A seven-member team of the National Commission for Women (NCW) on Sunday met the girl inmates of a hostel at Bhuj in Kutch district of Gujarat, who were allegedly forced by the hostel authorities to remove their undergarments to check if they were menstruating. The police said they have also formed a special investigation team (SIT) to probe the alleged incident that took place on February 11 in the Shree Sahajanand Girls Institute (SSGI), run by a trust of the Swaminarayan Temple.
After meeting the girl inmates, a member of the NCW said they were shocked to find that a register was being maintained at the hostel to identify the menstruating girls, who were asked to eat and sleep separately.
"An educational institution works for social transformation. This transformation requires a change in our dogmatic tradition. But if such an incident takes place in 21st century, then this is definitely a matter of shame and disgrace," NCW member Rajulben Desai said after meeting the hostel inmates and the hostel staff.
"We will get to know about the whole thing only after proper investigation. But we were shocked to find that a majority of girls agreed to this practice being followed in the name of religion," she said.
"The response of the girls was shocking. While we talk about the right to education, and while the commission is working to bring about legal awareness among women, the girls here said they consented to the rules framed by the hostel authorities regarding how they should eat and sleep during days of menstruation. We object to this," Desai said.
"Why are girls making such statements? We will investigate if they are giving such statements under pressure," she said.
She said the NCW members talked to 47 girls who were present there on Sunday.
"But we will also talk to the girls who were not present at the meeting today, besides the main complainant.
The question is about good and bad impact on the society," she said.
"Should women in an educational institution be asked to follow such rules that put to question their right to dignity? No educational institute can force such a rule on girl students. Even if the institution is associated with religion, it cannot compel girls to follow such rules," she said.
"The hostel authorities maintain a register on menstruating women. The management has a lot to answer. The matter that has come to us will be probed over the next two days. We would like to find out if the colleges have internal anti-sexual harassment committee, and if it is there, then whether it has well-trained members?" she said.
The hostel has a rule that girls having periods are not supposed to take meals with other inmates, Desai added.
Meanwhile, police said that an SIT has been formed with woman police officials as its members, to probe the incident.
"We have formed an SIT which includes women police personnel, including inspectors and sub-inspectors. As part of the probe, statements of students have been recorded, apart from those of the hostel staff members and others who knew about the incident," a police official said.
The girl students had alleged that hostel authorities asked them to remove their undergarments to check if they were menstruating.
A girl student had said the incident took place in the hostel located in the campus of the SSGI, which offers graduate and under-graduate courses.
She had said that on Tuesday, over 60 students were taken to the washroom by a woman staffer and made to remove their undergarments to check if they were menstruating after it was learnt that some menstruating girls.
The NCW team will continue to hold meetings with the hostel inmates and others for two more days.