Campaigners want India to protect girls in state-run institutions who are at risk of sexual assault and violence after 34 girls were beaten up by a mob for fighting off sexual harassers in Bihar state.
Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya, a residential school for girls in Supaul district, witnessed chaotic scenes on Saturday after some girls objected to sexual advances and lewd messages from a group of boys.
A mob comprising the boys and their parents entered the school later and beat up and injured dozens of girls aged between 12 and 14.
“The girls were playing inside the school compound when some boys came in and tried to sexually harass them. The girls fought them off and there was an altercation. A mob then gathered with the boys’ parents who beat up the girls,” Jagatpati Chaudhury, the District Education Officer in Supaul, said.
“The girls were injured, shocked, in trauma and were rushed to hospital. These were scenes of havoc as most of the girls are in sixth and seventh grades.”
A video uploaded on social media by a local news website, The Bihar Post, showed a girl from the school after the attack.
“They were beating up all the girls. They tore our clothes and took away our dupattas [scarves],” said a young girl who was sobbing at the hospital.
Police say they have arrested two people and detained four in connection with the incident.
District magistrate Baidyanath Yadav said local boys used to write lewd messages on the school walls. Local media reports suggest the girls at the school were routinely harassed.
The Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya are special schools run by the government and provide residential elementary education to girls belonging to India’s most vulnerable communities: Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, religious minorities and families living below poverty line across India.
Activists point out that the state and the community have failed to protect girls in such schools, which were set up in places where female rural literacy rates are low.
“This case is especially alarming because it happened at a school. It has been an uphill task to get girls from marginalised communities into schools. In rural Bihar, projects to get adolescent girls on self-defence training programmes have worked very well. So this violent attack is a setback,” Prabhat Kumar, head of child protection at the charity Save the Children in India, said.
“Shockingly, when the boys came back to attack the girls, they were with their parents. Adults not guiding their children and the community not preventing such attacks is shocking and disheartening,” he added. — AFP