The State Government has failed to take serious steps to curb abuse against girl students in Ashram schools and hostels run by the ST and SC Development Department (SSD). As many as 16 girl students studying in Ashram schools have been subjected to sexual assault in the last five years. In a written statement, SC ST Development, Minority and Backward Classes Welfare Minister lal Behari Himirika declared this in the State Assembly recently. “Eight out of 16 victims were sexually-assaulted by teachers and the rest by other persons and employees,” Himirika said.
Five students staying in the Ashram schools became mothers after having illegitimate relationship, he added. A look at the provisions pertaining to the safety of the hostellers, especially girls, shows there are sufficient measures to protect them but the culprits have managed to exploit the innocent tribal students. While a Headmaster/Warden has been given key responsibility for girl’s hostels, a lady teacher has been given charge of assistant to the manager. Similarly, woman cooks for every girl’s hostel and women security guards at all hostels have been appointed. The rules emphasise a code of conduct for teachers and students, creation of a conducive environment at every institution for the safety of students and constant supervision and monitoring. They strictly prohibit any teaching or non-teaching staff and inspecting official from entering a girls’ hostel unless he is accompanied by an assistant hostel superintendent or matron or a lady teacher designated by the hostel superintendent or matron.
There are guidelines that senior officials, including district Collectors, should inspect schools and hostels run by the department. Three guidelines, Safety and Security Guidelines, Mess Management Guidelines and School Hostel Monitoring Guidelines have been issued for safety and smooth running of the hostels. Similarly, district Collector, DRDA PD, ITDA PA, Sub-Collector, Inspector of Schools, DWO and DI of Schools have been asked to visit these schools at regular intervals.
Despite all these provisions, it is shocking to find that there are more than six sexually-assaulted cases in these schools in the last five months. An FIR lodged on February 10 last by victim’s family members against a school headmaster states he raped two students in a Paradip-based school. Similarly, another FIR on February 5 last against an accountant, cook and ex-warden also depicts a heinous crime by the accused. It states that the trio took nude photographs of girl students at Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya of Kabisurja nagar in Ganjam district.
A 16-year-old girl was sexually assaulted in an Ashram school who gave birth to a baby at Baghamunda on February 6 last. The incident was reported from Kamakhyanagar in Dhenkanal district and the victim died on March 9. An eighth class student was raped and brutally murdered in forest of Dhodachuan village of Rengali block in Sambalpur district on February 27. The victim was a student of lahamani high school. A nursing student of SC community attempted suicide because of sexual harassment and ragging by her roommate. A case was lodged on February 8 last under Kendrapada town police limits. A teacher of Vikas Jyoti Primary School sexually harassed eight minor girls and one boy student of Class III, IV and V. The parents of the victim girls and boy lodged an FIR against the teacher and based on their statement, a case was registered in Bargarh.
According to District Welfare Officer of Sambalpur district Krupasindhu Behera, “My responsibility is monitoring the hostel and welfare of the SC, ST people in the district. I did not hear sexual harassment cases. I can’t say anything about them. Better you meet the District Child Protection Officer.” Mother of a girl, who was a victim and a student in a Paradip-based school, said: “After the incident, we are afraid about the career of our ward. The district administration should take action to initiate trial of the case in fast track court. We are very poor, landless and also don’t have even any property to mortgage to fight a legal case.”