Counsellor who worked at Amboli’s St Catherine's Home for underprivileged girls, says that its caretakers torture the inmates with mental, physical and verbal abuse. FIR lodged against home, investigations on
A counsellor who was hired by St Catherine's Home in Amboli, Andheri (West) —home to over 300 underprivileged girls, aged between four and 20 — to work with its children, has alleged cruelty towards the young women at the hands to the shelter staff.
Mother of a victim narrates how her daughter was made to rub her nose on a staffer's sandal for drinking water from a water tap
The counsellor, a social worker from the Malad-based NGO A Step Towards Life, was hired to help the female inmates and conduct modules on anger management, coping skills, stress and time management, parenting and life skills to improve the facility. She said that her one-on-one interactions with them, who come from traumatic and abusive backgrounds and were brought to the home to provide a safe environment, revealed signs of physical, emotional, mental, psychological and verbal abuse from the caretakers.
"I noted that nearly 90 per cent of them suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), cognitive dysfunctional behaviour, triggered by depression, feelings of shame and self-blame, eating disorders, somatic concerns, anxiety, dissociative patterns, repression and unhealthy relationship problems. These are linked to traumatic abuse," she said, requesting anonymity.
The counsellor, who worked at the home for less than three months, educated the victims and their parents of their rights and accompanied them to the police station where she helped them lodge a complaint against the 94-year-old institution. On March 30, based on the statement of 15 girls, the Amboli police registered an FIR against the administration for abusing physically, mentally and sexually abusing the children. Officers from Amboli police station, on condition of anonymity, said they are in the process of recording statements of at least eight other girls.
St Catherine's Home in Amboli, Andheri West. Pic/Ajinkya Sawant
A case was filed under IPC Sections 509 (word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman) 323 (punishment for voluntarily causing hurt), 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace), 349 (acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention) of which mid-day has a copy.
Last week, local MLA Dr Bharti Lavehkar raised the issue during the state assembly session at Mantralaya. The state government has now assigned the Mahila Bal Vikas Adhikari to conduct and inquiry and submit their report, based on which an administrator may be appointed to run the place.
The counsellor has alleged that the nuns who run the home-cum-shelter — which also has day borders — were verbally abusive and also beat the girls with sticks and chappals. "One inmate told me that on February 3, she was forced to rub her nose on a staff member's sandal and apologise for drinking water from a water tap. When she refused, she was beaten and made to write sorry on a piece of paper 100 times."
mid-day has the video of the girls and parents recounting the horrific incidents. A child narrates how on Sundays they would be served non-vegetarian food, ordered from the donations received. Vegetarian inmates, too, would be forced to eat rice with non-vegetarian gravy. Their other option was to starve.
"A sister even told a child 'where you have come from, the way you act and wear lipstick, you look like a va***ya'. On February 26, at 10.30 pm, a senior member of the facility visited the Dilkush cottage where 62 girls eat their meals and sleep. She pulled their blankets, took pictures while they were in their nightwear and made sexually abusive statements. The child felt too embarrassed to confess this to the cops, but she told me this," said the counsellor.
On March 8, after informing the respective parents, the counsellor brought the assaults to the notice of the school management. On March 30, the victims and their parents approached the police, as well as officials from the Development of Women and Children, Ministry of Women and Children, the Prime Minister's Office and the State Human Rights Commission. They also approached Lavehkar.
mid-day has a copy of the FIR and the handwritten complaint signed by nine girls, addressed to the CWC. They paid a heavy price for lodging the complaint, as all of them have been suspended from the home.
According to Sharda Talreja, chairperson CWC, their committee has heard of malpractice at the institution. "We are scrutinising the data collected after which we will file the report. If need be, we will approach the High Court for justice," Talreja added.
Sister Superior Flavia from St Catherine refused to comment on the issue and directed the reporter to the school principal Sister Julie, who demanded to know the identity of the complainants. "All complaints against us are false and we shall fight the situation in our own way. We do not give any comments over the phone," she said. However, she declined our request for a meeting.