Tura, May 10: West Garo Hills deputy commissioner Pravin Bakshi today ordered a magisterial probe into the alleged torture of 12 girls, who were held captive by “rights activists” who claimed that the girls were victims of sex trade.
The girls, aged between 18 and 24, were held captive by the activists at the rented house of Jaynie Ningring Sangma at Danakgre, on the outskirts of Tura town. They were rescued by local residents on Thursday evening and handed over to the police.
The five activists, Jaynie Ningring Sangma, Babiana M. Sangma, Merrlyn D. Shira, Konica S. Sangma, and Lonavi R. Sangma, were arrested yesterday and have been remanded in 14 days’ judicial custody.
Dadenggre sub-divisional officer Sibhi C. Sadhu, assisted by two assistant commissioners, Tengchi Momin and Rojalinda D. Shira, are heading the probe. They will submit their report after a month, Bakshi said.
The activists claimed that the deputy commissioner had given them permission for the raid and that he knew about the girls being in their custody.
Refuting the allegations as “totally baseless”, Bakshi said he had not given any activist permission to conduct raids. He said when it was brought to his notice that the activists were planning to conduct raids on suspicion of a sex racket, he asked them to co-ordinate with the police.
“The NGOs said the girls could be counselled with the help of pastors and brought to the mainstream. Since no FIR had been lodged by the NGOs or by the parents, the administration could not enforce any action. The counselling was to be done under the supervision of the church and I was informed that the parents were in touch with the girls,” he said.
“It was repeatedly made to appear that the girls were under care and compassion and were counselled for a few days before being handed over to their parents. When we received allegations that the girls could be minors, we sent officers from the district child protection unit on May 8,” he added.
“The child welfare committee paid a visit to Jaynie’s house on May 9. They were supposed to be handed over to their parents on Sunday,” Bakshi said.
On the activists’ claims that he had given them permission to detain the girls, Bakshi said, “The women neither had permission nor were they given any funds or authority for illegal detention or worse, physical assault. The counselling was being monitored by frequent visits by the media and no complaints of physical abuse was reported.”
On the activists’ claims of a rehabilitation package being offered by him to the girls, Bakshi said, “There was no job or wage offer from our side to the girls.”
On accommodation being provided to Jaynie at the circuit house, Bakshi said, “We were forced to provide accommodation to one NGO leader who was attacked on May 8. An FIR was lodged and a delegation of women leaders and pastors came to meet me late in the evening, around 9pm, fearing for her life. This happened before the allegations of torture came out.”
He said all aspects of the case were being investigated. “It is a shame that the name of the deputy commissioner is being dragged into this, whereas we could have first handed over the girls to the women police, according to law,” he added.
On whether the culprits would be pusnished, he said, “It has been very strongly asserted that all breaches of law are immediately acted upon, no matter who the culprit is.”
Several NGOs have raised a hue and cry against the detention and torture of the girls.
Impulse NGO Network, Shillong, is preparing a detailed case study and is planning to take up the matter with the state and national women’s commissions. It has demanded that bail should not be granted to the five accused activists and compensation should be paid to the girls.
Hasina Kharbhih of the NGO said, “Impulse case info centre is preparing a detailed report. We are collecting all relevant data and contacting the victims and their families. If the victims require any immediate rehabilitation, we will provide counselling and psychological support. We are also seeking legal support to deal with the matter.”
The Civil Society Women Organisation condemned the torture meted out to the girls. Its president, Agnes Kharshiing, said, “Whoever is involved should be punished.”
She claimed there were 13 victims but the police had produced only 12. She questioned the registering of a suo moto case by the police after two FIRs were filed by the relatives of the victims yesterday.
West Garo Hills superintendent of police Mukesh Singh said the injuries were so serious in nature that even without an FIR, a suo moto case could have been taken up.