Deoria, Uttar Pradesh:
Days after escaping from the “shelter home” she was in, the terrified 10-year-old reveals chilling details about ‘Ma Vindhyavasini’ – a horror house in the guise of a shelter home in Uttar Pradesh’s Deoria district.
She narrates how young girls, most between the ages of 5 and 15, were kept in rooms – never to be let out – not until “the cars would come to take us.”
“Some of the girls used to be taken away in cars that were parked outside, and would be brought back the next day,” she tells the police.
Residents and shopkeepers nearby confirm this, but say they never saw any activity that would raise suspicion.
“Cars would come in the evening, but I was not aware of the purpose,” a local resident, who didn’t want to be named, told the police. He said there was never any problem or quarrel with the people in the cars, “so it never crossed our minds why the cars came and where they went,” he said.
He went on to say that he never heard any noises, or saw any suspicions activity. Things seemed “normal”, he said.
Another shopkeeper, who sits just a few paces away from the “shelter home”, said, “Once I noticed girls in a car, but I thought they were going for some event.”
Another local said, “I used to notice cars in the evenings, and sometimes saw people who looked like officials come and go from the place, but I never came to know the purpose of their visits.”
During a visit to the shelter home – now sealed – a correspondent from news agency PTI was told by local residents that no one in the neighbourhood ever saw any girl on the terrace, or outside the home. But they confirmed that cars used to come there in the evenings.
The so-called “shelter home” was run by the ‘Ma Vindhyavasini Mahila Prasikshan Evam Samaj Seva Sansthan’. It is located in front of the Deoria railway station, and has many shops, including a diagnostic centre, function from the same building.
The home, which was located on the upper floor of the building, had stairs reaching right into a room. Inside there are six other rooms, a kitchen, a toilet and a balcony. There is also a terrace above it, people aware of the layout of the building said.
Next to the building, there is a lane into which two back doors of the shelter home open. There is a liquor shop in the same lane. Some residents had heard rumours of “flesh trade” going on in the neighbourhood, but never suspected the very-prominently located shelter home.
Although the licence of the shelter home was suspended over a year ago – in July 2017 – the local police had continued sending rescued girls there, as no other protection home for girls existed in the area.
As recently as July 26 and 27 this year, Chauri Bazaar police and Barhaj police had sent two girls to the shelter home.
On Sunday, the 10-year-old girl found an opportunity to run away.
She told the police that she was mopping the room which had the main door to the house. The shelter home manager, Girija Tripathi, was busy on the phone. She saw this as her chance to run away, and did exactly that, and ran straight to the police station. “It was like a prison,” she said.
Hearing the girl’s complaint, the police formed a team and raided the place on Sunday night. 24 girls were rescued.
Eighteen others were missing, the police had said, suspecting that the girls were being subjected to sexual abuse.
Yesterday, District Magistrate Amit Kishore and Superintendent of Police Rohan P Kanay said a register at the shelter home had 41 names. Of them, all but seven have been traced, they added.
The premises also housed a home for young children. The names of seven, most of them below 10 years old, were registered there. But the police did not come across any of them. Police teams are still tracing them.
On Tuesday, one of the missing girls was found at an old age home run by the same NGO in Gorakhpur.
One of the rescued girls told the police that some of the girls were often taken to Gorakhpur.
The Uttar Pradesh government has recommended a CBI inquiry into the Deoria shelter home case. Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath is personally monitoring the case, state women and child welfare minister Rita Bahuguna Joshi, said.
Ms Joshi admitted that there had been “laxity” at the district level in not shutting down the Deoria shelter even after a closure order last year.