On August 16, Andhra Pradesh Child Welfare Committee (CWC) visited an evangelical institute in Ongole. But when they asked the hostel-dwelling girl students if they had concerns, they did not realise that horrifying stories of sexual abuse at the hands of 76-year-old Kodavatikanti Joseph would come out.
The accused has since been sent to judicial custody.
The incident took place at a children's home and educational institute in Ongole, when the districtâ€™s CWC members were conducting regular checks.
The DCWC comprising of chairperson G Bharati and Probation Officer SK Farook Bhasha and others from local NGOs visited the institute part of their regular drive on Thursday.
When DCWC members asked the students if they had any concerns that they could address, several girls started speaking up one after the other, about the sexual abuse they faced from the pastor on a regular basis.
Speaking to TNM, G Bharathi explained the ordeal of the girl students who were studying in the institute and stayed in the hostel.
G Bharathi, who is now counselling the girls who were allegedly sexually abused, narrates, "He would call them to his room and ask them massage him or follow his instructions. He would also touch them inappropriately. He would also tell them that they needed to be around whenever he called for them.â€ť
Bharati said that it took a lot of effort to make the girls to open up about the violence that they were going though as they feared that speaking up would land them in trouble. They also alleged that he frequently showed them pornographic videos against their wishes.
Investigators are yet to find out how long he was allegedly abusing the children.
On Friday, based on a complaint from DCWC members, Ongole police arrested the Joseph, following which a local magistrate sent him to 14 days in judicial custody.
Ongole Two Town Inspector Suresh Kumar Reddy told the media that a case was registered under Sections 354 (Assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty) and 509 (Word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman) along with Section 10 (Aggravated sexual assault), 12 (Sexual harassment upon a child) and 14 (Using a child for pornographic purposes) of the POCSO Act.
According to officials, the childrenâ€™s home was giving shelter to as many as 150 students including boys, while 53 were girl students aged below 16 years. CWC members on their inspection spoke with as many as 46 girls.
Bharati informed TNM that all the girl students were shifted to a government-run school in Ongole.
The inspections were stepped up in the wake of recent orders from the state government, which recently asked district officials to conducts checks and report on situation of children in the state-run and privately-run institutes in Andhra.