On Saturday, around 60 women housed in the Navjeevan Mahila Vastigruh in Mankhurd, a staterun shelter for women rescued under the Prevention of Immoral Trafficking Act, tried to escape after a fight with the caretakers. Of the 36 who scaled the compound wall, 13 were caught while 23 are still at large.
One of them is a 24-year-old from Kolkata (who is not being named to protect her identity) who came to Mumbai four years ago to earn a living. She has a six-yearold son who stays with her parents back home. She was working as a waitress at a city orchestra bar when the police nabbed her in a raid in May this year after which she was sent to the protective home. Mumbai Mirror traced her through a friend who gave her shelter immediately after her escape. In this meeting at a restaurant in a central suburb on Saturday, she spoke about the horrors she lived through at the home.
Iused to work as a waitress in a bar. In May, the police raided the place and nabbed three of us. They took us to the Navjeevan Mahila Vastigruh from the police station. On the very first day we realised that the place was hell on earth. Living conditions were pathetic, food was never enough, and the place was overcrowded.
But all that seemed trivial in front of what we witnessed next. Late one night, a group of six to seven drunken men armed with knivesandchoppersbargedintothehome. They randomly picked up a few girls who were sleeping and started kicking them. They then raped the girls. We were all too scared to intervene.
When the girls who were raped told the caretakers the next day, they just shrugged it off like nothing had happened. In the past four months, I have personally witnessed at least half-a-dozen such incidents. Those who are picked have to suffer while the rest just huddle up in one corner and dare not create a fuss.
The boundary wall of the home is porous and men walk inside as they please. The woman constables and a lone male guard posted at the home sit near the main gate. Even if the girls who get picked up in the night cry for help nobody comes to their rescue.
Most nights, we would stay awake through the night fearing that men would walk in and pick us. Not long ago one such group assaulted two girls. When the girls protested they were brutally beaten and then raped. One of the girls was so disturbed after the incident that she started wandering around the house naked. A couple of weeks later, the authorities called her parents and let her go as she had become a liability.
There are over 350 girls in the home at any given time. Recently a large group of girls rescued from a brothel in Grant Road (Simplex)werebroughthere.Theplacewas swarming with women. Of the two toilets in the home, only one is open. The other has been locked ever since a girl committed suicide in it a couple of months ago. Just one toilet for more than 350 women…
The food was equally pathetic. They gave us small portions of dried and stale vegetables for breakfast. Lunch was unheard of. For dinner we got watery dal and rice. If we asked for chapattis we were abused. The ‘kitchen mummy’ would often force us to work for hours without a break. Those who refused to work were beaten with pans.
After a few weeks of torture I realised that there was no point complaining. I just continued to suffer. In the meanwhile, two ofmyfriendswhowererescuedwithmedeveloped severe medical complications — one of them was bedridden and could barely swallow any food or water. Despite repeated pleas for medical help, the authorities never called a doctor or shifted my friends to a hospital.
On Friday night, another group of men armed with knives barged in as usual. They picked up four women and raped them. On Saturday morning, some of the girls decidedenoughwasenoughanddemandedthat the authorities increase security at the home. We told the chief caretaker about the incident. Instead of giving us a patient hearing she said there was little she could do. One thing led to another and in no time we started complaining about food and living conditions. After a while the argument got out of hand.
Just then we realised that the women constables and the lone male guard had come over to the caretaker’s office to check onthecommotion.Wespottedanopening in the fencing above the compound wall and made a run for it. I just ran out on to the main road and got into an auto-rickshaw. Only when I was far away did I ask the autodriver for a phone to call a friend for help.
I will never ever go back to that place. I would rather die than go back there.
This interview was conducted in Hindi
‘We’ve heard about these incidents, but there’s little we can do’
Members of State’s committee to look into conditions at welfare homes say they’ve got little power, no directions
Members of a recently formed special committee to look into conditions at the staterun shelters admitted that though they often hear about inmates being sexually abused and forced to live in sub-human living conditions, there is nothing they can do to address the problem.
There are around 30 such homes in the state that come under the Women and Child Development Department. Living conditions and security in these homes are largely sub-standard and the state has been struggling to address the issue.
Vidya Chavan, Member of Legislative Council and state president, women’s wing, NCP, who is a member of the special committee formed by the Women and Child Development Department to look into the conditions in these homes, said the department doesn’t act despite the repeated occurrence of such incidents.
Aides of Varsha Gaikwad, Minister for Women and Child Development, said the minister was on a break with her family. Repeated calls and text messages to Dr GD Pawar, officer on special duty to the minister, too went unanswered.
When we tried contacting the superintendent of the Mankhurd home, Ashwini Dighe, we were denied entry by policemen outside the home. Repeated calls to the landline numbers of the superintendent’s office went unanswered.
“The department, especially the minister, doesn’t seem to take the issue seriously,” said Chavan. “In the past, we inspected some homes and even gave recommendations to the department. But nothing has changed. I will now take up the issue with Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan.”
Neelam Gorhe, Shiv Sena MLC, who is also a member of the special committee, said the committee has not been given a clear idea about its mandate.
“The recently formed special committee is expected to inspect each and every home in the state and suggest measures to improve them,” she said. “The sad part is that we are yet to get a clear idea as to what our role is and how muchwecanintervene.Despiterepeated letters to the Women and Child Development Department, I am yet to get anyclarityontheissue.Iwillraisetheissue in the Legislature.”
Qaiser Khalid, additional commissioner of police, central region, said the scope of the police investigation is limited to the complaint filed by the officials at the home.
“The complaint says some women escaped and assaulted their staff,” he said “The home is maintained by the Women and Child Welfare Department and they have to look into any issue pertaining to the running of the home. However, if during the course of our investigation we find that there are certain problems because of which the women ran away we will certainly initiate action.”
- Change the terminology- Survivors, not victims #VAW # Justice #mustread (kractivist.wordpress.com)
- #India-Three Bangalore bar girls gang-raped #Vaw #Rape (kractivist.wordpress.com)
- #India-Haryana’s bestial rape chronicles or where a rapist is considered ‘a real man’ #Vaw (kractivist.wordpress.com)
- Violence Against Women Persists in #Bangladesh #VAW (kractivist.wordpress.com)
- Maharashtra: Minor girl raped by two teachers #VAW #Teachersday (kractivist.wordpress.com)
- Missing girl found after being allegedly raped by her abductors for two months #VAW (kractivist.wordpress.com)
- You: Rapes Demand Attention in India (thedailybeast.com)