Op-Ed: Time To Grasp The Nettle

By Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: There seems to be no end to the exploitation of minor girls studying in residential schools in the state’s tribal-dominated areas. If reports in a section of the local media are to be believed a class IX student has been found pregnant in Dasmantpur block of Koraput district after being allegedly raped by the cook of the school hostel. The accused is absconding and the family members of the victim are reported to have left home fearing stigma.

This is not the first incident of its kind in the state. Statistics show that 16 cases of teenage pregnancy were reported from residential schools run by the SC\ST development department between 2009 and 2018. Most of these cases were reported from tribal-dominated districts such as Nabarangpur, Mayurbhanj, Malkangiri, Sundergarh, Kandhmal and Koraput.

What is surprising is that such incidents have been taking place despite claims of action against errant school and hostel authorities by the government. The issue raises not only moral questions but also questions about the management of these schools. It is now more than clear that there is something seriously wrong with the management of these schools.

Apart from cases of sexual exploitation of girls these institutions have also been reporting other kinds of irregularities. For example last year there were media reports about 40 students of Tarlakota residential school in Korukonda block of Malkangiri district jumping the school boundary wall in the middle of the night and walking several miles to convey their grievances to the district collector.

Their problems ranged from lack of electricity and to drinking water facilities in their hostel. They had apparently taken up the issue with the school authorities but when they failed to get any response they decided to meet the top district authorities.

In yet another incident in 2016 a group of 73 girl students of a school in Mayurbhanj district had walked 30 kilometres to meet the then district collector at Baripada to convey their grievances against the newly appointed matron of their hostel. The girls, who had been complaining against the alleged misbehaviour of hostel authorities, declined the police offer to transport them to the collector’s office and chose to cover the distance of 16 kms on foot.

Such incident cannot and should not be dismissed lightly. Students will not take such extreme steps unless the circumstances force them to do so. It is extremely unfortunate that instead of devoting their time to studies they have been spending their time and energy on trying to draw the attention of the authorities to such problems.

With the management of schools and hostels in the tribal-dominated areas leaving much to be desired one can understand the vulnerability of students, especially girl students residing in hostels to abuse of various kinds. It is time government tightened the screws on the management and teachers of these schools to set things right. They should be made more accountable and punishment against errant behaviour should be made harsher. This has become a must.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)