Request for independent investigation in case of sexual assault of 16 hostel girls at Balika Ashram, Govt. Girls School, Palnar, Dantewada, Chattisgarh

The Chairperson
National Human Rights Commission
ManavAdhikarBhawan Block-C,
GPO Complex, INA,
New Delhi - 110023

9th October 2017

Subject: Request for independent investigation in case of sexual assault of 16 hostel girls at Balika Ashram, Govt. Girls School, Palnar, Dantewada, Chattisgarh

Sir

Coordination of Democratic Rights Organisation (CDRO) is collective of non-funded organisations working on issues concerning civil and democratic rights in India.Some of the constituent organisations have been active since 1970s. CDRO is concerned about the democratic rights violations perpetrated by the armed forces of the Indian State that continue to be reported from the armed conflict area of Bastar in Chattisgarh. The present petition concerns one such incident of sexual assault of 16 minor girl students that took place on 31st July 2017 at Balika Ashram, Govt. Girls School, a state-run girl’s residential hostel in Palnar Village, Kuakonda police station, Dantewada district in Bastar region of Chattisgarh.

The brief facts as per media reports are as follows:

  1. On 31st July 2017, a ‘cultural programme’ was conducted at Balika Ashram, Govt. Girls School, a state-rungirls’s residential hostel in Palnar village under Kuakonda police station, Dantewada district in Bastar region of Chattisgarh where girls tied rakhis to CRPF personnel.As per reports nearly 500 girls participated in the event in which more than a hundred CRPF personnel were allowed to enter the school. A local TV Channel recorded and telecast the programme on the occasion of RakshaBandhan.
  2. On 1st August, District Education Officer and Head Master of the school made a complaint before District Collector that during the programme 16 girls were molested by CRPF personnel.As per reports, the girls had alleged that while they were returning from the toilet they were physically frisked by CRPF personnel.
  3. On 2nd August 2017instead of an FIR being registered, the Dantewada Collector visited the hostel along with the Dantewada Superintendent of Police (SP) and local CRPF Deputy Inspector General, and ‘spoke’ to the girls in the presence of the warden.After taking down their statements, the district administration had formed a five-member committee headed by zila panchayat's Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and also including the Dantewada additional superintendent of police, sub-divisional magistrate, district education officer and tehsildar to look into the matter.
  4. According to a separate press release issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs (CRPF) dated 9th August 2017, a high level enquiry chaired by DIG Dantewada with representative of Balika Ashram, Govt. Girls School and lady officer had been ordered to do a fact finding. Based on findings of the enquiry team of CRPF, two personnel were identified as suspected accused and were reportedly placed under suspension. The matter was only then handed over to the local police for investigation.
  5. On 7th August 2017,it was reported, that an FIR was registered u/s 354 IPC and relevant provisions of POCSO Act.
  6. On 8th August 2017, Shamim Ahmed, a constable of the CRPF’s 231 battalion was arrested and the other suspect(both identified based on statements and photographs of the event), was yet to be arrested as he was on leave since 3rd August and at his home town at Dehradun.The bail application submitted by the two Accused have been dismissed by the Sessions Court and an appeal against the Order is pending at the Chattisgarh High Court.

CDRO Fact finding

On 13th August 2017, an 18 member team, consisting of 7 organisations belonging to the Coordination of Democratic Rights Organisation (CDRO) visited the residential school in Palnar to talk to the Hostel authorities. The team was prevented from meeting anyone or from entering the hostel citing rules. Thereafter other activists in the region have also been reportedly prevented from meeting the girls. If the authorities would have followed these rules on 31st July and prevented more than 100 CRPF Jawans from entering the hostel the chilling incident in which minor girls were sexually assaulted, could have been avoided.

Grounds

The ostensible reason for the program was ‘RakshaBandhan’, which turned into a horrific tale of sexual molestation of minor girls. However, there are many questions relating to this incident which remain unanswered:

  1. Who authorised the programme by a private TV channel in a girls hostel, where senior police, CRPF and other officials and some politicians were present?The Collector is on record disclaiming any knowledge of this.
  2. The incident took place while the illegal programme was held on 31st July, inside the hostel premises and senior police and other officials were present there, so how was it that they remained unaware of the happenings over there?
  3. The SP and Collector were informed about it on the very next day i.e. 1st August, 2017, but the FIR was registered 6 days later on the 7th August, 2017. What explains such a delay?
  4. Why was there a deviation from the normal procedure of FIR registration in case of cognizable offences, in that committees were formed for detailed preliminary enquiry in contravention to the Supreme Court (Constitution bench) guidelines in Lalita Kumari v. Govt. of U.P [W.P.(Crl) No.68/2008]
  5. Further, why was the “independent” committee formed by the Collector working in consultation with the “high-level” committee headed by the DIG, Dantewada who was himself an Accused based on the principle of command responsibility? The press release dated 09.08.17 issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs (CRPF) and the statements of the Collector during the week prior to registration of FIR makes it clear that the decisions had been takentogether in consultation by all State Officials.
  6. Under the principle of command responsibility Hostel Warden, SP, Collector, CRPF officers and others are also liable and responsible for this incident as they permitted and participated in an illegal programme. It also amounted to criminal trespass. Minor girls in the garb of Raksha Bandhan were made to join dancing with CRPF men in uniforms and having arms. The SP and Collector are also responsible under Nirbhya Act for delay in filing the FIR. Indicting two low ranking CRPF personnel is nothing more than a way to silence the hue and cry raised after the incident.
  7. Besides, the CDRO team is not convinced that 16 girls were molested by just 2 CRPF men. Illegal act, delay in filing FIR, and deviation from normal procedure lends weight to our fear that there is an attempt to suppress the facts. Although FIR has been finally registered, we believe that the police has failed to incorporate certain provisions of law such as IPC Section 34 (Common intention), 452 (Criminal trespass) and those of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.
  8. Why have victim survivors not been given adequate protection till date despite reports that they are being threatened by the warden? There has been dereliction of duty by State Officials in contradiction to section 15A of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 which makes the State statutorily responsible to make arrangements for the protection of victims, their dependents, and witnesses against any kind of intimidation or coercion or inducement or violence or threats of violence.

Prayer

In view of the above unanswered questions, and in view of the presence of SP, and higher officers of the CRPF at the time of occurrence and shirking by them of their legal responsibility of moving under the relevant law, CDRO prays:

  1. That an independent investigation/fact-finding be conducted in the case by NHRC;
  2. That the investigation should focus on (a) the incident of sexual assault of minor girls by CRPF personnel wherein suitable offences should be invoked (including dereliction of duty of State Officials as stipulated under POCSO Act and Prevention of Atrocity Act especially provisions of s.15A whereby protection of victims has been made mandatory), (b) the conduct of the illegal programme at the hostel, (c) role of Collector and local administration, DIG, Dantewada and other higher officials of the CRPF in causing the delay in registration of  FIR and malafide reasons for deviation from statutory procedure;
  3. That the minor victim survivors be provided immediate protection so that they can confidently depose about the facts of the incident;       
  4. For any other action that is deemed fit in the facts and circumstances of the case.

Sincerely,

Coordinator (Delhi), CDRO