Sromona Bhattacharyya Bhattacharyya
Hailing from Kolkata and now a resident of Bengaluru, Sromona is a multimedia journalist who has a knack for digging stories that truly deserve attention.
Bhopal police on September 15 arrested the owner of a speech and hearing impaired shelter home after inmates accused the 70-year-old ex-Army man of allegedly raping and sexually abusing them. The arrests came after five inmates – three boys and two girls, of a Bhopal shelter home, approached the police to narrate their experiences, reported The Indian Express.
Following the complaint, an FIR had been lodged by the police and four people, including the owner of Sai Viklang (Disabled) shelter home in Bairagarh, M.P Awasthi has been arrested. Reportedly, the others who were arrested included the shelter home’s caretaker Mita Mishra, her husband Vijay Kumar Mishra and government school teacher Rakesh Chaudhary were arrested.
The incident first came to the fore when on September 14, at nearly 40 inmates of the shelter home registered their complaint with the at the Director of social welfare department, which has been funding the shelter home. Krishna Mohan Tiwari, director, Social Justice Department told NDTV, “Some students with special needs (hearing and speech) came to our office with their interpreter. They have given us a letter about alleged sexual and physical assault by the owner of the hostel. We will write to the collector and senior police officers for further investigation.”
Later, the inmates accompanied by Congress leader Shobha Ojha went to the police station where an FIR was registered based on the complaints of 13 inmates, reported the Times Of India. Ojha also held a press conference meeting at the Congress office in Bhopal.
FIRs were reportedly registered under sections 376, 377,354, 323, 506 and 34 of the Indian Penal Code. Reportedly, the inmates narrated their ordeal with the help of their translator Shradha Shukla. In their police complaint, the survivors also stated that three boys had died as a result of torture meted out to them by the owner.
They said that one boy allegedly died due to excessive bleeding after sexual assault, while another boy died of head injuries while the third one died of cold after he was forced to spend a night outside. In a written complaint, one of the survivors has said that she was repeatedly raped by the owner almost every Saturday from 2010, reported The Week. The boys complained of sodomy.
The owner, Awasthi was accused in a similar case in 2017 when some inmates residing in a shelter home in Hoshangabad district had made allegations of sexual assault and torture. While that branch was shut down following the complaint, no arrests had been made then and the other home located in Bairagarh kept running. Oza told News18 that despite a formal complaint, no action had been taken against the accused, while the shelter home kept getting funding from the government body. While the investigations are still going on in full swing, the police suspect that the crimes were kept under wraps by some officers of the state social justice department, reported Asian Age.
Reportedly, the shelter home has been operational since 2003 and is registered with the social justice department since 1995. The home presently houses 42 boys and 58 girls who are being looked after by four teachers in the absence of a full-time warden. Moreover, the chief minister in August had ordered monthly inspection of every shelter home and orphanage in the state.
In July 2018, it was revealed that 34 girls in a state-run shelter home in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur were subjected to continued rape, torture and assault by the staff of the shelter home. One victim, who was rescued, claimed that most of the girls who were residing there were raped by the journalist/owner Brajesh Thakur, along with Vineet Kumar, a member of a child welfare committee, who ran the NGO.
Reportedly, it has also been revealed that Thakur was getting 40 lakhs per annum from the state government to run the shelter. He was given a tender to run an old age home and a Juvenile home as well. An NGO ran the ‘Balika Grih’ shelter home called Sewa Sankalp Evam Vikas Samiti. As per reports, Brajesh was given the tender to run the shelter home by the state Social Welfare Department. After the Muzaffarpur case, a number of cases of atrocities across shelter homes in India came to the fore, which shed light on the dismal condition of private and state-run shelter homes in the country.
Shelters like these are supposed to be a haven for individuals who have had difficult lives. In such kind of a place, abuse by people in the position of trust and power in addition to medical negligence is despicable. The police and authorities should take stringent actions against those who were at the helm of affairs. Moreover, stringent accountability and responsibility mechanisms need to be put in place and implemented without fail.
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