Inmates disappear from a rehabilitation home and owners and staff members are accused of illegal detention, torture, sexual assault, and interstate human trafficking. While one might assume it's the plot of a crime thriller, this is, as per police records, the story of an ashram in Tamil Nadu.
Anbu Jothi Ashram, a home for the mentally challenged, disabled, and destitute women, was a horror house for the illfortuned, Tamil Nadu Police have found. The shelter home has been functioning at Kundalapuliyur in Villupuram district since 2005.
However, the home was shut down in February 2023 after Gingee Police of Villupuram, Tamil Nadu informed the Madras High Court that inmates were administered illegal drugs, sexually abused, and physically assaulted by the ashram staff, Live Law reported.
What Threw Light on the Alleged Crimes?
In December 2021, Salim Khan, who lives in the US, was unable to take care of his 70-year-old uncle Zafir Ullah and requested his close friend Halideen to admit him to a shelter home in India. Halideen reportedly admitted Ullah to the Anbu Jothi Ashram in Villupuram, Tamil Nadu, on 4 December, 2021.
A year later, in December 2022, when Khan returned to India to visit his uncle, he found Ullah missing. When asked, the owners allegedly claimed that Ullah was shifted to an institution called Home of Hope in Bengaluru on 6 December 2021.
Unable to trace his friend's uncle in Bengaluru, Halideen filed a missing persons complaint with the local police in Kedar village. Following an investigation at the Bengaluru home, the police were told that on 4 March 2022, the elderly man and a few other inmates escaped from the ashram premises by smashing open a bathroom window. Halideen then filed a Habeas Corpus petition before the Madras high court on 17 December 2022.
Unfolding Horror Behind the Ashram Doors
The Madras High Court ordered an inquiry, and on 10 February 2023, a team of officials from Villupuram district’s revenue, police, and health departments went on a search operation for Ullah.
The investigation soon exposed that the Anbu Jothi Ashram had been illegally run for 17 years by J Jubin Baby and his wife, J Mariya, without a valid licence from the Tamil Nadu State Mental Health Authority. It also revealed that the inmates had been chained, tortured, sexually molested by staff members, and were attacked by caged monkeys.
According to Villupuram District Differently Abled Welfare Officer C Thangavelu, 166 residents, including 55 women, were rescued from Anbu Jothi Ashram, The Hindu reported.
The Tamil Nadu State Mental Health Authority reportedly denied Anbu Jothi Ashram’s request for a license. On 13 February, the Mental Health Authority in a statement said that their review board inspected the Ashram in December 2022 and found that it violated section 65 of the Mental Health Care Act, 2017. Despite multiple warnings, the home allegedly did not take measures to rectify the irregularities. On 14 February, the Ashram was sealed.
The police investigation reports submitted to the Madras High Court on 27 February listed the evidence seized from the premises of Anbu Jothi Ashram.
This contained three mobile phones, discharge reports of patients treated at hospitals, and a list of forged letters with police signatures used to move inmates to ashrams in other states illegally. The police have also seized an inventory of a huge quantity of psychiatric drugs bearing the seal "Tamil Nadu Government Supply – Not for Sale" and donation vouchers from patrons. According to experts, the seized drugs, when administered in the absence of a licensed professional, can be extremely dangerous to their consumers.
Were the Accused Penalised?
The police arrested the owners of the ashram, Jubin Baby and his wife Mariya, both from Kerala’s Ernakulam district. The other accused are the founders' relative Biju Mohan, warden Muthumaari, computer operator Gopinath, and helpers Iyyappan, Satish, Boopalan, and Das. The ninth accused in the case, Das was however released on bail due to his old age and poor health.
The accused are booked under several sections of the Indian Penal Code, Right of Disabilities Act 2016, the Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Harassment of Women Act, 1998. The Forest Department took custody of the caged monkeys in the ashram premises and also registered a case against the detained persons under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, and the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972.
The National Commission for Women (NCW), has acknowledged that there have been at least two cases of sexual assault at the ashram.
The case was transferred to the CB-CID on 21 February, who filed a petition before the CJM court (Court of Chief Judicial Magistrate) for three-day custody of the accused, which was granted on 25 February. The DSP handed over the case files to the CB-CID.
The CB-CID launched a search for the missing inmates, with public notices in the media displaying photographs with their details. Following a full-fledged investigation, CB-CID returned the eight accused to judicial custody and the police officers were asked to submit the action taken report on 27 February.
In the report, the police said that they had found a body matching the profile of the missing old man and required the presence of his nephew Salim Khan from the US to identify it. The hearing was adjourned to 13 March as Salim Khan’s counsel sought time.
Will the government take stringent action to create better protection for people in homes and punish the offenders who use the loopholes and evade legal action for long? Let's wait and see.