Just days after day a sessions court sentenced the key accused in the Panvel orphanage case to death, a similar case has come up in Nashik, where female inmates of Jai Anand Nirashrit Ashram sent letters to Child line and the Child Welfare Committee (CWC), alleging physical and sexual harassment at the hands of a trustee and four male employees of the shelter.
The girls’ statements suggest that the abuse has been going on for years. The letters, which are in the possession of Mumbai Mirror, state that four people – superintendent Bhausaheb Thorat, caretakers Santosh Thorat and Harshad Patil, and security guard Bhalerao – physically and sexually abused them.The letters came as a shock to Childline volunteers, who went to the home, located in the isolated Chamar Leni area, and interviewed all 35 female inmates on Sunday. According to a source, the girls also narrated how Lalchand Pipada, alias Mamaji, chairman of the trust that runs the ashram, sexually abused them.
“They touch us in a bad way and often feel us up around our private parts,” the letters state. They also said that when visitors came to the orphanage, the caretakers would stand behind the girls and pinch them so that they did not complain to outsiders about the abuse. The orphanage, recognised by the state’s Women and Child Welfare Department (DWCD), does not get grants from the government and survives on donations. All the caretakers there are men; the only female staff are cooks, who come for a few hours every day to prepare meals for the 35 girls and 63 boys.
The shelter houses orphans and single parent children between the ages of 5 and 18. The inmates revealed that whenever they were taken to a doctor’s clinic, located few kilometres away, the accompanying caretakers would stop the vehicle in isolated areas and sexually abuse them. They were often punished for small mistakes by being made to bend over, touch their toes, and hold the position for hours, the letters stated. “At times our sirs (as they address their caretakers), keep a stick or a brick on our backs while we are touching our toes. If the stick or brick falls we are beaten up,” said one of the female inmates. Another said that they were forced to keep the bathroom door open while bathing, and that the caretakers would often stare at them.
Once Child line confirmed on Saturday that there was abuse at the shelter, they alerted the Child Welfare Committee, a judicial authority that looks at the well-being of children in several shelters. They also alerted the child development office of DWCD for further action. On Sunday morning, four CWC members, headed chairperson Hema Patwardhan and DWCD official Dilip Hirwade, went to the shelter and interviewed the girls. “Four people who the girls named (excluding Mamaji) have been dismissed from the home. The girls feel much safer now. But since it is a case of abuse we are shifting the girls to another shelter so they can be counselled and interviewed in detail,” said Hirwade.
Patwardhan said a big concern is that the girls’ exams start on Monday, and shifting might affect their studies. “We have taken serious cognisance of the complaints. Once they are out of here we will talk to the girls in detail and get to the bottom of it,” she added. She said they would file a complaint with the local police on the basis of the girls’ letters. Meanwhile, Mamaji claimed that he had never abused any of the inmates. “They are like my own daughters; I would never do anything wrong with them. In fact, as soon as I got to know what some of my staff members were doing, I immediately sacked them,” he said, refusing to explain why he did not report the matter to the police. By Sunday evening, the CWC had transferred the girls to a state-run shelter in Nashik. “We are equally concerned about 63 boys. We will soon take a call on whether to keep the boys here or shift them as well,” said Patwardhan.