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The darker side of picturesque Uttarakhand

Nov 17, 2018

In the mountanious state of Uttarakhand, holy pilgrimage and adventure tourism has given way to sexual crimes.

Dehradun: Once considered a safe haven for women and girls, the picturesque mountain state of Uttarakhand is now witnessing an alarming increase in gender crimes. The recent gang-rape of a minor girl by her fellow students at a co-education boarding school in the state capital of Dehradun has sent shock waves in the society.

Uttarakhand, especially Dehradun, is one of the major centres of school education in the country, boasting of many fine institutions of academic excellence, and so it becomes imperative to work out protocols to provide security to youngsters in schools. Those in charge need to be trained in these protocols and regulatory bodies entrusted at every level to enforce them.

The boarding school in question failed dismally in preventing this heinous crime. According to police, the 16-year-old victim, who lives with her elder sister in the girls’ hostel of the school, was lured into a secluded area of the school premises by four boy students of class 12, who then raped her.

What happened after the brutal crime was equally horrifying. Instead of taking action against the perpetrators, the school management tried to cover up the crime and coerced the girl into silence. A police official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the victim returned to her hostel and narrated her ordeal to the hostel caretaker.

“The caretaker told her to remain quiet and informed the Administrative Officer (AO) and his wife, who also advised silence. They started giving her different home-made solutions to drink thinking they could abort her foetus in case she became pregnant,” the official said.

After learning of the incident, officials of the Uttarakhand State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (USCPCR) visited the school premises and were shocked to find that the girls’ hostel was not having a warden for over a month. “They were left with only a caretaker. Also, there were no CCTV cameras which could have brought the incident to the school administration earlier,” stated Usha Negi, Chairperson of the USCPCR.

The attitude and subsequent behaviour of the school management was equally heinous. Instead of understanding the gravity of the crime and the trauma suffered by the girl, a downright criminal attempt was made not only to cover up the crime, but also to endanger her life by forcing her to drink questionable mixtures to induce an abortion.

In a welcome move, the Principal, the AO and his wife have now been arrested on charges of trying to suppress the matter while the four accused students have been sent to juvenile jail in Hardwar. But the gory incident raises the question of the malaise lurking deep within our society which continues to disrespect women and girls.

The lack of supervision of youngsters, especially boys, and easy access to porn and perversity on the internet only exacerbates the problem. Meanwhile, the continued opposition by conservatives to sex education in schools, which can cold-bloodedly inform the youth about the rules of engagement and inherent dangers, has left them to wrestle with the problems on their own.

Those involved in the education sector should immediately take corrective action by introducing the necessary reforms. A step in the right direction has been initiated by Union Minister for Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi who has called for removal of age cap for reporting child sexual abuse.

“I have written to our Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, requesting to clarify the legal position on ‘period of limitation’ applicable to cases of child sexual abuse. We have expressed our views that such cases should be permitted to be reported by the survivor at any time,” Gandhi tweeted.

Recently the WCD Minister had proposed that child sexual abuse victims should be allowed to register complaints until they are 30. “People have now started to come out to report the abuse faced by them as children. This is a welcome step for us, as a society, to stand with the survivors…to facilitate access to a range of services including medical, legal, psychological and counseling support to women survivors,” she added.

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