What is the shelter home rape case in Bihar?
In Bihar’s Muzaffarpur, a case of alleged sexual assault of 34 minor girls living in a shelter home came to light thanks to an audit report submitted by the Tata Institute of Social Science (TISS), Mumbai, to Bihar’s Social Welfare Department in April. Medical examinations confirmed that 34 out of the 42 shelter home inmates were sexually exploited. The owner of the state-funded shelter home, run by NGO ‘Seva Sankalp Evam Vikas Samiti’, Brajesh Thakur, is the main accused in the case. An FIR in the matter was registered on May 31 against 11 persons. Ten out of them, including Thakur, were arrested on June 3. One of the accused is absconding. (Originally published by News18)
What was happening in the shelter home?
The testimonies of survivors reveal how they were drugged, starved and raped every night. Girls between the ages of 7-18 alleged that they were served food mixed with sedatives. Apart from that, they also alleged that they were made to sleep naked. If they somehow protested, they were beaten mercilessly by the authorities. A 10-year-old inmate said that she was asked by the aunties to sleep in Brijesh sir’s (owner of the NGO) room and they used to talk about some visitor coming there. She used to find her pants thrown on the floor when she got up in the morning. Most of the girls were either orphans or lost. In order to prevent being forced into “gaanda kaam” or the sexual abuse, the girls used to cut themselves with wrecks of broken glass on their hands and legs. (Originally published by TimesNow News)
Was this the only shelter home rape case?
No. Another shocking case has emerged in Uttar Pradesh’s Deoria district, where 24 girls were rescued from a shelter home following allegations of sexual assault. The incident came to light on 5th August when a ten-year-old inmate somehow managed to flee from the shelter home and reached a woman police station. The girl told the police that everyday people would visit the shelter home and take away girls with them. She added that when the girls returned, they used to complain of pain. The shelter home, Vidhvansani Mahila and Balika Sanrakshan Griha, is managed by a woman named Girija Tripathi and her husband Mohan. When police conducted raids, 18 of the total 42 inmates were found missing from its premises. Tripathi and her husband have been arrested and booked under relevant sections of the Indian Penal Code. (Originally published by InUth)
What is the government doing for these girls?
As soon as these cases came to light, people demanded justice for these girls by taking to the streets and protesting the Government’s inaction.
Bihar’s Chief Minister Nitish Kumar asked the Chief Secretary to discuss with departments concerned and develop an institutional mechanism to prevent such incidents from happening again. “This is essential since the society is inhabited by all kinds of people and they may indulge in perverse acts at the slightest opportunity,” he said. (Originally published by News18)
In Bihar’s Assembly, Congress MLA Vijay Shankar Dubey demanded a CBI probe and Leader of Opposition Tejashwi Yadav had said the government was trying to evade responsibility in the matter and it was only after a court order that the action was taken. Yadav told the House that the government appears to be “shielding” the guilty. There has been no let up in crimes against women notwithstanding the claims by the government that they could safely move around even in the night, he alleged. Recent incidents in many districts show that girls are not safe even when accompanied by their parents, he said. (Originally published on India.com)
These arguments in the Assembly highlighted that the lack of women’s safety in Bihar was the bigger problem that the state’s government needed to address. Conceding to demands raised in the Assembly, Nitish Kumar handed over the case to the CBI.
Where is the case now?
The Bihar Government has decided to shut as many as 30 organisations run by Brajesh Thakur. It has also decided to blacklist three of his newspapers and probe his political links. Apart from the Bihar Government’s crackdown, the CBI will also probe on the licence given to NGO. This is a big deal because now, the government isn’t treating this as an isolated incident, but looking into other such NGOs too. The fact that they’re probing Thakur’s other businesses and political links means they understand that this could be a wider systemic problem. When the investigation revealed that Thakur had connections to the husband of Bihar’s Social Welfare Minister Manju Verma, she was forced to take moral responsibility and resign.
The Supreme Court has intervened in this case too, seeing a need to protect the minor victims. It asked the media not to show, even in morphed form, images of the alleged victims of rape and sexual assault in the case because they shouldn’t be compelled to relive the trauma again and again. They also asked the CBI to take the assistance of professional counselors and qualified child psychiatrist in questioning the victims. This is line with the new Protection of Children Against Sexual Offences Act (POSCO). (A version of this was originally published in the Financial Express)
Read more about POSCO and India’s other anti-rape laws here.
Want to know more about this case? Here’s our curated list for further reading
1. In Muzaffarpur’s shelter home, a web of silence shielded sexual abuse, Hindustan Times