JUSTICE AT THE END OF 3-YR-LONG CAMPAIGN AGAINST CRIMINAL ORPHAN HOMES
Yogesh. Sadhwani@timesgroup.com TWEETS @_MumbaiMirror
Three-and-a-half years after Mumbai Mirror exposed the brutal abuse of 19 mentally deficient children at an orphanage in Kavdas village of Thane district, a Sessions Court in Mumbai on Thursday convicted six of the eight accused, including the shelter home’s founder and his wife. The six were held guilty of charges ranging from rape, sodomy, attempt-to-murder and culpable homicide to torture and neglect. Their sentences range from five years to life in prison. The orphanage’s founder Pundalik Gole was found guilty of gang rape, sodomy, attempt-tomurder, culpable homicide and cruelty and sentenced to life imprisonment. His wife Sakshi Gole was sentenced to seven years in prison, found guilty of cheating, intimidation, abetment of attempt-to-murder and culpable homicide. KAVDAS TRIALJUSTICE AFTER THREE YEARS
Salim Sayyed, a teacher at the shelter, was found guilty of culpable homicide, gang rape, abetment of attemptto-murder, and molestation. He was sentenced to five years in prison. Another teacher Sikandar Pinjari was held guilty of gang rape, abetting attempt-to-murder, culpable homicide, and sodomy. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Two care-takers, Jitendra Chavan and Ramkrishna Bagul, were sentencedtotenyearsandfiveyearsinjail respectively. While Chavan was convicted for gang rape, sodomy, culpablehomicide,attempt-to-murderand neglect;Bagulwasfoundguiltyofmolestation,negligenceandabetmentof culpable homicide.
This newspaper first reported the horrifying details of what the children, some as young as seven, went through at the shelter home in its August 23, 2010 edition. All the children were rescued the same day and moved to another orphanage, where they told counsellors how they were routinely raped and sodomised after being forced to consume liquor. Those who resisted were branded with cigarettes and beaten black and blue.
Medical aid, for which the shelter received government funds, was unheard of at the shelter. Those who fell ill were locked up in a room and left to die. They ate, slept, and defecated in the same room till the end came. Investigations eventually revealed that in the months before the Mumbai Mirror expose, five children had died of hunger and lack of medical attention at the shelter.
All nineteen children rescued on August 23, 2010, were malnourished. Someofthemcouldnotevenstandup on their own.
Within days of the expose and the children’s rescue, the Bombay High Court took suo motu cognisance of the Mirror report and the Shahpur police filed a criminal case on September 4, 2010.
However, the cops booked the shelter home’s founder for only rape and torture of one of the girls and hurriedly submitted a charge sheet. In April 2011, this newspaper got hold of the charge sheet and pointed out how it was designed to only save those behindthechildren’sabuse.Alarmedby Mumbai Mirror’s report — ‘Ten things cops have ignored in Kavdas charge sheet’ – the high court ordered a fresh investigation by Assistant Commissioner of Police Rashmi Karandikar.
In July 2011, the team led by Karandikar filed a charge sheet and named nine accused, of which one is still on the run. The police consulted forensic experts and took help of psychiatrists to talk to the victims. The freshinvestigationclearlyestablished the sexual abuse of all 19 victims. Whenthecasecameupforhearingbefore the Sessions Court in November 2012, the trial judge added murder to the list of offences after one of the victims told the court that he had seen an inmate being killed by the shelter home’s founder. The charge, however, could not be proved.
After the Mirror expose in August 2010, three of the kids were reunited with their families. Their families recognised them from the photographs carriedinthispaperandcameforward to take them back home. The parents told the authorities that the kids had gone missing and despite best efforts could not be traced.
Delivering the judgment, PrincipalSessionsJudgeShaliniPhansalkar-Joshi said: “The children were subject to such form of tortures that they could not raise their voice against the people torturing them. This sentence should send correct message in the society.”
