A year after eight girls were sexually assaulted in a tribal school, the Maharashtra State Human Rights Commission has appointed an NGO to conduct a social audit to understand infrastructure and security lapses in ashramshalas (tribal schools). The direction has come after the commission was not satisfied with the state government’s submission.
Last September, a 61-year-old founder trustee of the ashramshala was arrested along with a woman warden aged 37 for raping five minors and sexually assaulting three other students in the school. An ashramshala is a residential tribal school. A police report submitted to the commission states further investigation showed he had sexually assaulted 30 to 40 girls from class fifth to twelfth. The school’s warden would help him by coaxing girls to leave their dormitories.
Following a government inquiry, the ashramshala was shut and children were transferred to other schools. In total 14 school employees were suspended. The school operated since 1996, and was recognised by the social justice department. Commission member M A Sayeed observed that the social welfare department’s response was “not satisfactory” and security concerns remain high in ashramshalas of Maharashtra.
Last week it directed NGO Koshish to conduct a social audit of ashramshalas.
The NGO had also conducted social audit of multiple shelter homes in Bihar last year that brought to light several incidents of sexual assault. The NGO had then recommended compulsory social audit of shelter homes. “We are yet to begin the inquiry into this case. We have only received a verbal direction from the commission,” said Tarique Mohammad, who heads the NGO.
Pune-based activist M D Chaudhari, who lodged a complaint with the commission about the cases of sexual violence in the tribal school, said officials from the social welfare department are supposed to visit the school every month to check the health status of children and school’s upkeep.
“This is not happening. There were no CCTV cameras in school, no proper compound wall,” he said, adding that all parents of victims are poor and cannot pursue police case against the accused.