Sehespur, Dehradun: For close to a week, a 14-year-old girl gang-raped by four of her seniors in a Dehradun school, was confined to a room and force-fed a concoction of herbs, chillies and papaya till she began suffering cramps and vomiting.
All this because her school authorities, having learnt that she had become pregnant, attempted to induce a miscarriage in a bid to ‘save the school’s reputation’. It was only after their efforts failed did they take her to a local clinic, where they were finally exposed.
The incident, reported on 14 August 2018, had shocked the country not only because of this elaborate effort at a cover-up but also because the perpetrators were four Class 12 students.
Now, nearly eight months on, the trial is underway in the case while the Uttarakhand High Court last week granted bail to all of the accused, which includes the four students, three of whom are minors, and five members of the school administration — director Lata Gupta, principal Jeetendra, hostel warden Manju, administrator Deepak Malhotra and his wife, hostel in-charge Tanu Malhotra. All of them had been arrested on 16 September.
The school, run by a Sikh trust, has lost its CBSE affiliation but it has managed to obtain permission from the state education department to conduct classes for students up to Class 8. It has, however, shut its girls’ hostel.
ThePrint revisits the story, having accessed statements of the accused and the victim, her medical report, and other evidence on record to piece together the details of a horrific sexual assault and a brazen attempt at a cover-up that followed.
Boys chose her as ‘she was submissive’, boasted about it
Located 30 km from Dehradun, the school sits atop a plateau overlooking the Himalayan foothills. An imposing iron gate guards the 900-square yard campus.
A few metres left of the main gate is the two-storey girls’ hostel, shut since the incident.
Further ahead are two academic blocks facing each other, separated by a playground.
On the right of the main gate is an under-construction structure that the management had been building to accommodate more students.
It was here on 14 August 2018, with rehearsals underway for an Independence Day function, that the four boys allegedly called the girl. She was brought there by one of the boys who had told her that the music teacher was looking for her.
She reached the building, only to find the three other accused already in the room. They allegedly dragged her to a corner of the room and then took turns to rape her. When she tried to resist, the boys allegedly muffled her screams and then threatened to rape her younger sister, who also studied in the same school.
They kept her in the room for over an hour before fleeing.
In their statement to police, the boys have claimed that they chose her as they believed she was “submissive” and would not call them out. They allegedly planned the assault a night before the incident, one of investigating officers of the case told ThePrint.
“We thought she would not complain. She is of a shy nature,” reads the statement of one of the accused. “A boy had earlier touched her but she had not complained.”
According to police, the boys allegedly boasted of “having done it” with the girl two days after the incident.
“The boys themselves began boasting about it in front of their classmates,” the investigating officer said. “This made the girl even more nervous and she stopped going to school. Everyone started talking about it but even then school authorities took no action.”
Instead, police said, the school administration shifted the four accused to another branch of the school in Dehradun.
‘You must have consented’
For the girl, her ordeal was just beginning. While she returned to her hostel right after the incident, she didn’t attend school the next day.
In her statement to police, the girl has said that she decided to confide in Tanu Malhotra, the hostel warden, who is also the wife of the school administrator Deepak Malhotra.
“When the girl told Tanu Malhotra of what had happened, instead of taking action she began cursing the girl,” the police investigator told ThePrint. Malhotra allegedly blamed the minor and threatened to get her rusticated if she spoke of the incident to anyone.
“She (Tanu) said ‘teri galti hai. Itni aur ladkiyan hai, kisi aur ko kyu nai kiya. Tune uksaya hoga‘ ( It is your fault. There are so many other girls around, then why did this happen only to you? You must have encouraged them),” reads the girl’s statement. “She further told me she will get me rusticated and my career will get ruined if I escalate the matter. She said my father will be ostracised.”
Matters reached a head on 9 September when the girl missed her periods. This time, police said, the girl approached Manju, the help at the hostel. But Manju, who allegedly knew of the gang rape by then, informed school director Lata Gupta.
As the news worked its way down the school administration’s ranks, Tanu Malhotra allegedly confined the girl in her room and made her undergo a pregnancy test. Malhotra then allegedly again threatened to rusticate her after the test came back positive.
“Lata got scared and told the girl that she had got a bad name to the school and that she would ‘fix’ her,” the investigating officer said. “She then attended a meeting with the school director, principal and the coordinator.”
The six-day nightmare
The outcome of the meeting, police said, was that the management decided to induce a miscarriage in the girl. For over six days after her pregnancy was confirmed, she was allegedly kept in a room, given karha (spice mix) and a special meal cooked by Tanu Malhotra.
“She whipped up a black liquid each morning and force fed it. It was sticky, made of gur (jaggery) and herbs,” the girl has said in her statement.
