Fifteen staff members of Ashramshala school for tribal children in Nashik district have been suspended by the State Tribal Development Department for being absent on the day an 18-year-old girl was raped just outside the school premises.

The tribal girl, a Class XII student, was gang-raped by five persons on December 23.

As reported by The Hindu , none of the staff members, including the Principal, D.S. Devre, was present on the campus that day. According to Department rules, all staff members of the ashramshalas in the State are required to stay on the school premises. Mr. Devre was suspended last week.

Speaking to The Hindu , Tribal Development Commissioner (Nashik Division) Sambhaji Sarkunde said the absence of the staff members is being seen as a serious negligence. “There are rules which are not being implemented. Strict action was necessary. These are teachers with salary of more than Rs. 45,000 per month, and they seem to have taken things for granted,” he said.

However, despite the suspension of the staff members, Mr. Sarkunde doubted the girl’s allegation that she was raped. “She gave a statement to the teachers that she had misbehaved and was seen with a boy outside the school premises. Things are a little doubtful. She registered the rape case only four days later.”

However, her mother told The Hindu that the teachers had forced the girl and her friend to give a false statement that they had “misbehaved” and were hence being expelled. According to the statement given to the Nashik rural police, the girl has said the men who had raped her threatened to kill her if she told anyone about the incident.

Four of the men, all belonging to Palsan, have been arrested and remanded in police custody till January 7, while one minor has been detained by the police.

Mr. Sarkunde said filling vacancies in ashramshalas across the State was also important and was highlighted through this case. “The Government only allows three per cent of the vacant positions to be filled at a time. We have asked for more staff members, but there has been no response from the government,” he said.

The Hindu reported on Sunday that the Palsan Ashramshala had no female staff members. Mr. Sarkunde admitted that the lack of female teachers and superintendent was a serious issue and would be addressed immediately.

In the Palsan Ashramshala, nine positions out of 24 teaching and non-teaching staff are vacant. The position of the female superintendent has been vacant since 2000.