Convicted abuser of minors was recommended for honour

The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights raided Apna Ghar and rescued about 100 inmates mostly minor girls. Jaswanti, her daughter Simi, son-in-law Jai Bhagwan, brother Jaswant, driver Satish and three employees were allegedly part of the crime too. They were charged with offences of rape, miscarriage, immoral trafficking, physical assault, and unlawful forced labour. The matter was handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) following the report of a High Court-appointed committee.

Apna GharThree key accused, Jaswanti Devi, Jai Bhagwan, and Satish have now got life terms. However, sentences of Jaswanti’s daughter Sushma alias Simmi, Satish’s sister Sheela, and Veena, a counsellor at Apna Ghar, who were also found guilty of being involved, have been set off against the time they’ve already spent in prison.

Roshni, an accused found guilty of having forcibly taken away an inmate’s child and forging a birth certificate, and Ram Prakash Saini, who worked closely with Jaswanti Devi at Apna Ghar, have been released on probation.

Shockingly, the Integrated Child Development Services, Rohtak had recommended Jaswanti for the Women Empowerment award,2012. The Meham MLA Anand Singh Dangi and Rohtak MLA Bharat Bhushan Batra had recommended Jaswanti for Indira Gandhi Mahila Shakti Award for doing “social work” for the welfare of distressed women and children. On the basis of these recommendations, the Haryana State Social Welfare Board further recommended her name for the award suggesting that she is doing a commendable job to help exploited women and children.

The same woman was nominated as a member of the local juvenile justice board. And months before her arrest, she was feted with the prestigious Indira Gandhi Mahila Shakti Award by the Haryana government. Sadly, the same woman was arrested for allegedly coercing girl inmates of Apna Ghar into prostitution. Visitors to her office in Apna Ghar could see the walls full of her pictures with politicians and other powerful people.

Jaswanti Devi’s story makes an interesting reading. She worked for an NGO for sometime, then opened her own NGO and finally set up Apna Ghar in Rohtak. She hailed from Bahu Akbarpur village of Rohtak. Her grandfather used to ferry passengers in a tonga- a horse carriage while her father was attached to a religious sect.

As per the report of National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), she was the second wife of a man named Prem Singh Narwal, whom she later divorced.

Her NGO was being funded by the state and central governments for 13 programmes including a home for the mentally challenged women; a creche programme, a vocational training programme, besides a family counselling centre and a runway couple home. Ironically, it was also involved in a state-level campaign against human trafficking. As a result, she had more than 100 inmates, mostly girls and women.

There were 121 prosecution witnesses who were examined during the trial while the defence counsel produced 26 witnesses. Apna Ghar counsellor Veena was held guilty of causing miscarriage without woman’s consent, unlawful compulsory labour, criminal intimidation and treating children with cruelty.

One Roshni was convicted of getting involved in taking away a child born to an inmate of Apna Ghar and forging the birth certificate, while Ram Prakash Saini, who was associated with Jaswanti and was working in Apna Ghar, was convicted of making an inmate work at his house without paying the remuneration.

The Apna Ghar affairs came into light in May 2012 when three inmates escaped and reached New Delhi.

What could raise eyebrows is the fact as to how a predator like Jaswanti Devi who indulged in such heinous crimes could wield clout, manage prestigious awards and funds from both the State and Central governments?