The irony is too glaring to be missed. Christened 'Apna Ghar', it offered neither a sense of belonging to its inmates, neither anything one can identify even remotely with one's home.
As horrifying tales of physical and sexual abuse of inmates of the shelter home in Rohtak tumble out with unerring regularity in the public domain, one cannot but wonder how the wrong-doings could have escaped the attention of the district administration for so long.
In reality, it would be safe to presume that Jaswanti was running a well-oiled sex racket and illegal adoption centre under the garb of a shelter home, where voice-less and vulnerable inmates were housed, only to be exploited physically to satisfy the lust of perverts and to "harvest" babies that were further sold to willing couples for a few thousands of rupees.
What is shocking is the level of depravity to which persons can stoop to wreck havoc on the physical and mental wellbeing of a fellow being. Not less shocking has been the silence of the powers that be to the whole issue till now, even as subtle and not-so-subtle attempts of the official machinery are on to somehow brush the matter under the carpet as soon as possible.
The sadistic manner in which the prime accused Jaswanti abused the girl inmates, both physically and sexually, and also let her son-in-law exploit them in her presence, only points to the perversity of the persona dramatis. Only a person who is mentally ill and bereft of all social and moral moorings can condone such horrifying occurrences.
One thing that comes to mind instantly is that both civil and police officials at the district level, who are supposed to keep a vigil on such NGOs, were either thoroughly incompetent or were compromised or co-opted through monetary or other allurements in the racket.
It is hardly surprising that stories about the involvement of local policemen in the rape of hapless inmates of the shelter home are now coming out in the open. Here again, one cannot miss the irony that those who were supposed to protect the inmates turned predators.
Anyone with a basic understanding of the civil and police administration functioning at the local level would agree that it was well nigh impossible that these officials were unaware of the hanky-panky goings-on at the shelter home.
No policeman at the local level and worth his salt can claim now that he was not in the know of the sordid wrong-doings at the shelter home. If indeed they knew nothing, they need not be in their jobs in the first place. If they knew, they ought to be hauled up over coals for not taking any remedial action to stem the rot!
Jaswanti Devi hinted as much at the complicity of officials when she said that they had accepted her hospitality in the past. What she meant was surely to issue a veiled threat to such officials that if she were to land in trouble, these officials could also be riding the same boat as hers.
It is nobody's case that officials at high levels were compromised by Jaswanti. But surely, persons who further have access to corridors of power or who are in a position to save Jaswanti in case of any trouble - as is alleged to be happening at present - must have been involved, since the prime accused had bagged an award from the state government in the past. Also, the alleged VIP treatment she is enjoying in custody point out to the extent of the reach of her tentacles.
It is surprising that instead of promptly working to ensure justice to the victims, the district administration officials at different levels were making overt and covert efforts to impede the probe or at least slow down its pace. It is really surprising that as soon as a lawyer moved the Punjab and Haryana high court in the case, the inmates of the shelter home were shunted out to different homes across Haryana.
Now, let us see the issues that need to be kept in mind if we want to prevent recurrence of such incidents and ensure justice to the victims.
First, there is a urgent need for an independent probe by some agency with credibility to unearth the nexus between Jaswanti and officials of the state government, both civil and police. Such a probe should preferably be monitored by the court, so as to ensure that the probe team works without fear or favour and bring to justice anyone who has done wrong.
Second, the four-member panel of lawyers deputed by Punjab and Haryana high court should document in detail the statements of each of the inmates of the shelter home so as to bring the enormity of the crime before the court.
Also, the statements of inmates who have been physically and sexually abused must be got recorded under relevant provisions of law before a magistrate so as to prevent them from retracting during trial.
There is a need to move all the inmates of the shelter home to one place outside the state, preferably to Chandigarh, so as to insulate them from pressure and to afford them a sense of relief. This is important since the victims come from vulnerable strata of society and could fall easy prey to pressure from unscrupulous police officials and others once a court of law starts hearing the case.
Otherwise, it is not hard to predict the outcome of this instant case in the light of what has been witnessed in the infamous Srinagar sex scandal, the trial of which is on in a Chandigarh court. Here, the witnesses have been turning hostile one by one, of late.
Third, a comprehensive survey of all shelter homes in Haryana is necessary, so as to arrive at the real picture at the grassroots level, howsoever bad it might be.
Fourth, it should be ensured that all the accused do not take advantage of loopholes in law to secure bail.
Keeping them confined behind bars and ensuring speedy trial, preferably on a day-to-day hearing basis, and then giving them exemplary punishment would go a long way in meting out justice to the victims.
The victimised inmates need to be rehabilitated, and the state of Haryana should be made to bear all expenses for their physical and psychological rehabilitation.
What is conspicuous in the whole affair is the fact that Delhi Police, which promptly blew the lid off the sordid affairs at the shelter home run by Jaswanti Devi under the garb of her NGO 'Bharat Vikas Sangh, have not come in for praise for the good job done, which is quite baffling, to say the least. Is it that Indian society squirms when such uncomfortable issues crop up and demand an explanation from all concerned?
Last but not the least, one would expect that the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights and National Commission for Women would adopt a more pro-active approach in respect of its mandated responsibilities, instead of paying mere lip service and sending teams to investigate once such scandals crop up across the country.