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'Police inaction': Sexually assaulted, West Bengal girl forced to drop out, NHRC told

Counterview Desk 

West Bengal based human rights defender Kirity Roy, who is secretary, Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM), in a letter to the chairman, National Human Rights Commission, referring to the "grievous case of sexual assault and ragging" on a girl child in the residential school  Front Page Girls’ Academy, located in Deganga, North 24 Paraganas, has said that no initiative was taken by the police to initiate investigation or apprehend the accused despite a complained. 
"Jhuma Khatun Gazi received repeated threats telephonically, making her extremely scared for her daughter’s, her own, and her family’s safety", said Roy, regretting, the victim has been "forced to drop out of school, and she has not been able to secure admission in any other school so far; thereby discontinuing her education for more than 4 months. This violates her (aged 13 years) right to education as guaranteed in section 21A of the Indian Constitution."

Text:

I am writing to bring to your attention a grievous case of sexual assault and ragging on a girl child in the residential school named Front Page Girls’ Academy, located in Deganga, North 24 Paraganas, and subsequent hostility faced by the child and her parents from the school authorities, repeated threats delivered on behalf of the accused persons, and persistent inaction by the police. Said girl child has been forced to discontinue her education at the aforementioned school and she currently is unable to continue her education in any manner. Victim girl child and her family is living in constant fear due to repeated and continued threats, whereas the police has yet taken no steps to begin investigation or to provide the family with necessary protection.
Jesmin (name changed) Nahar (13 y/o, D/o Mr. Badruddin Mallik and Mrs. Jhuma Khatun Gazi, currently residing in Gopalpur Hat, Falta, South 24 Paraganas, West Bengal, Muslim by religion) is a brilliant student of Front Page Girls’ Academy, Dewanati, Hadipur, Deganga, under the jurisdiction of Deganga police station, in the Barasat sub-division of the district of North 24 Paraganas, West Bengal. Front Page Girls’ Academy is a privately run residential high school, however, students of this school are registered as students of Dhanyakuria High School for the Madhyamik examination as well as for any government scheme.
Jesmin (Name changed) Nahar was physically accosted, verbally abused and sexually assaulted brutally by her classmates and roommates in her hostel on 30th November, 2023. She narrated the incident to her mother, Jhuma Khatun Gazi, on the next day, 1st October, 2023, Sunday, when she came to visit her daughter at the hostel. Jhuma Khatun Gazi immediately informed the Headmistress, M/s. Fatematuz Zohra of this incident, but the headmistress refused to take any steps in this matter – on the contrary, she threatened the victim and instructed her to not report this matter or talk about this to anyone. Jhuma Khatun Gazi was forced to remove her daughter from said school, and on the very next day, 2nd October, 2023, arranged for her medical examination and treatment at Government health facilities in Biswanathpur and in Madhyamgram, and reported the matter in full detail to the police, and an FIR was lodged at the Deganga Police Station vide FIR no. 512/2023 under section 506 of the IPC and section 12 of POCSO (2012) by Mr. Syamprasad Saha, IC, Deganga Police Station, and Mr. Tushar Kanti Ghosh, SI, was assigned as the investigating officer.
However, no initiative was taken by the police to initiate investigation or apprehend the accused, and Jhuma Khatun Gazi received repeated threats telephonically, making her extremely scared for her daughter’s, her own, and her family’s safety. She was also unable to retrieve her daughter’s belongings from the school and has till date not been able to recover said items. She submitted complaints in this regard to the Superintendent of Police, Barasat Police district, and the District Magistrate, North 24 Paraganas on 10th October, 2023, with the details of the origin of the threatening calls, and appealed again to begin investigation, apprehend the accused persons, and keep her family safe. No actions were taken thereafter. On 1st November, 2023, Jhuma Khatun Gazi submitted another complaint to the SP, Barasat Police District, the Director General and Inspector General of Police, West Bengal Police, and the Chief Minister, West Bengal, also repeating her appeal to begin investigation, apprehend the accused persons, and keep her family safe, as well as complaining about the negligent and compromised role of Shyamprasad Saha, IC, Deganga PS and requesting that a different IO be assigned to this case in the light of this development. She has, in both her petitions, also requested that her daughter’s statement (in association with the cases where she is the victim) be recorded by the police, but even on that account – no initiative has been taken so far.
Currently, Jesmin (Name changed) Nahar, a promising student, is out of school and also unable to secure her admission in any other reputable school in the area because no school is willing to admit a new student into grade IX. She has been out of school since October, 2023, for more than 4 months now, at a critical period for her school education.
We would like to note that:
1.    A 13 years old girl child was sexually assaulted at her school (by her classmates) with force and intent, as well as physically and verbally abused and psychologically tortured. The Headmistress of said school M/s. Fatematuz Zohra, on being informed of this grievous incident, did not inform the local police station or a special Juvenile Police Unit of this sexual assault, which is in contrivance with Section 19 of the POCSO Act (2012). In fact, she threatened the victim and instructed her to not report this assault to anyone.
