Four teachers, including a principal, arrested on charges of sexually exploiting six girls of a rehabilitation centre-cum-hostel for the deaf, dumb and mentally challenged, were sent to four days' police custody by a court on Thursday, the police said.
"All the four accused were sent to police remand till March 23," superintendent of police RM Sharma told IANS. Three of the accused, including school principal Vijay Kumar, were arrested on Wednesday and one was arrested on Thursday.
The teachers, at the centre being run by a non-governmental organisation (NGO) on the outskirts of the state capital, have been booked under Sections 376-B (intercourse by public servant with woman in his custody) and 34 of the Indian Penal Code (acts done by several persons in furtherance of common interest) for allegedly raping and sexually abusing the girls, who are aged between 13 and 21 years.
The school has more than 25 special students and is getting grants under the state-sponsored Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) scheme.
Sharma said the police raided the school run by the NGO, Prerna Welfare Association, on a tip-off that the girls were being sexually abused by the school staff.
"The victims neither complained to the coordinator of the NGO nor to their parents. When we went to the centre, all the six girls complained that they were being physically exploited for more than an year," he said, adding the hearing and speech impaired girls complained through sign language.
Five of the six victims are hearing and speech impaired and one is mentally challenged. They belong to financially weak families.
Sharma said all the six victims were medically examined at the Indira Gandhi Medical College in Shimla.
"Rape of two girls in the age group of 18 and 21 was confirmed in the medical report. Other girls were sexually abused by the accused," he said. The victims were handed over to their parents after the medical examination.
The state government has swung into action and ordered an inquiry into the incident.
Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal told reporters that the government would hold a departmental probe into the incident.
"We (the government) have ordered a department probe into the incident, in which six girls were sexually exploited by the teachers. It's a shameful act and nobody would be spared," he said.
"The government would also look into the working of other NGOs in the state and ascertain that such incidents are not repeated in the future," he said.
The rehabilitation centre was getting Rs 30,000 monthly grant under the SSA scheme to impart education to the physically challenged through speech therapy and sign language.
Rajesh Sharma, the SSA project director, said the monthly grant to the rehabilitation centre was stopped after the episode was uncovered. The centre had been getting the grant since 2006.
"It's a blot on the face of society. Surprisingly, the government is mum on the issue. Most of the teachers in such institutes are not even registered with the Rehabilitation Council of India, which is mandatory under the Rehabilitation Council of India Act, 1992," said Ajai Srivastava of the Society for Disability and Rehabilitation Studies, a Shimla-based NGO.