Some of the girls at the Deoria shelter home said they were beaten, sexually harassed and married off to men twice their age, according to women counsellors who spoke to the rescued inmates on Tuesday.
Girija Tripathi, the shelter home manager, used to organise mass marriages and was the supervisor of one such function held in February this year, it was alleged, according to a woman counsellor, who spoke to some of the girls.
The counsellor further said the girls had confided to her that some girls were married off to older men by Girija in a similar function last year. The veracity of the claim, however, could not be confirmed.
At least six women counsellors from the state Women Power Line (a helpline for women in distress) spoke to the girls, who are now being kept at a shelter home for minor boys, after their rescue.
Besides physical harassment, a 15-year-old girl alleged sexual harassment, a counsellor said. “The girl claimed to have been sexually harassed but did not give details,” said a woman counsellor, who spoke to the girl.
“The girls seem to be in shock after the incident. We believe they will open up further about harassment once they feel safe here,” the counsellor added.
One of the counsellors said the girls also spoke of the abysmal living conditions, and constant physical harassment at the hands of Girija Tripathi.
“Madam khane bas do bar deti thi aur jhadu din main teen bar lagwati thi. Kuch bhi bolne par marne lagti thi (Madam used to give us two meals a day but asked use to sweep the floor three times a day. She used to hit us if we said something to her,” a 13-year-old girl rescued from the Deoria shelter home said, according to a woman counsellor on Tuesday.
According to the girls, they were forced to rise before 5am to complete the daily chores which started with sweeping and mopping the floor. The exercise took over two hours and was repeated three times a day. “The morning cleaning use to end at around 8am after which we were released so that we could bathe,” said another 15- year-old girl, who was at the shelter home for seven months.
A meagre breakfast of chapattis and pickle was provided. “The food was rationed to two chapatis only. We often used to give a piece of our chapati to the younger girls who said they were hungry,” said the girl. Asking for more food meant inviting a barrage of verbal abuse and occasional beating, they claimed.
“Badi madam aur choti madam dono hi marte the (Both senior madam and junior madam used to hit us),” the girl added, suggesting physical abuse by Girija Tripathi and her daughter, according to the woman counsellor.
The girls had a short breather before another round of cleaning in the afternoon. The same drill was repeated early in the evening before dinner. The girls were provided dinner at around 8pm. Chapatti was occasionally accompanied by a ‘watery vegetable’.
It was close to the final round of cleaning that a girl from Bettiah, Bihar, escaped from the shelter home and reached the women’s police station on Sunday. She was taken to the Deoria superintendent of police who ordered a police raid on the shelter home.
The girls were also prohibited from moving freely even within the shelter compound. They alleged they were forced to sleep in rooms without fans and no heating was provided in winter.