On 13 July, a 15-year-old school girl was raped and killed metres away from her house in a small hamlet in western Maharashtra’s Maratha-dominated Ahmednagar district. The terror caused by the incident was so severe that parents stopped sending their daughters to school after that. But measures by the government like public consultations, starting of a temporary police beat in the area, beginning of a special school bus for children, and morale-boosting visits of senior officials helped the village regain normalcy. Today, the village has started sending its children back to school because of the new ferry service, which has been launched especially for the school children.
The village has now demanded the concretisation of a kuccha road so that the regular ST buses can ply from the village. “That way, our children will be able to travel to college by ST buses. Otherwise, we don’t want to send our daughters to school after Class X. We want to marry them off. Who will take the risk of sending young girls on such secluded roads?” asked Krushna Vishnu Nalawade.
“Yes, we were very scared to send our daughters to school. The closest school from here is five kilometres away in Kuldharan or in Shinda. Children have to walk or cycle alone for the distance. The road passes through uninhabited patches of grazing land and open spaces. Who will take the risk?” asked Appasaheb Vitthal Sudri, a farmer and father of a 15-year-old girl. He has now shifted his family to the nearby taluka centre of Karjat, so his children can get educated in a good school without any fear.
After the news of the incident spread, many government officials and political leaders visited the place. But it was the women in the system who showed extra sensitivity in the matter and took proactive measures for building confidence in the hearts of the people.
Pune police commissioner Rashmi Shukla visited the village and held a long discussion with the schoolgirls. “Don’t be afraid. You have to go ahead and educate yourselves. What are you scared of? If you see anything wrong happening, just call the police. I will see how the police don’t come to your help immediately,” she is learnt to have told the girls.
“Her talk was such a huge morale-booster for our girls. They felt strong. They assured her that they would go to school. Even after returning home they told us that they would not sit at home because of fear,” said Satish Madhav Sudri.
“I am happy my talk was appreciated by the village. I didn’t do anything special. It was just a pep talk. The villagers wanted someone to listen to their grievances. The girls wanted someone to talk to them in their language. I just acted as a bridge. The girls should continue their education,” Rashmi Shukla told The Sunday Guardian.
Last week, a three-member team of Maharashtra State Commission for Women held a special consultation at the village. A member of the consulting team was a psychiatrist. Parents said that the session helped them raise their concerns, and helped the girls understand that they should express their displeasure at uninvited advances.
“We told Vijaya madam (Vijaya Rahatkar is the chairperson of Maharashtra State Commission for Women) that there is no school bus to send our children to school 5 km away. She immediately called the Shrigonda depot. An ST bus service was declared the same day. It has been two days that the bus has started plying. It is a huge relief. We are now sending our children to school again,” said Ashok Dadasaheb Ghalme.
“The ferry service has been launched from yesterday. The ST bus reaches the village by 9.30 a.m. For girls till Class X, the facility is free. For boys, they have to pay Rs 500 at the depot, and get their card done,” Gajanan Kondiba Madane, the conductor of the bus, told the correspondent. D.M. Kale, the driver of the bus, said the response was tremendous. “Over 60 children have started going to school in this bus since yesterday. And we are getting more children,” he said.
The villagers also complained of a lack of a police station nearby. “I called the SP of Ahmednagar and requested him to start a temporary beat nearby,” said Vijaya Rahatkar. A temporary beat has been started at Kuldharan, five kilometres away from the village.
“We realised that the village was scared. So we went there with a team of specialists including a psychiatrist. We held an open session in the village. We talked with the girls. Through small incidents, we taught them they should not stay quiet through incidents of teasing. We told them that they should be vocal about unpleasant experiences. ‘There are elders around you who you can trust. It can be your mother or your elder sister or any other family member. If any untoward incident happens, you have to approach them immediately, take them in confidence and tell them about the incident. In no situation should you stay mum,’ we told them,” Rahatkar said.
These confidence-building measures and concrete steps have alleviated fear in the minds of the people. “If only the government can interfere and start better transport service, we can think of sending our daughters for higher education,” said Subhash dada Kanade.