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INDIA: 13-year-old tribal girl raped by the headmaster of her school in Orissa

November 9, 2011 : The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information from the reliable human rights groups concerning the case of rape, by the headmaster of a tribal school of one of his students, a tribal girl, studying class four. The incident happened at Sunabeda KBK Sevashram School on the night of 15 October 2011. Namita (the name has been changed), the victim girl is from Renga Gram Panchayat of the Similiguda Block in Koraput district. It is reported that though the local police have registered a case, the accused is not yet been arrested, despite the horrific nature of the incident, and that he continuously threatens the victim girl as well as the villagers supporting her, so that they withdraw the complaint. It is also testified that the accused headmaster is a repeat offender, with a past of sexual abuse of children in his custody.

 

CASE NARRATIVE (based on the testimony from the victim and her parents):

The victim in the case, Namita, is thirteen years old from a tribal community Paroja. Namita is from Renga Gram Panchayat of the Similiguda Block in Koraput district. Namita is a student at the Sevashram School (KBK), Sunabeda, in Koraput district, where the accused, Mr Tarakanta Pani, aged 53, is the headmaster.

On 15 October at night, when Namita returned to school after holidays, the headmaster came to the dormitory she stays and asked her to clean his office room and serve him some water. Namita tried to avoid obliging as it was too late, but the headmaster forced her to come to his office room. When Namita was at the headmaster’s room, he closed the door and raped Namita inside the room. Namita resisted but failed to stop the headmaster who was too strong for the feeble girl of 13 years to ward off. After the brutal incident, the headmaster said that, “you tribals, what you can do? I can call the goons and pay them money up to INR 20,000 and can do what I want.” He threatened Namita that should she inform anyone of what had happened to her she would have to face the consequences.

On 17 October, Namita left the school and returned home. When her parents asked her why she came back after just two days at school, she informed her parents that she was not feeling well. After three to four days her parents wanted her to return to school. At that point Namita narrated the incident to her mother. After listing to the incident the parents discussed the matter with some of the villagers and they decided to complain to the District Collector.

On 28 October, the parents went to meet the District Collector, District Welfare Officer (the officer in the district in charge of residential schools for the tribal) and an officer at the Integrated Tribal Development Agency (ITDA). They filed a written complaint to all the officers and further to sub-Collector narrating the incident. The headmaster called Namita’s father who was talking with the officials. The below is a dialogue between them according to Namita’s father.

Namita’s father asked, ″Why did u do so with my daughter? ″

Headmaster, ″It is a small incident, and don’t make it a big fuss. ″

Father, ″”Do you think you can play with all the girls life and escape? ″

Headmaster (with threatening voice), ″Why did you go to the DM? You should have come to me. ″

Father, ″I want you to be punished. ″

Headmaster, ″I can give you some money and we can close the case. ″

Father, ″I do not agree to your proposal. ″

The headmaster threatened Namita’s father over the phone not to pursue the issue any further.

With the support of grass-root human rights organisation, the parents went to Potangi Police Station that has jurisdiction of Renga Gram Panchayat to lodge a complaint. But the police refused to record the complaint and to register a First Information report (FIR) [FIR number 94 of 2011 of Sunabeda Police Station, dated 1 November 2011] upon the incident, though it is mandatory to do so under the provisions of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. The police officers instead sent the family to Sunabeda Police Station on 1 November to file a FIR. The Sunebeda police registered a FIR upon the complaint on 1 November. The police did a formal investigation on 2 November. The police brought Namita to the school. The other girls who were present during the day of the incident did not speak anything before the police but did say that the headmaster was a dreaded character, and was a nasty person. Then the police took Namita for a medical examination and later the clothes of the headmaster along with that of Namita were sent to Berhampur for medical examination. The report of the medical examination is awaited.

