The sexual assault on six tribal girl children staying at a residential school at Rajura in Chandrapur district of Maharashtra has sent shockwaves across the state. Responding to the writ petition filed by mothers of the survivors, the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court has constituted a committee to investigate the matter and also ordered the government to compensate the survivors and deposit Rs 50,000 in the bank accounts of the girls’ mothers.
But parents and tribal organisations demand the arrest of Subhash Dhote, ex-MLA from the Congress, who owns the hostel. The investigation has been handed over to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), in view of the severity of the issue and the failure of police to lodge an FIR immediately and find the culprits.
Meanwhile, Dhote, who is also chief of Chandrapur unit of Congress, had made a controversial statement that minor girls were coming forward with rape complaints to get compensation. He apologised after facing criticism.
After the girls aged between 8 and 13 years complained of bouts of unconsciousness and stomach ache, medical tests were conducted and it was found that the children had been sexually abused. They were staying in the hostel for tribal students run by the Infant Jesus Education Society. The hostel is under the Maharashtra government’s Namankit School Yojna for education of tribal students in English Medium. At the Rajpura hostel, 292 students are staying, including 130 girls.
As per police officials of Rajura, two girls complained of bouts of unconsciousness on April 6 and were taken to the government hospital in Chandrapur, where doctors informed that the girls had been sexually exploited.
“An FIR was lodged on April 12 invoking the Prevention of Children Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act and the Indian Penal Code (IPC) section 376 for rape. Later, four more girls came forward with the same complaint and medical tests confirmed that they had been sexually exploited,” said a police official.
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“Hostel superintendent Chhaban Pachare, deputy superintendent Narendra Virutkar, hostel supervisors Kalpana Thakre and Lata Kannake, and security guard Venkat Swami have been arrested and are in police custody till April 25,” he added.
Mothers of three survivors filed a writ petition with the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court demanding enquiry and justice. ZA Haque and Vinay Joshi, judges at the Nagpur Court, on April 17 ordered constitution of a committee to investigate the matter.
The committee members include AA Ansari, additional district and session judge of Chandrapur; Dr Dipti Srirame, senior gynaecologist of government college and hospital of Nagpur; Seema Gajbhiye, tehsildar of Gondpipari tehsil; and Prabhavati Ekre, police inspector of the women’s cell.
The parents of the survivors filed the petition under the guidance of Paromita Goswami, an activist who heads the tribal rights organisation Shramik Elgar and has been working for tribals in Chandrapur district for decades.
Goswami said, “Despite the crime being severe, police have not arrested Subhash Dhote. Medical reports confirmed sexual assault on April 6 but the FIR was lodged only on April 12.”
A social activist who had talked to the survivors told Newsclick on condition of anonymity:
“Women supervisors would give an ORS (Oral Rehydration Solution)-like drink to girls after dinner. Later, the girls would start feeling unconscious. Girls said they felt like somebody would slap them and later carry them to cars. But they could not remember what had happened. Next morning they when they would not feel good, hostel rectors would tell them it was because they were given medicines.”
“As per rules, the hostel should take girls to government hospitals but this hostel would take them to private hospital when the girls would complain of stomach aches or other health problems. This time, the girls had a severe problem and hence hostel authorities had to take them to government hospital. Doctors there realised the matter is serious and she sent them to Chandrapur Government Hospital, where doctors diagnosed that the girls had been sexually assaulted,” the activist added.
A parent of one of the survivors said, “The hostel would not contact us after the girls were treated at hospitals. They would fear that the gilrs would inform us of what was happening.”
More than 8,000 people from over 30 organisations including women’s groups, tribal organisations and political parties on April 17 carried out a march from Panchayat Samiti of Rajura up to the tehsildar office of Rajura, protesting against the incident and demanding strict punishment to the guilty. Protestors also staged a ‘rasta roko’ (road blockade) at the Maharastra-Telangana border.
Chandrapur has Gond, Kolam and Pradhan tribes that work as labourers. Their kids study in residential schools, including this one which has come under the spotlight.
Baburao Madavi of Gondwanamagra Krantikari Sanghatana said, “Police should arrest chairman and general secretary of the hostel immediately. The case should be run at Fast Track courts. The guilty should be given strict punishment.”
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According to social activists, 10 to 12 more girls have complained of problems, but they are too scared to come forward. Subhash Ghote’s controversial statement had created anger among women’s organisations and tribal organisation, which have demanded his immediate arrest.
Meanwhile, the registration of the school and hostel has been revoked. Students would soon be accommodated in other schools and hostels. Until then, nobody is allowed to enter the school and hostel premises.