One of the teachers calls it a “natural calamity” that was unavoidable

A week after an 18-year-old tribal girl was gang-raped just outside her school here, its authorities have denied that any such thing happened. But investigations have revealed that the girl was forced to write a statement by the authorities of the Ashramshala, the school for children of tribal communities, to the effect that she had “misbehaved” before being expelled, in what appears to be a cover-up.

The Class 12 student was raped by at least two people while three others abetted in the crime on December 23. . Nobody from the school administration was present on the campus on the day of the incident.

Even as the Nashik Rural Police booked four men and one juvenile in the case, some teachers continued to deny that the incident happened at all. Others said it was a “natural calamity.” Speaking to The Hindu on Saturday, B.K. Kawle, a high schoolteacher said: “It is a natural calamity that we have to overcome. It could not have been avoided.”

That day the girl had gone outside with a friend to answer nature’s call as there are only a few usable toilets in the school (Out of the 16 toilets, only seven seemed to be in a usable condition). Throwing light on what happened next, Nashik Rural SP Pravinkumar Padval said the girl was talking to a male friend, who is now a key witness in the case, when some boys from Palsan village, playing cricket nearby, started teasing and harassing them. “The boy and the girl’s friend managed to escape while she was left behind,” he said. Two of the accused have confessed to raping her, while three others were complicit, Mr. Padval said.

When she came back to the school alone late at night, the school authorities told her that she had been seen with a boy from the ashramshala, and both were expelled for “misconduct”.

“They gave us a written statement saying that since they had misbehaved, they have no objection to being expelled,” said S.P. More, another teacher. The girl’s father also wrote a similar statement, Mr. More said.

Speaking to The Hindu , Palsan Zilla Parishad member and chairperson of the School Management Committee (SMC) Subhash Choudhary denied that the girl was raped. “I was present when she wrote her statement. It clearly says she was not harmed in any way. She has embarrassed the school by indulging in a relationship with the boy. Though she was expelled, she was allowed to come back and take exams,” he said, adding: “I know the boys who are arrested. They said she was caught with her boyfriend, and threatened to kill herself if they told anybody about it.”

The girl, however, did not tell anybody about what happened because the men threatened to kill her, Mr. Padval told The Hindu . “The school may have contradicted us, but we have enough proof. The girl’s medical examination states that she was raped,” he said.

While the safety of the Ashramshala is being questioned, the teachers said that on the day of the rape none of the teachers was present on the campus as they are required to be. “We all go home on Sunday. It is the only day we get,” J. R. Shardul, a teacher told The Hindu . Even principal D.S, Devre was not in the school and was called back when the girl returned.

Mr. Devre has been suspended by the Tribal Development Department, which runs around 700 ashramshalas in the State for children from the Scheduled Tribes (ST). There are 36 such schools in Nashik district alone. However, a visit to the school revealed issues that perhaps will not be resolved with this suspension.

Of the 826 students in the school, 343 are girls. More than 220 of the girls stay in the dormitory. But neither are there any female teachers nor are there female wardens to take care of them. Even the position of the female Superintendent in the school has been more or less vacant since 2000, the teachers revealed.

After being expelled, the girl was sent back home to the neighbouring Bhormal village. It was only four days later on December 27 that she lodged an FIR. She was admitted at the Nashik civil hospital and was discharged on Saturday. “She did not say anything for a few days after she came back. Then I noticed that she was in pain. After we repeatedly asked her, she finally told us what had happened,” the girl’s mother told The Hindu . “At the school, the teacher dictated what to write in the statement. It is a matter of shame for them that this happened, but it is more important that the guilty are punished. We have decided to go ahead with the fight, however long it takes us,” she said.