2.    It is amply clear that said school (Front Page Girls’ Academy) has taken no initiative to educate and sensitize its students against the practices of bullying, ragging, and sexual violation. Even after this terrible violation was reported to the headmistress, she has not undertaken any initiative to sensitize or educate the students on these matters, and has taken every possible step to not let any news of this concerning incident to come to light.
3.    The status of official registration of said school is also unclear, as the students are always asked to register themselves as students of Dhanyakuria High School. It is therefore also unclear where any complaint can be submitted pursuant to the aforesaid irregularities and violations in the school. When the District Inspector of Schools, North 24 Paraganas was approached in this matter, he clarified that said school does not fall under his jurisdiction.
4.    Victim has been forced to drop out of school, and she has not been able to secure admission in any other school so far; thereby discontinuing her education for more than 4 months. This violates her (aged 13 years) right to education as guaranteed in section 21A of the Indian Constitution.
A nexus exists between the police, civil administration, school education department and the influential owner of this school
5.    Minor victim and her family members are receiving threats from the accused party, and they are living in constant fear for their lives, safety, and well-being.
6.    Police has neither recorded a confidential statement of the victim (of sexual assault), nor have they started investigation into the matter yet. They have also not ensured that the victim does not have to come in contact with the accused, as the accused are roaming freely and issuing telephonic threats to the victim’s family. All of this is in contravention with section 24 of POCSO Act, 2012.
7.    Police has themselves called the victim’s family, stating that the case lodged in false, without conducting any investigation nor with any due process in court; and tried to coerce the victim’s family into extra-judicial negotiations with the accused party, and drop the case. This also amounts to criminal intimidation under section 503 of IPC. Police have also, despite repeated reports of threats, not taken any measures in ensuring the safety of the victim and her family.
8.    Despite repeated appeals to the appropriate higher authorities (SP, Barasat; DGP &IGP, WBP, CM, WB), no initiative to begin investigation, punitive action for negligence, or precautionary measures towards ensuring the victim and her family’s safety has been undertaken so far.
In this very grave situation, we request your immediate intervention, and place the following demands:
1.    The safety of the minor victim and her family must be ensured immediately with the highest priority. Towards this end: i. The perpetrators who issued threats to her family must be apprehended immediately. ii. The Investigating Officer who issued threats to her family must be removed from the case with immediate effect and a new investigating officer must be appointed.  iii. Any and all other precautionary measures must be undertaken by the police towards the protection of the safety and well-being of the victim and her family.
2.    The victim must be reinstated to a reputable school or a state-government run school accessible to her from her current place of residence in Gopalpur Hat, Falta, South 24 Paragans, with immediate effect, and her education must be restarted.
3.    The private owned residential school, namely Front Page Girls’ Academy is a completely illegal private business, run by one family; run this business without approval of the Education Department, Government of West Bengal. Though the school authority runs this school up to standard X, it has no facility for board examination for the students. A nexus exists between the police, civil administration, school education department and the influential owner of this school.
4.    Though the mother of the victim girl filed a written complaint to the District Magistrate, North 24 Pargana on 10/10/23 for child protection, the office of DM failed to take any action.
5.    The Child Welfare Committee must, with immediate effect, arrange for the medical and psychological care of the minor victim who has survived a grievous sexual assault, and thereafter been threatened, as well as been denied education thereafter. If the police did fail to report said case to the Child Welfare Committee as is prescribed in Sub-section (6) of Section 19 of POCSO Act, 2012, the responsible officers must be accused and brought to justice in accordance with the applicable provisions of law.
6.    Independent and complete investigation must be made into the functioning of Front Page Girls’ Academy, Deganga. Guidelines must be written and enforced in all schools to prevent ragging, bullying and sexual assault; and sensitization must be conducted in every school on these matters.
7.    Fatematuz Zohra, Headmistress, Front Page Girls’ Academy, and Shyamprasad Saha, SI, Deganaga PS, must be accused under the appropriate sections of IPC, CrPC, and POCSO, for failure to report sexual assault on a minor child, criminal intimidation of the victim, failure to record statement of minor victim of sexual assault, failure to begin investigation, and any and all other violations of the law that they have committed in this regard; and investigation into these matters must begin immediately.
8.    Investigation must begin immediately into this case vide FIR no. 512/2023 of Deganga P.S., Barasat Police District.

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