In a shocking incident, 12 minor tribal girl students have been allegedly raped by their teachers and headmaster and 3 of them are pregnant. Aged between 12 and 14, these girls were studying in a private boarding school, for the most disadvantaged, Ninadhi Ashran School in Hivarkheda in Bhuldhana district of Maharashtra, 450 km from Mumbai. So far 15 people have been taken into custody and a probe is under way.
The barbaric act came to light only when three of the 12 girls returned home to Halkheda village in Muktainagar taluka in Jalgaon district. Bulesterni Sati Bhosale, Deputy Sarpanch of Halkheda village, recounted: “During Diwali, many girls were running and playing. But three girls were sitting quietly in a corner. When we asked them why they were not playing, they said they had stomach pain and were feeling something heavy in their stomachs. When we took them to the doctor, he told us that these girls were pregnant.”
Bhosale then informed Muktainagar MLA Eknath Khadse who immediately called the Jalgaon police and sought an inquiry. A complaint was registered at the Khamgaon police station at Buldhana because the incident happened there.
On enquiry, more girls stepped up and spoke about sexual harrassment at the hands of staff at the school.
“Initially, 12 tribal minors are suspected of having been raped though the numbers could be much more,” a senior police officer said. Police say that all the 12 girls have currently been sent to a hospital in Akola district.
Local police said that most of the accused in these rape cases are local teachers, headmaster, peons and other staffers. Bhosale said: “We want all culprits to be given capital punishment. The government should spare no one.”
SD Baviskar, Superintendent of Police, Buldhana, said that so far it had been established that one girl was raped by the school sweeper, Ittusingh Pawar. “Pawar has been charged for rape and criminal assault,” Baviskar said.
The accused also include president, secretary and joint secretary of the school. A case under Section 376 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), POSCO Act and Juvenile Justice Act has been registered against them.
“A section of students did complain to the headmaster and female staff about sexual harassment, but it was ignored. The incident only came to light when one 13-year-old girl was found pregnant during her medical examination,” Baviskar said. The victim, police were told, had also confided in her teachers, who allegedly told her to “let bygones be bygones”.
He said headmaster Digambar Kharat, chairman Gajanan Kokare, chairman of the school and trust members, Sanjay and Purushottam Kokre and teachers Lalita Vajire, Mantha Kokre and Shewanta Raut, and other staff have also been arrested for failure to bring the incident to the notice of police under provisions of the Protection of Children from Sexual offences Act (POSCO) Act.
Meanwhile, a Special Investigation Team (SIT) under an SP-rank officer has been formed to investigate the case.
Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis yesterday said the Buldhana rape incident will be probed under the supervision of a female IPS officer and assured that strict action will be taken against the accused.
Suspicions that ten more students of the ashramshala were being raped for weeks have turned the case into a political row as well. Chitra Wagh, Women’s Wing President of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), condemned the incident and demanded the resignation of Maharashtra’s Women and Child Minister Pankaja Munde and Tribal Minister Vishnu Savara.
NCP spokesperson Nawab Malik demanded a high-level probe for the “prolonged” delay in registering a case. He demanded the resignation of chief minister Devendra Fadnavis on moral grounds.
He said all students, including boys and girls studying at ashramshalas across the state, must be taken for medical tests. “With this, we will come to know how many students are facing such sexual assaults so that the culprits can be punished,” Malik said.
The Buldhana school, locally known as an ashramshala is among 1,000 similar schools across the state, run either directly by the state government or by trusts supported by it financially. Together, these institutions have 445,000 students, 200,000 of them girls.
State-run residential schools, under scrutiny for appalling neglect of students, continue to report serious violations, the latest being these rape cases in Buldhana.
The incident has come to light right after a panel’s report that nearly 800 students have died in such ashram schools over a decade due to factors ranging from poor sanitation and security to medical neglect and food poisoning.
The schools are meant to house and educate children from the most disadvantaged sections. One of the key findings of the panel was the absence of women superintendents, auxiliary nurses and social workers to attend to the children.