What the Deoria story tells you about India’s unwanted girls

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Deoria’s Station Road is a busy street, with glass-fronted buildings jostling older ones, where hawkers shout to be heard above the din of the trains. It is here, in a decrepit yellow building, that the now infamous Maa Vindhyavasini Mahila aur Balika Sanrakshan Grih operated.The doors of the shelter home have been sealed after the police rescued 23 inmates and arrested owner Girija Tripathi and her family on August 6. But just a week ago, the shelter was home to Deoria’s unwanted girls.
Girls who had been left on the streets to fend for themselves, or arrested when they eloped, or were too young or mentally ill to know when they had been abandoned found their way here. Neighbours saw them peeping out of windows, some even witnessed them trying to escape but no one intervened.Mohan Pandey, who runs a computer centre next to the shelter home, says, “The girls were forbidden from standing at the balcony as men would line up. Some girls had also attempted to escape from the balcony to the adjoining shop’s roof, but were caught. I did not know women were being taken away for sex work. I don’t believe it.”Only a few had parents who bothered to visit. They were not allowed beyond the ‘paramarsh kaksh’ or discussion room. The girls were confined in poky rooms with grand names such as Aravalli kaksh and Mandakini kaksh.Not even the suspension of its registration, after a CBI investigation for misappropriation of funds in June 2017, came in the way. Tripathi’s NGO continued to be registered with central adoption agency CARA. Railway station officer P Tripathi says that every month, they used to send four to five abandoned or lost children to the shelter: “There was no other place in Deoria to keep them”. Police officials confirmed that this was the only shelter for neighbouring Kushinagar and Basti as well.It took a 10-year-old whistleblower for the authorities to wake up. The young survivor, who landed up at the shelter after being dumped by her father and then grandmother, says in her baby voice, “Badi madam told me that when police officials come, don’t say anything or I will kill you. If some “bade adhikari” (senior officials) come, and they suggest going out, don’t say no.”About the ill-treatment at the home she says, “Didis would have money or food when they returned and sometimes bouquets of flowers but they would be crying. “She also added that madam did not use the busy Station Road exit to leave with the girls but the smaller entrance at the back.