NHRC Seeks Explanation From Maharashtra Over Deaths of 500 Tribal Schoolgirls

The commission had first issued a notice in October followed by a reminder in November over the high incidence of deaths amongst tribal girl students in the state.

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Nearly 500 tribal girls in state-run ashram schools have lost their lives in the past decade. Credit: Reuters

Mumbai: The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) on Tuesday issued a notice to the Maharashtra government over the reported suspicious deaths of 500 tribal girls in state-run ashram schools over the past decade.

According to a report in The Hindu, the rights body has directed the state chief secretary to present a detailed report on the issue within six weeks.

Last week DNA reported that 1,500 students of state-run and aided tribal residential schools – including 700 girls – have died in the past 15 years, and as per a report submitted by a probe panel to the state government in October, sexual abuse was suspected to be a reason behind a majority of these deaths.

The schools had failed to provide any information related to 12% of the deaths and over 17% of the cases were attributed to ‘unknown causes’, 13% to ‘sudden deaths’ and 23% to ‘severe illness’ without a mention of the disease.

The school authorities also maintained menstruation records of the minor girls and conducted pregnancy tests on them whenever they missed their period or returned from vacations – an unethical practice that was carried out without parental consent.

The NHRC said that the reports were “indicative of violation of right to life and dignity of the girl students of the schools,” adding that it reflected the “negligence and apathy of the authorities.”

According to Firstpost, the matter first came to light when a tribal girl complained of stomach pains when she returned home on vacation. The minor girl was later found to be a victim of sexual abuse at school.

In a similar incident, a 12-year-old adivasi girl also alleged sexual abuse by a sweeper of the same school in Khamgaon in Buldhana district of the state. The school houses 70 girls without a single female superintendent.

The commission alleged that the state government had not submitted a report over a notice issued in October asking to explain the high incidence of deaths. The rights body had even issued a reminder for the same in November.

“It seems the state government has not taken any initiative to redress the grievance, which is a serious matter of concern.”

According to official figures, Maharashtra has nearly 1,100 state-run or aided tribal residential schools catering to 1.6 lakh female and 2.3 lakh male students.