Court case reveals shocking details of abuse in tribal residential schools in India

Jyotsna's daughter was repeatedly drugged and raped at a Factory School in Maharashtra in 2019

Jyotsna's daughter was repeatedly drugged and raped at a Factory School in Maharashtra in 2019
© Survival

Fifteen girls from a residential hostel for tribal children in Maharashtra, India, have been repeatedly drugged and sexually assaulted, in a case that has revealed a shocking level of abuse in similar schools.

The systematic abuse of tribal children in residential schools revealed by this and similar cases shows that the government’s policy of closing local, village schools for tribal children and forcing their parents to send them to residential schools far away has been a disaster.

The Maharashtra case only came to light when two of the girls were hospitalized. Four people have been arrested, but the owner of the hostel, who is a local politician, has not been arrested, and has accused the girls’ mothers of simply seeking compensation.

Jyotsna, mother of one of the victims, said: “My nine-year-old girl was assaulted for three months. We never thought such things could happen to our daughters. Why do these things only happen to us Adivasis (tribal people)? They mixed sedatives and drugs in the water that our children drank…The girls were given injections…Why did this happen to them? We demand justice for our daughters.”

Jyotsna: “We demand justice for our daughters.”

Of the 15 girls aged 8-13 the police investigated, 13 tested positive for both drugs and sexual abuse, while tests on two others showed they had been drugged. The latter two have now been told they must return the compensation they were given.

The families have no lawyer. They have requested a public lawyer but have not been given one yet.

A 2016 report into similar schools across Maharashtra state found that almost 1,500 children had died in such schools in recent years. In the vast majority of cases, the cause was unknown or unrecorded. In the three years since the scandal was revealed, little has been done to prevent such abuses.

Savita, mother of one of the girls assaulted, tells how the girls were threatened and told to say nothing after they were abused.

Survival’s research has revealed appalling levels of abuse and death in similar schools across the country and worldwide. Survival is campaigning against these Factory Schools, which take tribal and indigenous children far from their families and communities in order to ‘reprogram’ them to fit the dominant society. Far from home, the children are at high risk of abuse and neglect. These schools are part of a deliberate, far-reaching policy by governments to erase indigenous identity and steal tribal lands. Some are even sponsored by corporations or extractive industries looking to exploit the community’s land, labor and resources.

Papuan boys locked in an Islamic Factory School in Jakarta. Such schools teach children to be ashamed of who they are and where they come from.

Papuan boys locked in an Islamic Factory School in Jakarta. Such schools teach children to be ashamed of who they are and where they come from.
© Michael Bachelard

Survival International Director Stephen Corry said today: “Tribal children are being sent to Factory Schools where they are in real danger of their lives, where abuse and neglect are rife and where the whole ethos of the schooling is to strip them of their identity and divorce them from their culture and community. What these girls have suffered is unbearable. If their schooling was under the control and watchful eye of their community this would never have happened. The time to end Factory Schools is now.”

Survival International Senior Researcher Dr. Jo Woodman said today: “School should be a safe place, but girls as young as eight years old have been repeatedly drugged and abused in this case. Totally disconnected from their families, struggling to learn in alien languages, taught to feel ashamed of their identity, many tribal children suffer terribly in these schools and are at alarmingly high risk of abuse. Canada’s similar indigenous schooling system has been found to amount to cultural genocide. I don’t think it will be long before India’s treatment of tribal children is seen in the same light. Indigenous education MUST be under indigenous control.”