A special court on Monday convicted a school bus cleaner for molesting a three-year-old nursery student of Juhu’s Jamnabai Narsee School while she was being dropped home.
Ramesh Mohan Rajput, 35, was sentenced to seven years rigorous imprisonment under various sections of the Protection of Children Against Sexual Offences Act (PCSOA), which came into force last year to specifically tackle such cases.
The sexual assault – which brought into focus the need for better security on school buses and vans — took place on January 15 when the girl was being driven home.
The child was the last student aboard the school bus, operated by Sai Ganesh Travels, and was seated in the last row. Rajput pushed her to the floor and molested her before a female attendant confronted him.
However, the attendant, Veena Mahadik, didn’t alert school authorities in an apparent attempt to protect Rajput, and the shocking incident came to light after the victim narrated the horror to her father. The threeyear-old later revealed that Rajput had molested her on the bus on a previous occasion too.
The plucky girl also testified in the court against Rajput. “Not only did she identify him, but also tried her best to give an account of the incident,” said a police officer who was present during her deposition.
Mahadik, the only eyewitness to the sexual assault, was not allowed to testify because she gave conflicting accounts to the Juhu police.
“There were too many contradictions in her statement,” the police officer said, but refused to reveal the details as her name didn’t figure in the charge sheet. “Even without her testimony, we had adequate evidence to prove the accused’s guilt.”
Apart from the victim, her parents, a private doctor who examined her after the assault and the owner of Sai Ganesh Travels also testified.
Special Judge S D Tulankar convicted Rajput under sections 4 (penetrative sexual assault); 7 (touching privates with sexual intent); 8 (sexual assault) and 12 (sexual harassment) of the PCSOA. The 35-year-old was also convicted under section 354 (assault or force on a woman with criminal intent) of the Indian Penal Code and fined Rs 5,000.
Rajput had been an employee of Sai Ganesh Travels for 15 years. His wife said that he was not a pervert, and often looked after the owner’s daughter. “He has never been accused of any such thing before,” she said. “He has been punished because we are poor.”
The case prompted Jamnabai Narsee and other schools to improve security on their buses by deploying female attendants and installing CCTV cameras. It also forced bus operators to conduct proper background checks before hiring staff.
“All 30 buses that ferry students of Jamnabai Narsee have CCTVs now,” Anil Garg, president of the School Bus Operators’ Association, said. (MM)