Rohtak: Jaswanti’s Hell Hole
Hardnews investigates the horrific underworld of bestiality and sexual abuse inside a government-backed shelter home for children and girls in Haryana. With influential link-ups in this perverse syndicate, is there a massive cover up being engineered from the top?
Sadiq Naqvi Rohtak (Haryana)
Situated in Shri Ganganagar, a middle class neighbourhood in the heart of Rohtak, the palatial ‘Apna Ghar’ (Our Home, ironically!) was meant to be a shelter home for all those who have no place to go. This was a ‘home’ for orphans, the mentally challenged, and those girls who have been thrown out of their homes for insisting they would marry outside their families’ consent— a crime in a land where khaps have a history of organised honour killings. The board on the entrance informs that Apna Ghar has the support of the state and central government. Discreet neighbours, in hushed tones, say that this was a ‘dubious hub of sorts’ with a regular flow of visitors, including district officials, politicians, cops. The neighbours confided that they never met any inmate because they rarely ventured out. Hence, they claim, they had no clue about the horror stories being enacted inside the walls of this closely guarded premises. (Update 1: Recent reports suggest that a massage parlour also functioned inside the premises of the shelter home and that CBI is probing the role of three MLAs who are said to be regular visitors).
The ghastly tale unfolded on May 9 this year when three ‘juvenile’ girls somehow managed to reach Meerut in UP. They were able to contact Childline, a help group in Delhi. Fortunately, the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) got into action. It asked its consultants to meet the girls who were lodged in Delhi. Thus emerged the narratives of an organised underworld of bestiality, sex abuse and brutality inside this government-backed shelter of home for children and girls.
What the children narrated was indeed horrific. Among other gory details, they complained that they were kept for days without food, routinely beaten up for no reason by Jaswanti Devi, the much-awarded warden of Apna Ghar, and that her son-in-law and others were sexually abusing the inmates, who were forced to ‘perform’ inside the shelter home.
The details are so gory that Vinod Kumar Tikoo, member, NCPCR, after hearing the initial story, decided to immediately rush to Rohtak to carry out a surprise inspection. Another member of NCPCR, Dinesh Laroia, too, was asked to reach Rohtak, the hometown and constituency of Haryana Chief Minister Bhoopinder Singh Hooda.
The raid exposed a can of dirty dealings and organised exploitation of children, including girls, the mentally challenged and teenaged/adult girls. The administration, the police, the state government, which had earlier awarded Jaswanti Devi, continued to feign ignorance; not a single top official from the city has been punished or transferred – the top brass has been left untouched.
The Apna Ghar scandal is nothing but a massive, diabolical cover up. Why?
So widespread is this shadow of complicity, fear and silence that even the neighbours feigned ignorance and came up with amazing excuses. “I have shifted to this place recently,” said one of them. “We never met Jaswanti Devi. I used to be in office the whole day,” remarked another. “Why are you involving us? Ask the police,” said another.
Clearly, the regular flow of visitors to Apna Ghar, which included cops, officials and reportedly even politicians, has intimidated the neighbours and inmates alike. So much so, that when the Punjab and Haryana High Court sent a team of lawyers accompanied by police to the shelter home to record statements, the children were reluctant to disclose anything. It was apparent that they were terrified by the police. “They pointed to the presence of police with us,” a lawyer member of the team told Hardnews. Asked an activist, “Why are children and girls so terrified of
Jaswanti, now in CBI custody, still appears unfazed. She was seen smiling and relaxed when she was brought to the Rohtak district court on July 13, 2012. She even told the media that if she opens her mouth many powerful people will be in trouble. “Sab yahan laddoo khaane aate the,” (Everyone used to come to Apna Ghar to eat the sweets) she said. Indeed, this story of sleaze, exploitation and perversity was being enacted for a long time right under the nose of the district administration, perhaps, with active complicity of all concerned.
“I was there for a little more than 24 hours. But even in that period, I was sure that something was terribly wrong about the place,” said Meghna, 25, (name changed), an insurance executive based in Rohtak. She would know. She was brought to Apna Ghar as an inmate three years ago. “Once you enter, you can’t open your mouth without the permission of Jaswanti Devi, leave alone go out,” she said. Among other stories, she told the story of how a 15-year-old girl was missing her home and crying when Jaswanti barged in and attacked her brutally with a scissor. “Jaswanti hit her with the scissor below the eye. It made a deep gash. She bled profusely. Even while the girl suffered, Jaswanti pushed her to the ground and put her feet on her chest. The girl kept crying in pain,” says Meghna.