While the country was erupting in widespread protests and condemnation over the Delhi gangrape, innocent tribal girls in a primary school of a village in Chhattisgarh were spending their nights in pain and terror. Nobody knew whose turn it was that night. The little girls complained about the oppression meted out to them by their teacher and watchman to the superintendent of the hostel, along with informing the Gram Panchayat and the Block Education Officer (BEO), but their pleas fell on deaf ears. An inquiry was made only when the complaint reached the collector. According to the medical reports, 12 girls have been found to be raped. There remain chances of the numbers of those exploited going up, as the crime has been happening for years.
Two hundred kilometers away from the capital, Raipur, Jhaliyamari is a small village in Narharpur block of Kanker district. Here, next to the school is a house that serves as a hostel for tribal girls studying in primary schools. There are 43 girls residing here aged between 6 and 13. Both the school and the hostel is run by the tribal department and all the girls are from the five adjoining villages of Jhaliyamari. An investigation by Tehelka found that gangrapes of innocent girls have been taking place in this hostel for years. Despite the administration’s knowledge of it, the crimes were kept under wraps, allowing the exploitation of girls to continue.
Alarmail Mangai D, collector of Kanker, acknowledges having received a phone call complaining about the abuse of young girls. Responding to the complaint, Alarmail constituted a team of woman officials to inquire into the reports. The girls confided in the officials when they visited. Following this, teacher Mannulal Goti and watchman Dinanath Nagesh were arrested on 5 January. The next day all 11 girls were taken to Kanker for their medical check up. D.I.G Ramnivas says that a special team has been constituted to inquire into the matter. Police officer Neelam Kujur, from the women’s cell of Narharpur police station, tells Tehelka that in their statement, the girls have said that they have been raped.
There are three rooms in the hostel but none have a door latch. Collector Mangai says that it was mandatory for the superintendent of the hostel to stay back at night, but Babita Markan, the hostel superintendent, used to go home. The watchman, Nagesh, was posted at the hostel and the teacher, Goti, used to come over to sleep. First they would drink heavily on the veranda and then enter any room. After turning off the lights, they would undress the girls, often indulging in gangrape. Some girls had to undergo this trauma repeatedly. The girls also said that when they had initially come to the hostel their seniors warned them about the accused. The police are trying to ascertain the duration for which this has been happening. Reports say that the other girls of the hostel will also be examined. P.R.K Singh, station in-charge, Narharpur Police Station, says that the girls are so young that they don’t even know the meaning of sex.
It is alleged that the Panchayat and BEO did not take any action despite the complaints. Upsarpanch of the village tells Tehelka that such complaints about the hostel have come in the past as well. The girls had initially complained to the wife of the watchman. Then the hostel superintendent was informed. Even after that no action was taken against the accused. Last year, the Panchayat was informed about the misdeeds of Goti and Nagesh. In August, the Gram Panchayat was called, both the accused were fined Rs 5000 and the whole matter was brushed under the carpet. While Nagesh paid the fine and continued to sleep in the hostel, Goti, who didn’t pay, stopped visiting the hostel. Eventually, the case reached the BEO, S S Navarji, who even after conducting a probe, and finding the allegations to be true, took no action against the perpetrators. Nirmal Kange, a local, informs that after the inquiry, the BEO gave the accused the panchnama, but did not take any action. Tortured and threatened by their teacher, the abused girls kept mum and didn’t tell their parents about it.
A room in the hostel, Kanker. Tehelka photo.
When Tehelka looked for the families of victims in nearby villages, one 7-year-old victim’s mother said that her daughter, who was studying in Class II, was too young to know anything about sex or abuse. Her helpless father said that he had sent his daughter to the hostel when guruji (teacher) came to get her admitted. He had no idea about what had happened to his daughter. He now says that even if they die of hunger, he would not send his daughter back to the hostel. In the same village, another victim’s mother told this reporter that on Saturday some people had come and taken her husband away. She had heard that something had happened to her daughter but had no idea what it was.
In a press conference held in Kanker district headquarters on Tuesday 8 January, former Chhattisgarh chief minister Ajit Jogi said that one of the inmates, who passed away in August 2012, was also a victim of sexual abuse. The parents of the 10-year-old girl, who were also present at the press conference, said that their daughter had refused to go back to the hostel after she visited her home in Devgaon. When she was admitted to a hospital following an illness, she was found to have been pregnant. The girl passed away on 8 August in the hospital. The claim, however, was refuted in a statement issued by the government on Wednesday. “During the investigation, it has been found that the 10-year-old girl was not sexually assaulted and died of cardio-respiratory arrest and multi-organ failure,” the statement said.
The incident has acquired a political tone now. Demonstrations are taking place in several places against this barbaric crime. On Wednesday 9 January, a one-day state-wide bandh called by the Congress to protest against the Kanker rapes was a complete success across Chhattisgarh. In Raipur, educational institutions, business establishments and commercial centres downed shutters and petrol pumps remained closed for the day, while government offices, medical shops and emergency services remained unaffected. Vehicular movement virtually came to a halt in many parts of the city as passenger buses and auto-rickshaws remained off the roads. In the meantime, state home minister Nanki Ran Kanwar has kicked up a controversy after he told a news channel that the stars of the women in this country are not favourable and therein lies the explanation to the widespread abuse faced by them.
Following reports, the accused have now been sent to jail. The employment of the hostel’s superintendent, watchman and the cook have all been terminated by the Collector. Assistant Commissioner Tribal Department S K Vahne and BEO Navarji have been suspended. The hostel in Jhliyamari has been closed down and the girls have been shifted to undisclosed hostels. Orders have been given to inquire into all the hostels of the district.