India: 3 Tribal Students Accuse School Staff of Sexual Abuse

Prabhat Sharan
2016.11.04
Mumbai
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161104-IN-school-staff-620.jpg Maharashtra state Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis participates in a Russia-India Business Forum in Yekaterinburg, Russia, July 11, 2016.
AFP/Sputnik

The government of India’s Maharashtra state on Friday instituted a special police team to investigate allegations that staff members of a tribal school had sexually assaulted three female students repeatedly.

The special investigative team, which will be headed by a female Indian Police Service officer, will not only look into the latest complaints of sexual assault in Buldhana, about 495 km (308 miles) from Mumbai, but will also scrutinize the workings and conditions of other government-aided tribal schools, state Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said.

This is not the first time that complaints of sexual abuse have emerged from a government-aided school for tribal children in Maharasthra. In March 2013, a cook at a school in the state’s Yavatamal district was arrested and later convicted of sexually assaulting a 12-year-old girl.

Describing the latest alleged cases of abuse as “very serious,” Fadnavis said: “My government has taken cognizance of the incident. All the [11] accused are in custody and further investigations are on to ascertain the magnitude of the crime.”

The incident came to light on Thursday after parents of one of the victims, a 13-year-old student at the residential Ninadhi Ashram School, realized that the girl was pregnant and filed a complaint with police.

By Friday, two more girls came forward to allege that the school’s janitor, Ittusingh Pawar, and cook, Deepak Kokre, sexually assaulted them with “with an alarming and chilling regularity” inside the school premises, and threatened to hurt them if they spoke of the assaults to anyone, police sub-inspector S.S. Khandekar told BenarNews.

10-day police remand

Police have charged Pawar and Kokre with rape while nine others, including the school’s chairman and teachers, have been charged with negligence and willfully suppressing criminal evidence under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses Act, Khandekar said.

“All the 11 accused were produced before the district magistrate today (Friday) and were sent to police remand for 10 days,” he said.

Besides Pawar and Kokre, the other nine accused have been identified as warden Narayan Ambhore, assistant warden Swapnil Lakhe, head master Digambar Kharat, chairman Gajanan Kokre, trust members Sanjay Kokre, Purushottam Kokre and teachers Lalita Vajire, Mantha Kokre and Shewanta Raut.

Reacting to reports that many more students at the school may have been subjected to sexual abuse, Khandekar said: “At this juncture it would be incorrect to speculate on the veracity of the allegations or rumors. Investigations are being carried out to verify how many girl students have been subjected to sexual abuse.”

Abdul Gaffar, a member of Jametulmominat, an NGO providing education to underprivileged and minority children in the state, said each potential staffer must undergo thorough background checks before being appointed at these schools.

“Most of these schools basically impart primary education and thus the age of the children in these residential schools in usually between 5 and 13 years. It is very important for the government to appoint counselors and also check the history of each staffer before he or she is appointed,” Gaffar told BenarNews.

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