They came to a residential school in this district from villages 6-10 km around, sent by families who hoped a stint there would take the 11-14-year-old girls to a good education and self-reliance.
Now, the mother of one of them voices the fear of most when she says, “Aaj maar-peet hua hai, kal ko maar hee denge to kya karenge?…. Utha hee le gaye to prashasan humko kya madad karega (Today, they have beaten them up, if tomorrow they kill them, what would we do?… If they kidnap our girls, what can the administration do)?”
On October 6 evening, a group of youths from a locality close to the residential government school attacked at least 34 of its girl students for reportedly objecting to them writing lewd messages on the school walls. While most of the girls were discharged after first aid, at least four had to be hospitalised. All have since been discharged. Ten youths, including one minor, are under arrest.
A member of the Child Welfare Committee that visited the school puts the blame on the school, saying “the real problem is the lapse by its authorities in protecting the girls”. Scared parents have said they would pull out the girls unless permanent and regular security is provided to them.
While the Middle School where the girls studied came up in the late 1940s, the hostel for underprivileged sections came up only in 2007 and has around hundred students at the moment. A two-storey building, the hostel is surrounded by a 10-feet wall and is accessible through an iron gate. Since the incident, women police personnel guard the building.
The Middle School, spread over 25 bighas of land, stands next to the hostel. On the same land is an anganwadi centre, and an upgraded school with classes up to 12th. Adjacent to it is a vast open space, belonging to the Middle School authorities too but with no boundary. This space was used by the youths and other villagers as a playground.
The attack was provoked by the messages the youths reportedly left behind on the school walls. While most have been wiped out since the incident, many are still legible, including some professing love for a girl.
On October 6, some of the girls reportedly caught the youths scribbling on the walls, stopped them and hit one. Half an hour later, a mob of around two dozen, including some youths and mothers of a couple of the accused, reached, beat up the girls, and pulled out the hair of many of them.
A senior police officer, who didn’t want to be named, said, “When the warden came to know (about the youths writing on the walls), she asked the girls to confront them. One of the youths was called to the playfield. The girls apparently beat him up. He went back and returned with more people.”
While confirming that the girls were attacked and pushed to the ground, the officer denied the youths entered the hostel, as has been reported in some sections of the media.
The school staff refused to say anything on the matter, only saying the girls were fine. The brother of one of the girls at the school said someone called him up to inform him what had happened. He was at his shop at the time. Soon, he had started getting messages on WhatsApp. “With six girls from the village, we all hired a tempo to get to the hospital,” he said.
His sister was in no condition to talk, he added. “They were in shock. We learnt that some boys had pushed them to the ground and beat them with fists, sitting on their chests. Some said their clothes had been torn, that they were pulled by the hair. Next day, we were told the girls’ condition was improving.”
Added an elderly villager, who went to meet a girl who is his distant granddaughter, “She was so scared she thought I too have come to beat her up.” A doctor at the hospital said while none of the girls had any cuts or injury marks, many of them were in shock.
The villagers said they had never heard of such harassment at the hostel. Many sent their girls here encouraged by acquaintances who had done so. “First, the daughter of my cousin went there. Then I sent two of my daughters. Gradually, there were more than half-a-dozen from my village,” said the mother of another girl. Those backing the youths are, in turn, blaming everything from the caste angle to the girls for what happened.
A former MLA who was earlier with the ruling JD(U) but is now with the outfit floated by Pappu Yadav said, “There are several lies being spread. I have three questions. Why has there been no problem in over a decade since the school opened, when I was the mukhiya of the village? Why did these abusive and lewd messages start appearing suddenly? And how can anybody, without any inquiry, identify who wrote the messages, when nobody saw anybody writing anything on the wall?”
Putting the blame on the warden of the girl students, she said, “Firstly, a staff member should accompany the girls when they are out to play. Also, once the matter came to light, the warden should have tried to resolve it by involving the administration and asking the girls to go back to the hostel. Instead, she called one of the boys and got him beaten up. In fact, he and his brother tried to avoid further escalation and went back. It was his mother who decided to confront. People collected, and one thing led to another… Had the intention been to harass the girls or beat the girls, it could have happened anytime in the past.”
The former legislator added, “The girls are from the Mahadalit community. The accused are from the same community. The question is who stands to gain from getting them to fight each other?” Parents of some of the accused also said the OBC members who lead the school administration instigated the violence.
The Child Welfare Committee member, who was part of the team that carried out a preliminary inquiry, dismissed this, while also putting a share of the blame on the warden. “The real problem is the school authorities lapsed in security of the girls. The girls were out of their hostel and somebody should have accompanied them. What is more saddening is that nobody came to stop the violence. The warden too did not try to stop it, but seemed to have had a role in escalating the matter.”
Additional SP Jitendra Kumar, who is leading the investigation, said there was no evidence to suggest the incident was pre-planned. “We have registered the FIR invoking IPC sections pertaining to attempt to murder, outraging modesty, rioting and also added POCSO Act. At least 10, including nine named and one, who was not named, have been arrested. The process of identifying others is continuing.”
Their second priority, said Kumar, was to ensure peace and that the school remains functional. “We met all segments. We asked them to ensure safety to the village. We told them the school was theirs and they should take responsibility for it.”
A high-level team is conducting an inquiry into the incident and all aspects of safety and security of the girls, on the directions of the District Magistrate.
The parents too are waiting for the report. “We were told the girls would be sent home once they were better. We are waiting for the upcoming holidays to begin. We will assess the situation after that,” said the brother of the girl.