A minor girl committed suicide at the residence of a child development project officer (CDPO), Darjeeling. The 15 year old was under the guardianship of CDPO Tshering Doma Bhutia for more than 10 years.
Lack of legal documents (adoption or foster care) with Bhutia prompted Child Welfare Committee (CWC) to lodge a complaint against the CDPO at the Darjeeling Sadar Police Station.
The deceased Phu Diki Sherpa was found hanging in the bathroom of Bhutia's residence at Dr Zakir Hussain Road, Darjeeling at around 4pm on April 5.
According to the complaint lodged by Prithvi Raj Pradhan, husband of the CDPO at the police station, Sherpa did not want to go to school on that day and when he had returned back from his shop he found her hanging in the bathroom.
While investigating police learnt that on the day the incident occurred, Rs. 400/- had been missing from Pradhan's drawer, which were later recovered from Sherpa's bag. Pradhan had scolded Sherpa for this.
Talking to HT, Manju Tamang of the CWC stated, "We had got information of the death of this minor. On investigating we found many loose ends. Her classmates claimed that she used to remain unhappy and had confided in them that she had to do all the household chores including cooking from a tender age. She was beaten up frequently by the CDPO. Though a good student she could hardly take out time for studies."
Anuja Ghaley of the CWC alleged that persons known to the family had complained that they had noticed scars and scratches on Sherpa's face and body on numerous occasions.
"On investigation we further found that this girl had been brought to Darjeeling by the CDPO from the ICDS centre at Dilpa in Lhodhama under the Bijanbari block when she was posted in Bijanbari. The CDPO had no legal documents. Sherpa along with another kid who used to stay in the Bhutia household had run away a few years ago but were nabbed by the police and handed back to the family. The police had then asked the Bhutia family to return the two kids to their respective families. Both the kids were sent back but the deceased had returned back" added Ghaley.
Lobsang Bhutia, inspector in charge of the Darjeeling Sadar police station stated that the police had initiated a case against Bhutia and were investigating the case. Post mortem had been conducted.
CDPO Bhutia when questioned as to how she had kept the minor in her custody for more than 10 years without any legal papers despite being a CDPO and knowing the legal procedures, stated: "In those days there were no such stringent rules. Her parents were poor and they requested us to bring up the child. The child got attached to me when I had visited the ICDS centre in Dilpa and so I brought her home."
When asked whether the child was made to do household chores including cooking, Bhutia said everyone in the family did household chores including her two daughters. "Is it a crime to cook?" she questioned. Bhutia claimed that she was in Delhi at the time of the incident.
The father of the deceased Phurba Tshering Sherpa, was in the Bhutia household along with other relatives to attend the funeral. Sherpa's father, who is a small-time carpenter in the remote village of Dilpa, stated that he had 5 daughters (including the deceased). He claimed that Bhutia had approached him in 2002 seeking custody of the child stating that she would bring up the child. "As we are very poor I agreed," he said.