On August 17, fourteen HIV-positive girls from a non-profit shelter called ‘Apna Ghar’ in Bilaspur, Chattisgarh were allegedly beaten up and dragged out by officials who had orders from the district administration to close the facility. With them was advocate Priyanka Shukla, a member of PUCL, who attempted to question the officials and in response was assaulted and arrested. She is now admitted to CIMS hospital due to her injuries.
According to a statement by PUCL, ‘Apna Ghar’ is the only shelter in Bilaspur that is equipped to deal with the needs of HIV positive children. The NGO’s director, Sanjeev Thakkar, who has been running the shelter for many years, had applied for a grant from the Women and Child Development Department. In response to the application, officials had demanded a ‘commission’ of 30 percent from the grant. When Thakkar refused to bribe the authorities, they claimed to have found certain discrepancies while checking the shelter and Thakkar began to receive notices about impending cancellation of its registration. It was then that the organization had reached out to Advocate Priyanka Shukla for legal assistance.
On the day of the incident, officials from the Women and Child Development Department had arrived at the shelter without any prior warning, along with police, and demanded that all 14 wards of the shelter be handed over to them. PUCL wrote, “as per reports, they first switched off the CCTV cameras, then herded all the girls into a room, where they were physically assaulted as evidenced by blood spots at the Home”. The Superintendent of the shelter, Deepika Singh asked for a copy of the order to shut down the facility, which the officials refused to do and started manhandling her.
Advocate Shukla reached there in order to demand accountability from the officials and to oppose it especially on the ground that other shelter homes will not be suited to the needs of the wards and asked to see the order by which the girls were to be taken away, she was abused and assaulted as well. According to videos taken by neighbours which were accessed by TOI, the girls were dragged out by the hair, carried, and shoved into the police vehicles as they screamed and protested against the police’s actions. When Priyanka’s husband Anuj Shrivastava arrived at the shelter, he found blood and broken bangles scattered on the floor. Thus it seems that they were abducted by the police since they were taken without their or their families’ consent.
Advocate Priyanka Shukla was finally arrested and charged with non-bailable section 353 of the IPC, and Deepika Singh and Sanjeev Thakkar were also named in the FIR. Anuj named Women and Child Development Officers Parvati Verma and Suresh Singh, Sarkanda Thana Incharge Sanip Ratre, and an officer of the Women’s police station, Prabhari Anju, as the officials who had assaulted Priyanka. According to him, the police delayed the examination of the wounds from the violence that happened at 12:30 pm and she was brought to CIMS after 6:00 pm, so that the marks of the violence on her face, hand and shoulder, would fade away. She was also taken from police station to police station in the police vehicle, to delay the process. Although they reached out to ministers of the city, they received no response or help. Anuj wrote, “their silence is forcing us to consider them as corrupt” and he wondered if the 30 per cent commission would have reached them as well.
As of now, Advocate Priyanka Shukla has been released on bail by the Magistrate at Bilhai. However, there is no information about the whereabouts or wellbeing of the wards of the shelter.