LAST WEEK, she was preparing for junior college, having scored nearly 85 per cent in her Class X board exams. Now, in the six days that she has spent in the state-run Children’s Observation Home in Bhiwandi following her judicial remand after she was booked along with her family members for the murder of a 15-year-old Dalit boy in Navi Mumbai, she has not received a single phone call from any family member, nor has she made any. No relative or friend has come to visit her either.
While the Nerul police investigating the killing of Swapnil Sonawane have accused her of being involved in the killing, officials at the Children’s Observation Home said the Juvenile Justice Board was considering transferring the girl from juvenile custody to the Child Welfare Committee. This will mean her status can be changed to a ‘child in need of care and protection (CNCP)’ from a ‘child in conflict with law’ during the next hearing on August 4.
Sonawane and the girl were reportedly in a relationship and the girl’s family did not approve of it. The 15-year-old was allegedly beaten to death on the night of July 19 by members of the girl’s family. Investigators and the victim’s parents had alleged that the boy was killed because he belonged to a different caste. The girl belongs to the OBC Agri community.
“She has no one in her family and no support system outside this shelter home. Even after she gets through all of this, given her situation, there is no home for her to go back to. We tried to ask her if she would like to call any of her relatives, but she merely says that everyone in her family is in jail,” said one of the officials who did not wish to be named. Though she has been in the home for almost a week now, no counsellor has spoken to the girl yet. The official said the girl didn’t speak much but was responsive when spoken to.
The 16-year-old is one of two girls currently in the Juvenile Justice Board’s custody at the Bhiwandi home. While officials at the facility who have interacted with her since her admission said she was well-behaved and cooperative despite the incident, they were concerned about her future.
Speaking to officials at the home, the girl has said she has a maternal aunt who also lives in Darave in Navi Mumbai, not far from her home, but the two families are not on talking terms. She does not have their contact details. “She said her aunt and uncle haven’t spoken to her parents for years. If the girl is transferred to CNCP, we will try to reach out to them. However, given their equation, it is unlikely that they would take her in,” said the official.
According to the official, the girl has blamed her father for the incident that led to Sonawane’s death. “She said that the rest of the family simply followed his lead. Even though the police are still investigating in the case, there is no direct involvement of the girl in the incident and she is also a victim here,” said the official.
The girl’s education is also set to be affected by what could be a long stay in shelter homes. “Swapnil and the girl were from the same school and studied in the same class. She had even applied for admission to the same college as the boy,” said the official. At the shelter home, classes under the state board of education are conducted for Classes I-VII.
“She would have been in junior college now. Children in juvenile custody are not allowed to leave the premises. If she is transferred to the CNCP section, the Child Welfare Committee panel would decide the future course of action,” added the official.
On July 20, the Nerul police made seven arrests, including the girl’s parents, brothers and his friends, in connection with the murder. Upon admission, the juvenile magistrate put the girl in juvenile custody till the next hearing on August 4.
According to the report submitted to the Juvenile Justice Board on July 20 by Assistant Commissioner of Police Dhanraj Dayama, the investigating officer, the boy’s family has accused the girl of being complicit in the murder. In the report, all the accused have been charged under two sections of the Prevention of Atrocities Act, 2016, apart from various other charges including murder, kidnapping in order to murder, criminal intimidation and others. The description of the incident provided in the report does not, however, mention the specific involvement of the girl. The police, however, also stated in their report that the child should be kept in custody owing to the hostile environment of her home and locality.