A government hostel cook allegedly sexually abused at least nine minors at the facility in Tamil Nadu’s Kanyakumari district for three months, The News Minute reported on Friday. The children are from the Scheduled Tribe and Scheduled Caste community.

The head cook, Vishwabaran, has been arrested. His assistant, who is believed to have known about the crimes, is absconding.

The matter came to light after the students’ teacher questioned them when they failed to produce their homework notebooks. They told her that the cook had sold their books prompting the teacher to inquire further. She made them write their complaints to the headmistress, who in turn informed the collector and district education officer.

“The children had described brutal acts of sexual assault and repeated rape,” the headmistress told the news website. “They could not even correctly name what he had done.”

The accused targeted the minors thinking they would be too afraid to complain, District Child Welfare officer Kumudha told The News Minute. “He [Vishwabaran] threatened to kill them if they opened their mouths to anyone,” Kumudha said. “The children told us that he would get inebriated and strip off all his clothes. He would then dance naked in front of the young boys to songs with sexually explicit lyrics and sleep next to them like that. He would say that he would pay money if they performed oral sex on him. And if they refused he beat them up.”

The children were also made to wake up at 5.30 am to chop vegetables, clean the hostel and its toilets, Kumudha said.

The crime was not detected earlier because the hostel lacked a full-time warden. A man serves as a caretaker for two hostels and would not spend the night at the one where the alleged crime was committed, Kumudha said.

The district child welfare office has submitted a report to the collectorate specifying several measures to avoid such incidents in the future. Collector Sajjan Singh R Chavan said his administration would take all measures required.

“We will also initiate a disciplinary hearing over the warden’s failure to identify the abuse in the hostel,” Chavan told the website.