Three inmates of Bilaspur shelter home accuse operator of physical and mental abuse

Remember the ghastly Muzaffarpur shelter home incident from 2018? Something similar is playing out in Bilaspur, Chhattisgarh, where inmates of Shivmangal Shikshan Samiti have accused the founder of sexual harassment. A case has been registered.

Neetu Singh
| Updated: January 23rd, 2021

In an incident reminiscent of the infamous Muzaffarpur shelter home rape case in Bihar, where more than 30 inmates were found to be sexually abused, three residents who fled Shivmangal Shikshan Samiti, an Ujjwala home shelter in Bilaspur, Chhattisgarh, have accused its founder Jitendra Maurya of physical and mental abuse. 

On the night of January 17 this year, three aggrieved women fled this shelter, which houses 10 women, and accused Maurya of sexually exploiting inmates, sending girls out for sex work, drugging inmates and stripping, beating and locking them up for the slightest of mistakes. The girls alleged they were not even allowed to meet their families. 

However, Maurya and the police denied all allegations. Maurya, instead, blamed the “moral character” of the inmates. He has since been arrested. The girls have been sent for medical testing, and their statements recorded in front of a magistrate, under section 164 of the CrPC (Criminal Procedure Code).

Sarkanda City Superintendent of Police Nimisha Pandey who has been investigating the case told Gaon Connection that a “high-level inquiry was on, and nothing has come to light so far”. Police have since sealed the shelter home in Bilaspur’s Shlok Vihar, operational since April 2013, and the seven inmates have been relocated either to their own homes or other shelter homes.

One of the three who fled is Rachna (name changed). She is 20, and was sent to the shelter 45 days ago after three men raped her. The violence continued at the shelter home. “If you commit any mistake, they strip you and lock you up in a room. One day, I was assaulted sexually by shelter founder Jitendra Maurya,” she told Gaon Connection over phone.

“The police forcibly sent me to this home,” insisted Rachna, the eldest among three sisters and a brother. “On the first day, I was threatened saying I would have to obey them as long as I lived here. When I refused to do something, I was stripped and locked. Many inmates are afraid to speak about the violence they face. Many have even lost their mental balance,” she alleged.

Image used for representation purpose only. Photo: Neetu Singh

Ujjwala grihas (shelter homes) are run across the country under the Central department of women and child development to protect children and women from human trafficking, to rehabilitate those suffering from sexual exploitation and to draw them back into the mainstream. These centres are operated by not-for-profits at the district level. Shivmangal Shikshan Samiti is one such group. 

More than a thousand women and girls have been registered at this home since 2013. It has also hosted inmates belonging to other states such as Assam, Odisha, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Bihar, Delhi and West Bengal. About 325 of them have been sent back over the years.

Maurya alleged the three girls who ran away from the shelter were “mentally disturbed” and he also questioned their morals. “These girls are used to sex, and crave it. They are mentally disturbed, and that is why police leave them under our care,” Mauyra had told Gaon Connection before his arrest.

Priyanka Shukla, the lawyer who raised the issue, has questioned the role of the police. “Even in 2017, we reported that something wrong was going on in this centre, but no one paid heed to us. Even now, no action has been taken against the shelter home operator, while an FIR has been lodged against the person who helped the girls escape from here. An FIR has been lodged against a female employee for beating up inmates and not allowing them to meet their families. The FIR does not mention the inmate who has accused Jitendra Maurya of rape,” Shukla told Gaon Connection.

Rachna narrates a harrowing tale of abuse. “Four days after coming here, Jitendra sexually assaulted me. At night, they used to feed us sedative-laced food, so we would not be able to raise an alarm even if we were being abused. My body used to ache a lot when I got up in the morning. I was raped once when I was conscious and aware of what was happening. I don’t know what they did to me the other times,” Rachna said. The two other women who fled the shelter also confirmed Rachna’s version and said inmates were drugged and sent out for sex work.

What happened on January 17?

A 20-year-old woman named Seema (name changed), who had married against her family’s wishes, had a fight with her husband and reached the shelter, leaving her seven-month-old daughter. “That very night, at about 9.30, I heard Jitendra speak to someone over phone that three girls, one of whom had come in just that day, could be picked up from him. I got afraid and resolved to run away from there in the morning,” she told Gaon Connection.

Seema called her husband on January 17 to rescue her. When he arrived, he was asked to furnish certain documents. Despite giving them, he was told that it would take three days to process them, and if the baby was too young to be without the mother, she could be dropped off at the shelter too.

Image used for representation purpose only. Photo: Neetu Singh

Seema’s husband said that he went to the police station, but they said only those running the shelter could help. When he returned to the shelter, some of the inmates requested him to rescue them, because they were being ill-treated. “My wife also asked me to somehow get her out. The home officials  questioned me for ninety minutes, but refused to let my wife come with me. My family was waiting outside and pushed their way in. I managed to sneak my wife and two others to a police station,” he said.

The police, he alleged, did not listen to them, and instead filed a case against him for forcing his way into the home and fleeing with the girls. “I have recorded this conversation,” he said.

A teacher who taught at the home for a month and a half, told Gaon Connection on condition of anonymity that “I quit because the atmosphere there was very bad. Unrelated men used to visit the place and I came to know that the inmates were being inappropriately touched, ogled at and subjected to lewd talk. Most of the women living there are disturbed, and many do not speak out of fear”, the teacher said.

The police version

Jai Prakash Gupta, the in-charge at Sarkanda police station, said the police “have written what was reported to us. None of the victims mentioned they had been sexually abused”. In fact, he said, “Jitendra Maurya Ji had lodged an FIR against Seema’s husband and father that they had forcibly broken into the home at night and taken away two girls, one of whom was a gang-rape survivor, besides Seema. The investigation is going on, and nothing has been established so far,” he told Gaon Connection.

Read the story in Hindi.