All 261 students of a government-run girls’ residential school fled their hostel in Jharkhand’s Seraikela-Kharswan district to escape alleged sexual harassment by a local youth over several days, police said on Friday.
The incident took place in Ichagarh’s Kasturba Gandhi Girls’ Residential School, one of the more than 2,500 similar schools run by the government across the country to ensure education for girls in tribal and backward areas.
Jharkhand, a primarily tribal-dominated state, has witnessed growing incidents of crime against women, topped by rampant trafficking of vulnerable girls who are forced into a life of bonded labour or prostitution.
In 2013, four minor tribal girls were abducted from their hostel and gang-raped by a group of men in the state’s Pakur district, sending shockwaves through the country.
The Seraikela-Kharswan deputy commissioner Chandrasekhar said he has called a meeting at the school on Sunday to find a solution after the regional education officer (REO) Awdesh Ram on Friday failed to convince the guardians to send back their daughters to the school.
The girls are said to have left the hostel over several days, leaving in batches. The sub-divisional officer (SDO) Archana Mehta visited the hostel on August 19 following which police detained several youth of the locality for interrogation, he said.
“The SDO has given her report confirming the eve-teasing charges as also the fact that no girl are now in the school. We will ensure security of the girls and take stringent action against the accused,” the DC told HT.
Sources said that the school hostel, about 60km from here, has no boundary wall. Besides, they were forced to defecate in the open with the hostel having only five toilets for 261 students.
The poor living condition in the hostel was also evident in the fact that it has only 105 beds for the 261 boarders, the sources added. The school is about 200 meters away from the hostel.
Sources said the REO on Friday lambasted the warden after finding a portion of the school’s grill cut and villagers pointing out several such gateways through which hooligans kept trespassing into the hostel at will.
Though the hostel warden Madhuri Bari had lodged a complaint with police on August 13 seeking police protection, she allegedly did not mention the incidents of harassment.
“We won't send back our daughters to the school unless and until the administration gives a guarantee for their security,” said Gorachand Mahato, father of a class 9 student. The REO quoted one Sanjit Mahato, father of another girl, as saying that it all started on August 7 when 3-4 youths entered the hostel and harassed the girls between 12AM to 2AM.
“She is in a state of panic and has been crying ever since we took her home,” Mahato was quoted as saying.