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Assault raises safety posers

Ranchi, July 16: Outrage as well as concerns over security of residential schools in remote areas are mounting in the wake of the gang rape of four Paharia schoolgirls, who were dragged out of their cradle at Labdaghati village, Pakur, on Sunday night by a group of men and violated for hours.

Rights organisations are raising two fundamental queries — what special operational rules non-governmental residential schools must abide by and what infrastructure cradles in remote rural areas need to provide basic protection to their wards.

Sunday’s gang rape victims studied and stayed at ECI Mission School — a kutcha structure run by Evangelical Church of India, with an elementary school, a vocational training centre and hostel all rolled into one at a forested village in Littipara block, 30km from district headquarters.

The brutal gang rape of Paharia schoolgirls showed how ill-equipped the state was in protecting one of its most vulnerable groups — tribal children.

The Paharias, under the Primitive Tribe Group (PTG), mainly concentrated in the Santhal Pargana, are one of India’s most underdeveloped populations.

Hemlata S. Mohan, chairperson at state commission for women, Jharkhand, told The Telegraph expressing grief and shock was not enough.

“I held a meeting with the DGP (Rajeev Kumar) today,” she said. “Rapes of minor girls are recurring with alarming frequency in Jharkhand. But we need to address the infrastructure lacunae,” she said.

Mohan said that the present system allowed heinous crimes of this sort to occur. “Girls were dragged out of their residential school at night. We need to plug security gaps,” she added.

Research officer of National Scheduled Tribe Commission (NSTC) S.R. Tiria told The Telegraph that the crime against the Paharia girls needed a deeper investigation.

“A group of men ransack school premises, drag out minor girls, gang-rape them and the matter gets reported the next day. It is shameful. It raises a major question on whether residential schools in rural areas for tribals have any security mechanism at all,” he said.

He added that he had come to know through the media that there were many administrative lapses.

“The children were enrolled in a primary school in a nearby village and staying at the premises mentioned. We need proper investigation,” he said.

Director of primary education Mamta told The Telegraph that under the RTE Act, all schools needed permission from the respective district superintendent of education’s office.

“I am not aware if the school sought any such permission. The crime seriously draws our attention towards lack of security in residential schools in far-flung areas,” she said.

Jharkhand State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (SCPCR) president Roop Laxmi Munda added that they had started inspecting residential schools.

“We should target schools located in hard-to-reach areas. The commission will meet soon to frame rules for non-governmental residential schools to address these lacunae,” she said.


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