Following reports of abuse of its inmates, a rehabilitation centre for women in Maharashtra is facing criminal proceedings
Rajesh Chavan has been standing outside Navjeevan Mahila Vasatigruh, the State-run rehabilitation home for rescued women, for over three hours making constant calls on his cell phone. He knows the bus routes of the area and directions to the nearest train station; he has learnt them over the past one week during which he visited this quiet Mankhurd locality every day. His wife is an inmate at the home, and he is waiting for her to be allowed out to see him.
The Court has sanctioned her release, but the authorities at the home remain adamant in detaining her.
Hers is one of several cases that have recently come to light, even as Shobana Dhinghe, the Superintendent of the home, has been booked under a FIR filed by the Govandi police station for negligence and mistreatment of the inmates.
The panel appointed by the High Court to investigate the situation following reports that quoted an escaped inmate as having complained of poor living conditions and alleged rape, comprising of Superintendent of Police Rashmi Karandikar and psychiatrist Harish Shetty, declared the home a “living hell”, citing abysmally inhuman living conditions, lack of hygiene and sanitation, untrained staff, incidents of rape and sexual exploitation, substandard food provision and failure to provide occupational training and psychosocial rehabilitation to the women.
The inmates are allowed little to no contact with the outside world; many have not left the compound in over a year. In the past seven months, over 50 women have escaped, and several others have been caught and forcibly brought back to the home, often injured. Corruption runs rampant, and only those who grease the palms of the officials with money or what little jewellery they possess are allowed to visit family members or leave the home.
Last week, the Bombay High Court had ordered the State government to immediately improve the maintenance of the home through streamlined coordination between the various responsible departments, and appointed special Family Court judge Swati Chauhan to oversee the investigation into the allegations of abuse of the inmates.
In its recent petition to the High Court, the Forum Against Oppression of Women recommends that in addition to acceptable levels of health and hygiene, the inmates be granted access to lawyers and social organisations and allowed to visit family members.
The Division Bench of Chief Justice Mohit Shah and Justice Anoop Mohta has asked the State to provide a psychiatrist for the home and to expedite the repatriation of women from Bangladesh and Nepal, many of whom have not been repatriated despite having received travel permits, due to authorities’ oversights and negligence.
The Crime Branch will investigate the alleged cases of sexual abuse, and Ms. Swati Chauhan is scheduled to file an updated report on further developments in the next four weeks.
Meanwhile, Rajesh Chavan must continue visiting Navjeevan Mahila Vasatigruh every day, returning home alone.