“She also gave her food with a lot of chillies, raw papaya and a concoction of herbs to induce a miscarriage,” the investigating officer said. “She even gave the girl some pills and checked on her every two hours to see if she had started bleeding. This went on for almost six days.”
The force-feeding allegedly only stopped on the seventh day when the girl began to complain of severe cramps and vomiting. She began frequenting the washroom and also complained of spotting.
Tanu Malhotra, police said, informed her husband, Deepak Malhotra, and director Lata Gupta.
Both Deepak and Lata then allegedly posed as the girl’s parents and took her to a local clinic, on 16 September, where they informed the doctor that “their daughter” was having “irregular periods”.
The case file states that the doctor at the local clinic allegedly prescribed a host of medicines for the girl without carrying out a medical check-up.
According to the prescription, of which ThePrint has a copy, the girl was prescribed Maxirich, a multi-vitamin pill; FericipXT, which is used to treat anaemia during pregnancy; Aspydial syrup that is used for uterine disorders, bleeding gynaecological conditions and menstrual irregularities, and Estil, for a pre-menstrual dysphoric disorder.
The doctor opined that irregular periods may be due to stress and also suggested an ultrasound. The duo, however, refused to get one done.
“They did not get an ultrasound as they feared that the doctor may find out about the pregnancy,” the investigating officer said. “We have taken on record the CCTV footage of the hospital, the doctor’s statement and the prescription as evidence.”
Police, however, received a tip-off from the clinic about a suspected abortion attempt and the suspicious couple. The Dehradun police immediately formed two teams — one which headed to the clinic and another that conducted raids in the school.
“The four accused and five from the school management were immediately arrested,” Ashok Kumar, DG (law and order), Uttarakhand police, told ThePrint. Following the arrest, the girl was rescued and kept in custody of the child welfare committee (CWC).
Father had called on the same day
On the day that the girl was taken to the hospital, her father had called the hostel and asked for her. He was told that she was taken to the hospital as she was suffering from a stomach ache.
Police said that when he began speaking to his younger daughter, some of her friends began prompting her to tell him the truth.
“The girls knew. They told the younger sister to tell her father that the 14-year-old had been taken for an operation,” the investigating officer said. “The father then grew suspicious and asked the younger daughter to tell him everything. It was then that she told her father that ‘something bad’ had happened to her sister and called him to the hostel.”
The girl’s father then called the school authorities to ask what the matter was. He was, however, allegedly told that the girl was suffering from food poisoning and which is why she was taken to the hospital.
Within hours of the call, however, police had reached the school to conduct raids before arresting the accused.
The girl was rescued and kept in the custody of the child welfare committee (CWC), till her parents arrived.
Students are suffering, says new principal
On this hot April day, the school wears an empty look. Classes are only scheduled to begin at the end of the month and as such, only a few staff members are sorting books to be distributed to students of up to Class 8.
The school is run by a trust and has three more branches — two in Dehradun and one in Ludhiana. It charges Rs 1,800 a month as fee and has a staff of over 100 teachers for over 270 students.
Since the incident, the entire management has been revamped.
New principal Gurpreet Kohli attempts to make a case for why the school’s CBSE affiliation should be restored. “The incident is now in the past, the culprits have been arrested and the entire management has been changed, why shut it down now?” she asks.
She goes on to add that the loss of the CBSE affiliation has most affected students of Classes 9 and 11 as they now have to find other schools if they want to write their board exams.
“The state should understand that it is about the future of so many students and their parents who depend on this school,” she added. “To shift to a new school at such a crucial time is risky. No one wants to do that. Parents come to me each day and ask me to get the CBSE affiliation back but I am helpless.”
Kohli further cites the infamous murder of a child in a public school in Gurugram to buttress her point that this incident should not lead to the school shutting down.
“There are so many such cases reported in schools but those schools have not been shut. So why us?” she asks. “Our teachers are also suffering. They have families to support, they have children, how do we lay them off in a day?”
The principal further said that the school has upgraded its security. “We have now installed CCTV cameras and have shut down the girl’s hostel,” she said. “We have now fulfilled all the required guidelines. At least now the state can think of reopening the school. At least for the sake of the students.”
Speaking to ThePrint, Usha Negi, head of the State Commission of Protection of Child Rights (SCPCR), however, said that the school was still flouting norms. “When I went to visit the school, there were no CCTV cameras, no security nothing,” she said. “They had not even fulfilled the basic criteria required for running a boarding school. I do not understand how these schools thrive and no one even notices.”
It was the SCPCR that had written to the state education department urging it to cancel the school’s CBSE affiliation.