Eight months after a minor boy died under mysterious circumstances in Bal Kalyan Nagari of Children Aids Society, the Maharashtra State Human Rights Commission (MSHRC) has closed the case observing that the matter was “inconclusive”. The commission, however, has recommended a series of reforms required at the shelter home.
On December 10 last year, the 14-year-old boy was found hanging from a fan in his dormitory room at Mayuri Kutir in Bal Kalyan Nagari minutes after he was spotted playing football. The boy was declared dead at Govandi Shatabdi hospital.
The state human rights commission had issued a suo-moto notice to the Women and Child Department, Mumbai police and the shelter home’s superintendent following the incident. The commission also directed NGO International Justice Mission (IJM) to submit a detailed inquiry report after the child’s mother, a sex worker who has since shifted to Pune, had claimed it was a homicide.
While ruling out murder, the report submitted by IJM stated that the minor “had no intent to commit the act (suicide)” and stated his death remains inconclusive. It further stated that “capacity of authorities and the staff to appropriately respond to the aftermath of the incident was inadequate.”
“We spoke to him a week before his death. He was happy, except that he complained of poor living conditions in the shelter home,” a relative of the victim said. A letter by the minor’s mother to zonal deputy commissioner of police mentioned that the children were forced to read religious texts at the shelter.
The minor was admitted in Mankhurd based shelter home in 2016 after his mother could not financially support him with her earnings. He was studying under NGO Prerna. A detailed report by IJM shows he “wanted to join the army, was a quiet boy and did not quarrel or lose his temper”.
On December 10, he went to school and then joined other boys in the football field. His roommate found him hanging in the room later in evening. “When we spoke to his friends, they said he was found hanging with a pair of pants around his neck. The police maintains he used a nylon rope. There are discrepancies,” the relative said. Following his death, the minor’s cousin, also son of a sex worker, was removed from the school by his relatives.
The IJM report points to urgent need of CCTV cameras and a residential doctor at the shelter home. It found that only one probation officer was looking after 70 children at the shelter home as opposed to minimum requirement of three.
Based on the NGO’s findings, the commission in its direction, dated August 29, observed that the WCD must conduct a social audit of these shelter homes to frame guidelines for improvement. The commission also recommended that the shelter home required a counsellor at all times for the children, security manning the gates, more manpower, proper training to staff, and a qualified caretaker to look after minors.
Superintendent of shelter home, Tanaji Pol, said CCTV cameras have been installed on the campus after the incident. “We still have one probation officer. We are waiting for the commission’s report. The order is yet to reach us,” he said.