Orphanage owner gets life for sexual abuse of mentally challenged kids

A sessions court on Thursday sentenced an orphanage owner to life imprisonment for sexually exploiting 18 mentally challenged minor boys and girls at the institution in Shahpur, Thane district. The court also convicted his wife for abetting the crime, and four others for rape, sodomy, assault and culpable homicide not amounting to murder.

Observing that Pundalik Gole, the owner of Kavdas, had indulged in a 'barbaric act', sessions judge Shalini Phansalkar Joshi convicted him under several sections of the Indian Penal Code for rape, unnatural offences, culpable homicide not amounting to murder and others.

Gole's wife Sakshi, a teacher at the orphanage, was sentenced to seven years. Salim Sayyed was sentenced to five-year rigorous imprisonment (RI). Sikandar Pinjri was awarded 10 years in jail and Jitendra Chavan was sentenced to seven years. Ramkrishna Bhagwan, who was held guilty of culpable homicide not amounting to murder, was also sentenced to five-year RI.

The judge observed that there was no question of showing any leniency towards Gole, who was the "guardian and a parent figure to the children".

"Gole has broken the trust and faith... It was not a single incident, but continued for years. The children were mentally challenged and trusted him (Gole)," the court said.

The case came to light in 2010 after a Child Welfare Committee made a surprise visit to Kavdas. A case was registered following the Bombay High Court's direction in August 2010. The trial commenced in January 2012. Mid-way through the trial, after three of the four victims who deposed before the court spoke of five children dying after they were assaulted, the court introduced murder charges in the case. However, the charge was not proved.

Special public prosecutor Vaibhav Bagade examined 36 witnesses, and another eight were called by the defence lawyers.

"The accused would force the victims to have alcohol, beat them up brutally, and sexually assault them. There were strangulation marks on the children's necks. The witnesses narrated the incident before the court," Bagade said.

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