All the six convicted broke down in the court as they were pronounced guilty. Members of their families presentinthepackedcourtroomtoowere seen crying. Two of the eight booked in the case – Harshada Nichite and Sonal Shirke – were acquitted.
The delivery of judgement was scheduled for 11 am. However, the first set of accused arrived in the court only at 1 pm.
Once the judgment was pronounced, the judge asked the defence lawyers and special prosecutor Vaibhav Bagade if they were ready with their arguments for deciding the quantum of sentences. Immediately after the lunch break, both sides presented their case. While the prosecution sought leniency on the ground of someofthoseconvictedbeingthesole earningmembersoftheirfamilies,the prosecution pointed to their brutality toseekharshestpunishmentpossible.
Sixteen kids rescued from the shelterhomearecurrentlyatastate-runfacilityinMumbaiandareundergoinga rehabilitation programme designed by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS). Called Project Chunauti, the TISS programme has a different moduleforeachchildandsomeofthechildrenhavebeenfoundtobeborderline casewitharealchanceofbeingreintegrated with the mainstream society in the near future.
• August 23, 2010: Mirror paid a visit to an orphanage in Kavdas that housed 13 boys and 5 girls. Most of the children were starving and 5 were locked up in a room where they were forced to eat, sleep and defecate.
• August 23, 2010: The governmentrun Child Welfare Committee picked up the children, all of them certified mentally deficient, and bundled them off to homes in Ulhasnagar and Airoli.
• September 4, 2010: Bombay HC’s Chief Justice Mohit Shah issued instructions to initiate a suo motu Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the matter. Shahpur police was handed over the investigation.
• September 9, 2010: Six days after an FIR of rape and molestation was registered against Pundalik Gole, founder of Kavdas orphanage who had been absconding, he was finally arrested.
• September 10, 2010: Dr Asha Bajpai, amicus curiae, appointed by the Bombay High court in the suo motu PIL initiated by the HC to help the children, rapped the state authorities for reacting only after Mirror’s report.
• September, October 2010: After the Mirror expose, three of the kids were reunited with their families. Their families recognised them from the photographs carried in Mirror and came forward.
• April 6, 2011: Shahpur police filed a charge sheet in the case. Shelter home trustee Pundalik Gole was charged of rape, molestation, assault, intimidation and ill-treating the children.
• April 27, 2011: Mirror ran a detailed report on several loopholes in the charge sheet and 10 crucial leads that the Shahpur police ignored or didn’t investigate properly.
• May 4, 2011: ACP Rashmi Karandikar, who investigated the case of rape and abuse of 19 mentally and physically challenged girls at a Panvel orphanage, took over the Kavdas case.
• May 29, 2011: Ten months after the case came to light state’s Department of Women and Child Development — the body directly in-charge of such homes — told the High Court committee that it hadn’t received guidelines on how to rehabilitate mentally deficient children.
• June 1, 2011: After a month-long investigation, Karandikar’s team found that not 1, but all 5 girls at the orphanage had been sexually abused. Even the 13 boys said they had been sexually abused. 7 more people were arrested.
• July 27, 2011: A team headed by Karandikar submitted a fresh charge sheet, narrating how the horrors extended from pitiable living conditions, almost no food, physical abuse, violent rape of the girls, and sodomy of the boys.
• November 19, 2011: Trial begins in sessions court
• February 9, 2012: The Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) put in place a long-term rehabilitation plan titled ‘Chunauti’ for the rescued children along with 57 others drawn for orphanages across the city, to make them self-reliant by equipping them with vocational skills.
• May 4, 2013: The Mumbai Sessions Court added the charge of murder against the main accused and owner of the orphanage, Pundalik Gole, after three of the victims deposed that their fellow inmates had been stabbed and strangulated by him.
• December 5, 2013: The sessions court convicted six of the eight accused. They were held guilty of charges ranging from rape, sodomy, torture, neglect, attempt to murder and culpable homicide. Their sentences ranged from five years to life imprisonment.