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Wednesday, Nov 20, 2019

Apna Ghar horror tales: How Jaswanti Devi kept her misdeeds secret

Jaswanti Devi, who was sentenced to life in jail for the sexual exploitation of inmates at her shelter, ensured that her victims didn’t speak to anyone outside the complex.

india Updated: Apr 29, 2018 11:54 IST
Vivek Gupta
Vivek Gupta
Hindustan Times, Panchkula
Jaswanti Devi
Jaswanti Devi

Jaswanti Devi, the in-charge of the Apna Ghar shelter who was sentenced to life imprisonment for sexual exploitation, allowed her family and staff to sexually abuse the inmates but managed to keep things quiet by isolating the victims.

The inspection reports of the National Council for the Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) details Devi’s exploits and how she turned her shelter into a house of terror for the inmates.

The 53-year-old was arrested in 2012 after the NCPCR conducted a raid of the shelter and rescued nearly 120 inmates. The raid uncovered what is considered one of the region’s worst sexual crimes. Inmates, who included minors, adults and disabled, were subjected to shocking sexual and physical abuse by Devi, several of her family members and staff.

Devi’s daughter Sushma alias Simmi, son-in-law Jai Bhagwan, brother Jaswant, cousin Sheela, driver Satish, employee Ram Prakash Saini and counsellor Veena were convicted by a CBI court.

Read | Rohtak Apna Ghar case: Court testimony of victims reveals house of horror

The report said no inmate was allowed to go outside the complex, even for a short while, restricting them to the shelter and their contact with the anyone outside.

While the children were not sent to school, most of the older inmates were either destitute or without support. Added to this, they were all terrified of Devi and their abusers, and thus didn’t have the courage to tell any visitor about what was happening, the report added.

During the court proceedings, several of Devi’s victims testified to being used as prostitutes, being raped by her son-in-law Jai Bhagwan, and being sexually assaulted by the driver.

The report said that police officers, especially station house officer of Gandhi Camp, was believed to be a frequent visitor at the shelter, which further discouraged the victims from seeking police help.

Sentencing in multiple crimes
  • Jaswanti was sentenced life term for abetting rape being head of the shelter home (Section 109 to be read with section 376 of IPC), besides her conviction on other charges, including criminal intimidation, compulsory labour, criminal conspiracy, causing hurt to inmates etc.
  • She was also convicted under Sections 4 and 5 of Immoral Trafficking Act for sending inmates to people outside shelter home for sexual abuse, besides the Juvenile Justice Act for pushing minors into sexual abuse.
  • But the CBI’s probe could not trace Jaswanti’s clients as it claimed that victims could not identify people outside the shelter.
  • However, the rape charges against Jai Bhagwan, a regular visitor in the Apna Ghar, and driver Satish were proved, and they were sentenced for life term for raping inmates (Section 376), besides intimidating and hurting them.
  • Jaswanti’s brother, Jaswant, who was a government teacher, was found guilty of rape, but was given minimum sentence of seven years in this case as CBI could not prove the gravity of offence committed by him.

Whenever a government official or celebrity did visit the shelter, Devi ensured she that inmates did not interact with the guestswithout being accompanied by her or her staff, the NCPCR report added.

Before any high profile guest visit, Devi would also threaten the inmates, forbidding them from speaking to any outsider or complaining of punishments and others matters such as food, clothing, education, etc.

The report also said the shelter had photos Devi with politicians and senior officials, indicating there had been several high profile photographs.

Vinod Kumar Tikoo, who headed the NCPCR raid at Apna Ghar, said despite several victims accusing police of allegedly helping Jaswanti in her activities, the CBI did not prosecute any official.

Recalling the raid, Tikoo said details of the raid were kept secret and top district officials were informed before the team reached reaching Rohtak. “Jaswanti came to know of about the visit before we came here. However, she had a very less time to make cosmetic arrangements,” he said.

Devi was sentenced to life along with Jai Bhagwan and Satish by a special CBI court on Friday. her brother Jaswant was awarded seven years’ imprisonment.

Three other accused – daughter Sushma and employees Sheela and Veena – were let off with time served. Two more employees, Roshini and R Parkash Saini, were released on probation.

Anil Malhotra, the lawyer who headed the high court-appointed special investigation team (SIT) and on whose report the case was handed over to the CBI, said the punishment was commensurate to the gravity of the heinous offences.

“The government machinery must carry out stringent checks to prevent such abuses of children in care homes,” he said.

Tikoo called the verdict satisfying and said it would surely be a deterrent, but said the case should have been concluded much earlier, as it would have cut short the mental trauma the victims endured during trial.