Coronavirus

Women Are Being Sexually Assaulted in India's COVID-19 Isolation Facilities

These centers are supposed to provide safety. But in four separate cases through July, they've left women utterly vulnerable.
July 28, 2020, 2:51am
Indian Women Are Being Sexually Assaulted Even While in COVID-19 Isolation
A medical staff wearing a protective facemask arranges a bed inside an isolation ward opened as a preventative measure following a SARS-like virus outbreak, at the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Institute of Medical Sciences in Ahmedabad on February 4, 2020. Photo for representational purposes only courtesy of Sam Panthaky / AFP

Throughout July, at least three women have been sexually assaulted—two of them raped—at various COVID-19 isolation facilities in India. A fourth claims to have been stalked at a quarantine facility.

VICE News has reviewed news reports of these incidents, which have taken place in three seperate states around the country.

Most recently, a 25-year-old woman working in Delhi was admitted to the Deen Dayal Hospital on Monday, July 20, after testing positive for COVID-19. It’s alleged that a 30-year-old doctor, Dr Tufail Ahmed, then attempted to rape her in the hospital’s isolation ward. He was later arrested in a hotel where he was self-isolating after the patient filed a police complaint.

CCTV footage obtained by the police showed Ahmed entering the isolation ward without any Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) or gloves. The police booked him under section 354 (molestation) and 376 (2) (advantage of position to commit rape) of the Indian Penal Code.

This was not an isolated incident, however, as two similar incidents had occurred in previous weeks at covid care centres, where mildly symptomatic or asymptomatic patients were being kept in isolation.

On July 15, a 14-year-old COVID-19 patient admitted to Delhi’s Sardar Patel Covid Care Centre was allegedly raped by a 19-year-old patient in the facility’s bathroom.

The teenage girl also claimed that her rapist had asked his 20-year-old friend to stand guard and shoot a video of the rape. The next day, the girl reported the crime to an attendant at the facility, who informed the police.

The survivor was one of the 250 people currently admitted to the 10,200-bed quarantine facility in the Chhatarpur district of Delhi. Following the incident, the girl was sent for a medical examination, which confirmed she had been sexually assaulted.

This facility, touted as the world’s largest, is a care centre built for patients who lack the ability to isolate in their homes. The teenage girl and her accused were both living in slums, and had been admitted to the facility for isolation along with relatives.

When the facility, run by the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), was inaugurated on July 5, the ITBP said it would employ 1,000 security personnel to ensure the safety of their patients. However, according to Hindustan Times, only 100 security officials have actually been engaged to work in shifts.

On July 17, a man isolated at a building complex designated as a care centre in the western state of Maharashtra’s Navi Mumbai township allegedly raped a 40-year-old female patient. While the man claimed the act was consensual, the woman filed a police complaint outlining how he’d claimed to be a doctor and taken her to the washroom, then he’d covered her mouth so she couldn’t scream. He was arrested on Friday, July 18, under  Sections 376 (rape) and 354 (outraging the modesty of a woman) of the Indian Penal Code.

In the first week of July, two young boys from the central state of Chhattisgarh were also booked for raping a minor girl whom they had lured into isolation by promising to provide COVID-19 medication for the girl’s family.

Over in the city of Pune in Maharashtra, a 29-year-old woman quarantined at the Sinhgad hostel facility also accused a male staff member of stalking and entering her room. She also said that when she tried to report the incident to police on July 15, she was told they couldn’t help as they didn’t have any PPE kits. The woman said that she’d then informed authorities at the hostel, who also failed to take action. It was only after her cousin filed a police complaint on Monday, July 20 that the incident finally came to light.

In the year of 2018, a total of 33,356 rape cases were reported around India, according to a report by the National Crime Records Bureau.

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