In the meanwhile, the medical report after examining Namita has confirmed that she was raped. However, till today the headmaster has not been arrested. Making using of his extended liberty, the accused tries his best to suppress the case. It is alleged that he has already bribed some of the government officers in the district and also some local politicians. Now those who have accepted bribes from the headmaster threaten the victim’s family along with the headmaster and asking them to “compromise” the case.

Independent investigation undertaken by the human rights defenders reveals a further shocking picture about the headmaster. He has reportedly raped another girl under his custody when he was stationed at Hikimput School in Nadapore Block. The accused is also suspected to be behind several similar incidents where the parents or the victims were threatened to remain silent or have refused to lodge a complaint since they were not sure whether the complaint would lead to any impartial investigation, and for fear of loss of honour of the girls and their families. It is also reported that the headmaster had sexually harassed one girl from Maliput village studying at Hikimput School, and the victim attempted to commit suicide by consuming poison but was saved owing to the intervention of her parents. It is reported that the headmaster gave about INR 20,000 (USD 404) to suppress that incident in October. Since then the victim girl does not go to school any more.

Another girl from the Namita’s school (identity not revealed for fear of threats) and a relative of Namita studying/staying in the school hostel in class nine testified that, “the headmaster is very nasty, he always watches when the girls take bath. He wears a short towel and stands when the girls take bath. He has harassed several tribal girls in hostel.” … “When the victim’s parents approached the police station the teacher warned her not to speak anything against him”. The same girl however remained silent due to fear when the police investigated the incident. Some teachers of the same school are of the opinion that the headmaster is a womanizer.

Understandably, Namita today is scared of attending school and is in such a trauma that she is not able to speak properly and keeps crying. Namita’s father is a marginal farmer and holds a Below Poverty Line (BPL) card. He has four children, one son and three daughters. Namita is the eldest.

 

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:

This is not an isolated case in Koraput region. Similar incidents were reported a few months back in Nabarangpur district. After that incident, there was a Government Circular that no male teacher will stay at night in residential schools. Despite, the headmaster in this case has been allowed to stay late, which should be investigated. Repeated sexual offenses left not investigated and the suspect being able to muzzle the victims and suppress the case is one important reason why there is an alarming drop out rate of the students in residential schools.

The tribal community in Orissa, like in many other states in India face several adverse circumstances, of which an important one is sexual abuse of their women and children. Corrupt elements in the state administration connive with the criminals involved in these cases and work together to suppress the case by threatening the victims and their families. The police department and often the medical professionals who should help a victim in such times also act prejudicially against the interest of the victims, and their attitude is particularly condemnable when the victim is from a tribal community. Often the offenders, as in this case a sexual predator school headmaster, enjoy a higher status in the caste-rule based society and could easily use their financial as well as social status as opposed to the member of a tribal community to their advantage, and often the authorities oblige. Ill-informed and racially biased prejudices against the tribal community that runs deep in some sections of the ‘educated’ society also adds to this, where many often take for granted that the tribal cannot be trusted.

On the other hand, a tribal, if she/he dares to complain against someone in authority will soon find her/his name quoted as a Naxalite and named as a anti-state element and accused of false charges. Rampant corruption within the state police and the state police’s inefficiency in properly investigating gross atrocities like the rape of innocent Namita, also feeds into nurturing Naxalite ideologies in the region, of which neither the state nor the union government has thus far taken any sensible action. It should not be of anyone’s surprise should this case too is investigated in a despicable manner and soon the victim’s parents or even the victim is quoted as a Naxalite.

In any case, should the sexual act of the accused in this case with Namita is proved, the fact that there is consent or not is irrelevant since the offence is ‘statutory rape’. All that is required to be proved in the case is the sexual act, which need not even have the actual act of penetration, according to the Indian Penal Code, 1860. However, given that the case could take about a decade to be tried reduces the chance for a conviction, and further increases the opportunities for the accused to threaten the victim and her family. The lack of any form of witness protection, coupled with the rampant corruption within the state police looms large as a threat against the victim seeking and attaining justice in the case.

 

Source : www.humanrights.asia

 

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