The biggest question begging an answer with regards to the Deoria shelter home sex racket is how the home could still be functional despite its license being cancelled? Last year, the license of this home– Ma Vindhyavasini Mahila evam Balika Sanrakshan Grah (Women and Girls Shelter Home) – was cancelled following the findings of the Central Bureau of Investigation. The CBI investigation was looking into allegations of large-scale funding irregularities in several homes run by NGOs in the state. This home was also found guilty of financial irregularities. The license was cancelled and its government funding was also stopped.
In this connection, more than 15 letters were issued by the Department of Women and Child Welfare. These letters direct the district administration to shift the inmates of this home to Gorakhpur immediately. However, despite repeated directions, the district administration failed to act. On 30 July 2018, the then DM Sujit Kumar informed his seniors in Lucknow that his personnel were not being allowed into the home and expressed his inability to transfer the girls. An FIR was then lodged against the management of the home.
As it turns out now, not only was the administration unable to move the girls living in the home, it also did not stop sending more girls there. It is a blot on the functioning of the local police that despite their visiting the home routinely, they were unable to get a whiff of the sex racket that was going on literally under their nose. The shelter home has now been sealed.
How the scam broke: On Sunday night, a 10-year-old inmate of the Ma Vindhyavasini Mahila evam Balika Sanrakshan Grah (Women and Girls Shelter Home), managed to escape. She had been called to the ground floor by Girija Tripathi, the lady who runs the home and who is now under arrest, to clean up. While Girija was busy on a phone call, the girl who hails from Bettiah in Bihar, seized the moment and escaped. She ran to a nearby police station and informed them of the pitiable condition in the home. She told them that apart from regular beatings and being made to do menial jobs, the older girls were regularly sent out of the home in big cars. They would return the next morning.
Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath is personally monitoring the investigation. The medical examination of girls conducted and the report has been sealed. A two-man inquiry committee is going to present the findings so far to the chief minister on Tuesday evening.
Clues in the phone: Cops sending mobile phone of Girija Tripathi for technical forensic investigation. Call details to reveal the possible involvement of a lot of powerful people. She is known to have been close to senior officials posted in the area. Initial reports reveal that she was in regular touch with senior bureaucrats and police officers. Her daughter's phone is also being examined. The police expect to get more information about the alleged places where the girls were trafficked from the phones.
Social media evidence: Police are going through the social media accounts of Girija Tripathi as well as other employees of the shelter home. Reportedly, they have come across photographs of social gatherings and parties where Girija and girls from the shelter home are seen with government and police officials. Some of these parties were reportedly held in Lucknow. Girija Tripathi often had events and felicitation functions at the home where senior officials would be invited as chief guests.
Statements recorded: SDM Sadar, Ramkesh Yadav is taking the statements of the girls who have been rescued from the home. Two officials from Women's Helpline are also with him. Three of the young girls spoken to have revealed that they were sexually abused.
Counselling: The 24 girls rescued are also being counselled. The officials are collecting details of their names, age, address, duration of stay and are reassuring them as to their safety. They are also going into details of what all went on in the shelter home. The revelations of the girls regarding the ill treatment that was meted out to them has shocked the officials. Apart from being forced to do menial jobs, they were also sexually abused. But the mystery of where the rest of the girls are still remains. On the basis of the details in the nominal rolls of the home, there should be 42 girls. But only 24 have been rescued. So where are the rest of the 18 girls?
Who is Girija Tripathi: Girija Tripathi ran a sewing and embroidery centre in Deoria. Eight years ago, she got an NGO registered and the couple's fortunes changed. She started running the shelter home. Though the home was run in an old building, Girija reportedly soon became the owner of property and flats in the area.
Meanwhile, Rita Bahuguna Joshi, State Minister for Department of Women and Child Welfare assured that strict action will be taken against all those involved. Whether there is official 'negligence or connivance' will be revealed after investigations. But exemplary action will be taken.
Union Minister for Women and Child Development, Maneka Gandhi also expressed shock and said that there must be many such shelter homes in the country where such things may be happening. She said that MPs are not paying attention to such homes in their constituencies despite warnings. "Not a single MP has visited the shelter homes in his constituency to see what is happening behind closed doors," she said. She has asked for a central home for such children rather than NGO-run small homes where chances of abuse of inmates are high.
Former UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav said that the news of sexual abuse in a de-licensed shelter home in UPs Deoria clearly shows that for the government the issue of women's safety is only limited to lip-service.
BSP leader Mayawati said that there is jungle raj in BJP ruled states. Law and order and women's safety are not a matter of priority for them. This is a matter of shame and grave concern for the entire nation.
Deoria Time Line
Fifteen letters were sent but the home remained functional
13 June 2017: License cancelled
23 June 2017: Orders issued to transfer 28 inmates to shelter home in Gorakhpur and funding to Girija Tripathi's home cancelled
3 July 2017: Another letter sent to district administration
17 July 2017: Another letter sent to cancel license
31 October 2017: Terming the inaction by local administration as "willful disobedience" directions issued to DM Deoria to immediately transfer inmates to Gorakhpur.
28 June 2018: Another letter sent directing the DM to immediately transfer the inmates to Gorakhpur.
3 August 2018: Social Welfare Commissioner orders inspection of all women and children shelter homes in state