Mumbai: Nuns shown the door for torturing orphanage kids at Amboli

May 11, 2017, 09:55 IST | Shailesh Bhatia

Five nuns of St Catherine's Home have been transferred from the shelter for inflicting physical and mental abuse on the inmates; after a year-long inquiry on the matter following mid-day's report

The 95-year-old St Catherine’s Home in Amboli came under scrutiny last year after some inmates filed an FIR alleging mental and physical abuse; (left) mid-day’s report on April 10, 2016, on the abuse
The 95-year-old St Catherine’s Home in Amboli came under scrutiny last year after some inmates filed an FIR alleging mental and physical abuse; (left) mid-day’s report on April 10, 2016, on the abuse 

The inmates of St Catherine's Home, Amboli, have finally got some sense of justice. Over a year after mid-day reported the mental and physical abuse of some inmates of this home, a state committee has come down heavily on the shelter for brushing aside the allegations.

Its 35-page investigation report has confirmed that the allegations of abuse are true and recommended that the five nuns-cum-caregivers named in an FIR filed last year be transferred.

Also read - Mumbai shelter horror: Inmate forced to rub nose on staff's sandal

The committee, in its report prepared on April 13, said the shelter's treatment of the complainants violated the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act and recommended stringent action against it if it doesn't mend its ways.

The report clarified that overall, the shelter is a "fit institution" to provide care and protection to underprivileged girls, but it slammed the actions of the five staff members named in the FIR. It deemed the act by one of the nuns to photograph a girl's naked body while sleeping criminally wrong. The nun had claimed that she was only pretending to take photos of the girl. It also questioned the disciplinary methods employed by the shelter.

Besides, the committee pulled up the Child Welfare Committee (CWC) for failing to identify the seriousness of the allegations and its reluctance to give a proper hearing to the complainants. It panned the CWC for waking up only after the registering of the FIR and the mid-day report.

Appalling abuse
On April 10 last year, mid-day had unearthed the shocking abuse of some inmates of the shelter for underprivileged girls. A counsellor, Renu Gill, who worked with the inmates for a little under three months, found that some girls had undergone physical, emotional, mental, psychological and verbal abuse at the hands of their caregivers. Gill, a social worker from Malad-based NGO A Step Towards Life, had been hired to help the inmates and conduct modules on anger management, coping skills, stress and time management, parenting and life skills to improve the facility.

Although she found that nearly 90 per cent of the inmates exhibited signs of post-traumatic stress disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), cognitive dysfunctional behaviour, feelings of shame and self-blame, eating disorders, somatic concerns, anxiety, dissociative patterns, repression and unhealthy relationships, only a few could summon the strength to take on their abusive caregivers.

Panel formed
Gill helped the inmates and their parents approach the Child Welfare Committee (CWC) and then the police after the CWC refused to take cognisance of the complaint. An FIR was filed against the reputed 95-year-old shelter at Amboli police station on March 30 last year based on the statement of 15 girls, for their mental, physical and sexual abuse.

At the same time, Gill raised the issue with the department of women and child development, the State Human Rights Commission and local MLA Dr Bharti Lavehkar.

The women and child welfare development department directed the formation of a six- member committee, comprising a district advocate, a district women and child development officer, a representative from the district child protection unit (Mumbai suburban and the CWC, and a probation officer from its own wing. After months of inquiry, the committee nailed the abusers.

Manoj Patankar, probation officer from women and child development department who was part of the committee, said all staff members of St Catherine's Home named in the FIR as well as other complaints have already been transferred. "We visited the shelter recently and found that the issue has been resolved. We are keeping an eye on more complaints of similar nature from the home. Our aim is to protect vulnerable children against any kind of physical or mental harm."

Gill, however, questioned if transferring abusive caregivers to another shelter was a suitable punishment.

5 No. of nuns whose transfer the committee has recommended

The panel's findings

  • Five sisters, including the principal who failed in her duties as the in-charge to guide and regulate the staff are to be transferred
  • Overall, the institution is fit to provide institutional care. Some girls have faced neglect, physical and mental harassment from some staff members of St Catherine's Home.
  • In case corporal punishment by the staff continues even after the WCD department recommendations, strict initiatives regarding registration cannot be ruled out.
  • The errant staff was supposed to handle the situation sensitively, instead of using illegal abusive methods of correction, which amount to corporal punishment.
  • A Sister had committed a crime by using a cellphone to photograph a girl's naked parts, even though she claimed she was only pretending do so.
  • Some of the correction methods used were not fit to be used by caregivers.
  • CWC suburban mumbai district failed to give space to the aggrieved children to hear their grievance against the staff and also failed to identify the key serious issue of corporal punishment, nor did it take concrete steps in the best interest of the children.
  • CWC became active only after the FIR was lodged and an article was published in news media.

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