Over the last four years, Ramesh Kumar Swain, 66, married 27 women from ten different States under false pretexts. Among his brides were a Supreme Court lawyer, an officer of the Kerala Administrative Service, a Chartered Accountant, an officer in a paramilitary force, a senior executive from an insurance company, and doctors. How the diminutive 5-ft-2-inch-tall man, educated only up to Class X but posing as a doctor, managed to deceive so many women without raising suspicion is part of an unravelling mystery. Bhubaneswar Police had to set up a task force to reach out to all his victims. So far, the police have contacted 90 women tricked by Swain.
In May 2021, the Commissionerate Police for Bhubaneswar and Cuttack received a call from a 48-year-old New Delhi-based school teacher, who wanted to lodge a complaint against her husband as he had entered into multiple marriages with other women and swindled her of ₹13 lakh. Subsequently, a case was registered at a women’s police station on the direction of Deputy Commissioner of Police Umashankar Dash.
The police had Swain’s phone number and several residential addresses, but the conman was always on the move. The investigating team began tracking his phone. Around then, Swain was living in Guwahati and visiting Paradip occasionally. The City Police kept tabs on his location intermittently. “Wherever we located him, we found a wife in that place. Though he was unaware that a case had been lodged in his name, he was not staying at one place for long,” said Sanjeev Satpathy, Assistant Commissioner of Police, a key member of the investigating team.
Confident that he would come to Bhubaneswar, the police nabbed him when he was visiting the Shani temple in the city on February 14.
The Delhi-based teacher met ‘Bibhu Prasad Swain’ via an online matrimonial site. He told her family he was the deputy director general of health education and training at the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, producing documents such as PAN, Aadhaar and a “rejected leave application” to suggest he was indispensable at his workplace. He was conversant in Hindi and English, and would post photos with a red beacon to convince his victims. Although born in 1956, the forged documents gave 1971 as the year of his birth. The marriage to the teacher was solemnised at the Arya Samaj temple in Janakpuri in New Delhi on July 29, 2018.
“During my stay at Bhubaneswar, I came to know from one of his maids that he already had two wives. When I confronted him, he started avoiding me. Since I had no guardian and was staying alone, I could not carry out a background check. The email IDs looked genuine, like those of government officials. I had spent my childhood in Odisha. I had an idea that Odia men would never cheat,” the woman said.
Through Swain’s phone, she contacted other women he had tricked, and all his “wives” began keeping in touch. They alerted other women who agreed to marry him when his profile popped up on online matrimonial sites. “I could have saved more women had I known their numbers,” said a widow who lives alone in Delhi.
Ramesh Chandra Swain, who hails from Singhalo village in Kendrapara district, went by the aliases of Dr. Bijayshree Ramesh Kumar, Dr. Bidhu Prakash Swain and Dr. Ramani Ranjan Swain. He had taken three apartments on rent in upscale housing societies. Most of the women he married had lived in these apartments.
Twenty-five marriages took place after 2018.They did not last long. When his cover was blown, Swain moved away. He followed the same modus operandi each time. He preyed on lonely, unmarried and middle-aged women. Among the women he tricked was a Kerala Administrative Service officer who travelled to Guwahati all the way by road with her family for the registration of the marriage. A doctor in Guwahati fainted with shock when news of Swain’s arrest reached her — he had married her and stayed with her for some months. Among the five women he married in Odisha, three were teachers. One of them was a widow with a grown-up daughter. She refused to be part of the investigation. A lawyer in the Supreme Court has moved to nullify her marriage to Swain in the Tis Hazari courts. One of Swain’s victims was in the Indo-Tibetan Border Police. She alleges she was cheated of ₹10 lakh.
From his first marriage in 1982, Swain has two sons and a daughter, all well-placed doctors, from whom he is estranged. Two decades later, in 2002, he married a doctor in Jharkhand. She came to know of his fraud but kept silent. Swain has two children from this marriage.
“He would have married six more women in two or three months. Dates were fixed for marriages. Because of social stigma, not many are coming forward to lodge a formal complaint,” Mr. Satpathy said.
Swain is suspected to possess intimate videos of many women. “We are verifying it. Police did not get any clue about this from his mobile phone,” Mr. Satpathy said. The whereabouts of some women who may have worked as servants or were involved in some capacity are yet to be ascertained.
A larger societal problem is evident from the case. “In a patriarchal society, unmarried women have emotional needs and the need for recognition. These women, irrespective of social status, feel the stigma of being unmarried. On the contrary, men with bachelorhood are lauded,” said Rita Ray, a prominent sociologist.
Swain may also have been involved in other types of fraud, including accepting money in return for admission to medical colleges, and other scams. He was arrested in Kerala in 2006 in a ₹1 crore forgery case. In 2010, the Hyderabad Police constituted a special task force in another fraud case pertaining to the master swindler.