Mankhurd Shelter Abuse: 3-Member Probe Panel Appointed

Expressing shock over Maharashtra government's "insensitivity" towards condition of women in shelter homes across the city, the Bombay High Court today appointed a three-member committee to look into allegations of sexual abuse by inmates at the state-run Navjivan Mahila Vastigrah in suburban Mankhurd.

The committee will comprise Asha Bajpai of Tata Institute of Social Science, Dr Harish Shetty and Deputy Commissioner of police (Highway Traffic Division) Rashmi Karandikar.

The panel has been directed to visit and inspect the condition of the shelter home at Mankhurd and look into allegations levelled by a woman that several men armed with weapons used to enter the home at night and rape as well as assault the women housed there.

A division bench of Chief Justice Mohit Shah and Justice N M Jamdar was hearing a petition based on a letter sent by activist Purnima Upadhyay raising concerns about safety of women lodged at the Mankhurd shelter home.

The court had last week also issued notice to Maharashtra government after taking up the issue suo moto (on its own) following a newspaper article on the woman who escaped from the protective home along with 22 others.

Government pleader D A Nalavade today told the court that the crime branch was probing the allegations of sexual assault levelled by the woman.

He submitted an affidavit filed by Ambadas Pote, deputy commissioner of police (Crime) stating that no incident of rape or sexual assault has ever happened at the protective home.

The affidavit further said that 12 staff members, 58 inmates, 24 police personnel posted at the home and six NGO members frequently visit and interact with the inmates and none of them have seen any man entering the house with weapons and raping the inmates.

The bench was, however, not satisfied with the probe and said the crime branch appeared to have merely inquired into the specific allegation of armed men barging into the home and raping women at knife point.

"The video-taped interview of the woman states that some men would visit the home, and on their request the woman care-takers would ask inmates to go out with the men and those who refused were tortured," the court said. 

The bench was also irked that the crime branch had not yet registered FIR in the matter.

"One statement of one witness is sufficient to lodge an FIR. This woman's statement contains more than sufficient material to lodge an FIR. What more does the police want?" the Chief Justice asked.

Appointing a committee to probe into the issue, the court said the crime branch will not investigate the matter.

The court has now posted the matter for further hearing on November 26 on which the committee will have to submit its report.

Emerging story. Watch this space for updates as more details come in
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