As the horrific story of what all is happening inside the Manoj Manjari Sishu Bhawan (MMSB), a Government-aided orphanage in Keonjhar is unfolding, the district citizenry appears to become more and more restive over the apathetic attitude of the Government and the local authorities towards the situation.
Dr Lenin Raghuvanshi, general secretary of People’s Vigilance Committee on Human Rights recently wrote to Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, requesting him to conduct an inquiry through an independent agency and protect the inmates of the orphanage. He has mentioned several incidents of child abuse — sexual and physical exploitation of the inmates by MMSB secretary SN Mishra and others.
Three Swedish volunteers — Linnea Karlson, Sara Arrhusius and Josefine Jacobson — who worked at the orphanage during 2010-11, in their testimonies and letter to the orphanage authorities, have also narrated how they witnessed cruel abuse of children and their brutal molestation both physically and mentally.
Shocking news on exploitation and mismanagement at the MMSB has repeatedly come out in different media and many conscious citizens in their letters to authorities have expressed their deep concern for the distressed children sheltered in the orphanage.
Last month three female staffs, Parbati Jena, Sasmita Bharati and Amrut Barik met the chairperson of the State Commission for Women’s and the State Human Rights Commission with allegations of sexual harassment and mental torture perpetrated on them by the secretary. Bharati accused Mishra of molesting her in his office and later dismissing her from her job when she protested his behaviour. The OHRC has forwarded the petition of the victims to the Collector, Keonjhar for inquiry. But since the Collector is ex-officio president of the MMSB, and the SP of Keonjhar is the vice-president, many apprehend whether an impartial inquiry will be made.
On March 10, 16 children of the orphanage preferred to go back to the streets to living a life of fear and torture at the orphanage. In January 2009, the board members, the Collector and the Additional District Magistrate, Keonjhar, through independent inquiries confirmed merciless beating of inmates over silly issues, and other financial irregularities for which the caretaker secretary, SN Mishra, was removed from his post. But soon after his removal Mishra was again positioned there as secretary due to his strong influence as president of the local Press Club and his deep connections with Pyarimohan Mohapatra, ignoring his misconduct.
The Collector in his report dated January 11, 2009 admitted that tribal orphan inmates Kabi behera, Jagat Ho, Debabrata Das, Kaibalya Sahu, Manu Ho, Ratnakar Ho, Durgaprasad Behera, Duryodhan Pradhan, Charan Ho, Ashok Mohanta, Giridhari Khamania, Bisikeshan Naik, Biswanath Ho and Tapan Ho were mercilessly beaten by the secretary with iron rods, seriously injuring them.
The Collector also admitted that intentionally teenager girls from poor families were illegally appointed and removed by the secretary frequently without the president’s approval and raised suspicion on why 18 such female staffs were appointed and removed from MMSB within a period of two years. But surprisingly, a petition dated March 8, 2011 addressed to the National Human Rights Commission, New Delhi, was dropped after a report from the Collector, Keonjhar denying any kind of torture or exploitation at the Sishu Bhawan.
Over the years, hundreds of orphans who grew up in the orphans have gone back to the streets, from where they came, after they left the institution. The authorities have never bothered about their rehabilitation or kept track of these fugitive inmates. Especially the plight of the teenager girls, who left the institution, is even worse. They are in the immediate risk of being exposed to exploitation. Samara Ho and Tapan Ho are seen moving around in the streets in search of food after they were removed for complaining against the secretary. Kabi behera (16), who was forced to leave the Sishu Bhawan three years back just because he failed in Class VIII, survives working as a helper in a local bus. Khirod Aruk (15), another former inmate, works in a roadside garage. Kabula Behera who left two years back and Debabrata Das who left three years back are yet to find any source of living. Many other former inmates like them have been forced into child labour. The fate of girls like Kunti Ho (15), Kunti Jeet (16), Monalisha sahoo (14) , Laxmipriya Purty (13years and left since 2008), Pana Ho, Rina Mahakud, Sanju Behera, Laxmipriya Majhi, Swarnalata Patra, Sumitra Pradhan and many others have become uncertain after they left the Sishu Bhawan with an uncertain and insecure future.