A 70-year-old retired Armyman was arrested on Saturday after six speech-and-hearing impaired inmates of two orphanages in Madhya Pradesh’s Bairagarh and Hoshangabad accused him of sexually abusing them over 14 years, the police said. The police have booked three other people, including two women, who worked at these centres.
According to police, a zero FIR was registered against M P Awasthi, a former Armyman and director of the two orphanages, in Bhopal’s T T Nagar Police Station late on Friday after the victims, including minors, narrated their ordeal through an interpreter.
Statements of at least five victims were recorded at Bhopal’s Khajuri Police Station on Saturday after the case was transferred there later. Rewa-based sign language interpreter Shradhha Shukla told The Sunday Express that the victims included two women and four men, aged between 17 and 22.
The Hoshangabad centre of the orphanage was closed down after a victim accused Awasthi of sexual harassment last year. However, no complaint was lodged with the local police then, the police said. T T Nagar Station House Officer Alok Shrivastava told The Sunday Express that FIR has been lodged on charges including rape, sodomy, criminal intimidation, beating. He said it took a long time to register the FIRs because statements of the complainants and translations by the interpreter had to be video-recorded.
According to the police, the male victims accused Awasthi of sodomising and beating them if they refused to give him a massage or do chores such as cleaning or sweeping the centre. Awasthi has denied all the allegations. He claimed that he was old and suffering from various ailments. Congress leader Shobha Oza, who had accompanied the victims to the police station on Friday, claimed that the FIR was registered only after midnight. She accused the police of “deliberately” acting slowly in the matter, as Awasthi allegedly “enjoyed patronage of some BJP leaders”.
Oza said that three dozen inmates of the orphanage, including the victims, had gone to the social justice department office in Bhopal on Friday, but the authorities gave them a cold shoulder. She also accused the Social Justice department officials of colluding with directors of orphanages and shelter homes that receive government grants. She said a team from the social justice department officials had reportedly visited Bairagarh orphanage, but did not find anything wrong there.
The visit had come close on the heels of a directive from Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, who had directed that all shelter homes and orphanages in the state be inspected after the director of another shelter home for speech and hearing impaired in Bhopal had been arrested over rape charges about a month ago.