to more than 100 women who were chatting with him on different matrimonial sites. Some of the women, added Satpathy, were scheduled to get married to him in February and March. Many of them didn’t want to speak to the police about their relationship. “It’s possible that now that he’s found out, they don’t want their reputation to be tarnished [if people learned] that they fell for him,” he said.
So who tipped the police about Swain? Sanjana, who made a shocking discovery when she moved in with him.
Immediately after she arrived in Bhubaneshwar in 2018, Sanjana was informed by her domestic helper that Swain was already married to more than one other woman. Then one day, when he wasn’t around, she searched his apartment and discovered shocking documents on all his other wives in a cupboard he usually kept locked.
She also found his phone where her number and several others were saved as “Wife 1” or “Wife 2” and so on, along with the places they were from.
She collected all the files and left the house. Sanjana said she also reached out to one of Swain’s other wives, a doctor with whom he has three grown-up children. She believes this wife is also an accomplice and benefitted from the crime. “I called to tell her what her husband is up to, and in return, her son [verbally] abused me and told me not to come in the middle of his father’s business.”
Fearing repercussions, Sanjana fled back to New Delhi. When she reached out to Swain again, he told her to come to Bhubaneshwar to make amends. But by the time she came back, he already had a new bride, who then left him soon after Sanjana warned her.
Sanjana filed her first police complaint in May last year, which was followed by another police complaint by another victim. Sanjana, who has since remarried, is currently in touch with five other women reportedly swindled by Swain. “I hope he rots in jail. He should be punished so that he doesn’t do it to all the women whose lives he has played with,” she said.
So far, the investigation has unearthed an elaborate picture of Swain’s activities. Satpathy said his first marriage took place in 1978, followed with his second in 2002, with the woman Sanjana believes became an accomplice. After 2018, Swain married women “continuously” to exact money, or even jewellery, from them. Police found he had been using four different identities, including his real one.
During interrogation, Swain claimed he passed the matriculation, or high school, followed up with a diploma and a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry. “But he couldn’t produce a single document to prove this,” said Satpathy. “We suspect all of these qualifications are fake, except him appearing for the matriculation exam.”
Before his marriage scams, Swain was arrested in 2006 and 2010 for defrauding 13 banks of a total $133,828, and scamming medical students with promises of securing them government jobs. Satpathy hopes the case grows stronger as the investigation continues. “We have three women coming today to give their testimonies, and I hope with the support we are giving the women, they continue to come forward.”
Follow Pallavi Pundir on Twitter.