About a year ago, 15-year-old Reshma* joined a convent school in Karnataka to pursue Class 10. Reshma’s parents had sent her to the state all the way from Manipur and the girl stayed at a hostel.
Little did the quiet and shy girl know that she would become the victim of severe assault.
Unable to bear the torture allegedly doled out by a nun who is the hostel warden and the students living there, Reshma contacted Child Line on December 29.
“It was some time in the last week of December when my roommates picked up a fight with me. I did not understand why they were angry with me and had no clarity about what they were saying. By the time I could process that, they got together and thrashed me. That’s when the warden intervened. I thought she would help me but like always, even she beat me up,” Reshma alleges.
This is not the first time Reshma was targeted by the children and the warden, she claims. She says that she has been thrashed on many other occasions, too. The reason has been a persistent rumour that Reshma is lesbian. This, she says, angered the hostel warden so much that she would beat her up for "treading a wrong path which was against God's will."
"This time also the same thing happened but it was worse than all the other times,” Reshma says, adding that no matter how many times she told the warden that the rumour was untrue, the latter was unwilling to let her go.
Reshma alleges that the warden thrashed her and ordered the other girls also to beat her up. They then poured chilli powder into her mouth and refused to let her drink water, she claims. The torture allegedly went on because the warden wanted her to "accept her mistake".
"What if it was another girl and she was actually lesbian? They would have probably killed her," says Reshma.
Recounting the ordeal, she says, "Some of them held me down and the warden poured chilli powder in my mouth. It burned so much."
The young girl says that she's now terrified to even look at the warden.
Reshma, who describes herself as a quiet person, has a few friends who attend the same school but they don't live in the hostel. When her friends saw her condition, they informed Reshma's brother, Ranjit*.
“When I came down from Manipur, the warden told me that my sister had tried to sexually assault another girl, which is why the other students had thrashed her. She kept telling me how my sister’s mistake was a 'spiritual' one. The warden told me that if my sister apologises, then everything would settle down. But my sister said that she did not want to say sorry because she was the one who had suffered. So we decided to file a complaint,” Ranjit says.
On December 29, Ranjit and Reshma contacted Child Line and filed a complaint. On the same day, the Special Juvenile Police Unit of the district took down Reshma’s statement and a complaint was filed with the Child Rights Commission.
On Tuesday, District Child Protection Officer Kumara Swamy and his team visited the school for preliminary investigation.
“The school’s warden alleges that the girl made advances to other girls in the school. There is suspicion that the warden may have intimidated other students as well. We will visit the school on Monday to take down the statements of the other children who have been accused of beating the victim,” Kumara Swamy says.
An FIR will be registered after the statements have been obtained on Monday, he said.
Meanwhile, scared of going back to the hostel, Reshma is now staying with her brother.
“Even the mention of the warden's name brings fear to her eyes. She has become very scared. There are bruises on her face, body and legs also. I tried to give her a hug of reassurance but she cried out in pain. Even the process of standing up or sitting hurts her. She is only a little girl. What did she do to deserve such treatment?” Ranjit asks.
The school, however, has been supportive. Ranjit says that the headmistress has told him that Reshma can continue to attend classes and write her exams.
“The headmistress was very helpful. She told us that my sister can write the exams. I just want to make sure that my sister is fine. She is hurt both physically and mentally,” he says.
*All identities withheld