More than a dozen students of a residential bridge course, between 7 and 11 years of age, were allegedly sexually and physically abused by their hostel warden, according to a police complaint filed by some parents and an NGO.
The Bairagarh police have so far registered a case under Section 323 (voluntarily causing hurt) against assistant warden Ajay Sharma but not under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, saying the initial statements given by the students and their medical examination did not provide evidence of sexual abuse.
Students who are outside the formal education system take residential bridge courses to become eligible for admission in mainstream schools. One such residential bridge course was being offered at Bairagarh Government Middle School, and the hostel for the students was in the campus. Most of the students belong to tribal and Dalit communities, and their parents are engaged in collection of scrap and other daily wage work. Some students are also from Ratlam and Vidisha.
Sharma, in his 20s, used to teach these students and was appointed as assistant warden about a month ago. This was when the alleged physical and sexual abuse took place.
Anjum Bano of Muskaan, an NGO that works in slums near the school, said the harassment came to light when some students narrated their experiences to the parents. The students alleged that they were hit on the knuckles, elbows and buttocks, lifted and dropped their hands tied and locked in dark rooms. In video statements recorded by the NGO, the students narrated that the warden would often come to their room late at night, make them take cold baths and photograph them naked. He would allegedly sexually abuse the boys in their rooms and take photographs and videos of the acts.
When contacted, Sharma denied the allegations and blamed Anita Giri, a former warden who he had succeeded a month ago, for “spreading rumours against me”.
“The police did not find any evidence, otherwise they would have arrested me,’’ he told The Indian Express. He alleged that Giri instigated students and parents to complain against him. He also claimed that Giri had threatened to get him removed from the post and that he had submitted an audio recording to the police.
Giri, who was assistant warden from February till late October, said, “I can instigate one or two students or parents, not all.” She alleged she had found Sharma’s behaviour as a teacher inappropriate but did not complain. The 40-year-old was removed as assistant warden on the ground that she did not have the requisite educational qualifications.
S Rathore, Bhopal District Project Coordinator under the State Education Centre, said a three-member team had been formed to inquire into the allegations against Sharma.
Investigating Officer K J Malviya said he was recording the statements of the students and their parents. “If evidence of sexual harassment is found against Sharma, appropriate sections will be applied,’’ he said.