Indian police on Friday (29 December) rescued 51 girls, including 49 minors, who were allegedly kept captive by a madrasa manager in the city of Lucknow in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.
Qazi Mohammed Tayyab Ziya, the manager of Jamia Khadijatul Leelanwat madrasa, has reportedly been charged with physically abusing the girls, assaulting and molesting them. The girls have also accused the manager of not providing them with proper meals and forcing them to do domestic jobs.
Superintendent of Lucknow police, Deepak Kumar, told media outlets that a group of local residents had visited him, claiming that the girls threw chits from the terrace of the school building, crying for help. Messages written in the chits alleged they were being harassed and sexually assaulted.
Following the complaint, a police team along with the Child Welfare Committee officials raided the madarsa. 51 girls were found staying in the three-storey building.
"We took strict action the moment we received a complaint. We took our team and went there to raid the madarsa. We found 51 students, who were held hostage in the madarsa. The culprit has been arrested and we have begun investigation. He used to molest the girls and also beat them up," Kumar reportedly said.
"They alleged that the manager used to molest them while asking them to massage his legs, hands and back," police officer Anil Kumar Yadav told the Indian Express.
According to an officer of the District Minority Welfare office, the madrasa is not registered with the Uttar Pradesh Madrasa Education Board.
Around 125 female students are said to be studying in the madrasa, of which 51 were present when the raid took place. The girls, aged between five to 24 years, are from various parts of Uttar Pradesh, neighbouring state Bihar, and Nepal.
The rescued girls were sent for a medical examination and the reports are awaited, police said, adding that most of those girls were taken to a women protection home, while 10 of them left with their families for their homes.
Initially, Ziya was booked for molestation and assault under POCSO Act (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act) but, on Saturday (30 December), rape charge was added after an 18-year-old girl accused him of the crime.
However, Ziya claimed innocence and told media persons that he was being framed. The madrasa was started around 15 years ago as a boys only unit, but became a girls only school in the following years, he said.
He accused the patron of the madrasa, Syed Mohammad Jilani Ashraf, of forcing him to leave the institution. "Jilani had been forcing me to leave the madrasa by levelling false allegations against me. Two days ago, Jilani, along with others, came to the madrasa and we had a spat," he said.
Jilani's brother-in-law, Syed Mohammad Ayub Ashraf, meanwhile said, "Jilani had gone to the madrasa two days ago following a complaint that Ziya was harassing the students. The family of a few students had met Jilani and complained."
Ziya was produced before a court on Sunday (31 December) and was later sent to jail.