Girls pedalling through the streets in a group in rural Bihar are safer there than in the shelter homes run for them by NGOs funded by the Nitish Kumar government’s special cell, Women Development Corporation.
Even as women’s groups staged a nation-wide protest on July 30 against the rapes of dozens of minor girls in the Seva Sankalp Evam Vikas Samiti, a balika grih, or shelter home, in Muzaffarpur, reports are filtering in about alleged sexual abuse in other government-funded shelter homes.
When the name of Chandeshwar Verma, the husband of Social Welfare Minister Manju Verma, under whose department the WDC falls, figured in the Muzaffarpur case, several ruling Janata Dal (United) and Bharatiya Janata Party leaders and ministers started claiming that girls are safe in Bihar as they can be seen riding bicycles and going to schools.
Denying the allegation, the minister, who belongs to Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s JD(U), said: “I will get him (her husband) hanged. I myself will resign and withdraw from politics.”
It needs to be recalled that, the wife of an official arrested on charges of sexually assaulting inmates of the short stay home had accused Manju’s husband of frequently visiting the place and spending long hours there.
What the NDA leaders missed is that even during the Lalu-Rabri raj in mid-1990s, a girl in Patna used to earn bread for her family by driving auto-rickshaw as her father fell ill. By that yardstick the NDA leaders should not call those 15 years as Jungle Raj
The denial of allegations by Manju and the claims made by the NDA leaders may be right. True, many girls in Bihar were the primary beneficiary of the Mukhiya Mantri’s Cycle Yojana. But it is also a fact that they have been riding bicycles in Bihar for the last several decades––only their numbers have risen after the introduction of this scheme more than a decade back.
But the issue before us is how safe are minor girls of Bihar within the four walls of the government-funded shelter homes?
What the NDA leaders missed is that even during the Lalu-Rabri raj in the mid-1990s, a girl in Patna used to earn bread for her family by driving an auto-rickshaw as her father fell ill. The Patna-edition of The Times of India even carried a front-page story on her. By that yardstick, the NDA leaders should not call those 15 years as Jungle Raj’.
Though the Nitish Kumar government had failed on women’s safety front––after a reasonably better record in the first couple of years––this did not get due attention of the media, till the Muzaffarpur case shocked the conscience of the state.
Even during Nitish Kumar’s first term (2005-10), a married woman was stripped of her clothes and paraded on the busy Exhibition Road of Patna. According to Hindustan Times, the harrowing treatment went on for quite a long time, though the residence of the Senior Superintendent of Police was not far off from the place of the incident.
Perhaps nothing exemplifies the situation in Bihar better than the two fasts––the first of 72 hours and the second of 48 hours––undertaken by women’s groups in Patna in the last five months in protest against the rise in crime against women. The two protests followed a spate of incidents of gang-rapes in various parts of Bihar, stripping of girls and uploading of videos
The stabbing to death of BJP MLA of Purnia Raj Kishore Kesari by a lady principal Rupam Pathak on January 4, 2011, exposed the real picture of Bihar. She took the extreme step as, after her own sexual exploitation at the hands of the legislator, he had begun eyeing her daughter. Her husband was posted as a teacher in a Kendriya Vidyalaya in Manipur.
Rupam was lynched by a mob of BJP supporters (all male). However, she managed to survive after a long treatment within custody. Bihar deputy chief minister and senior BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi had rushed to Purnia to stand behind his party’s slain MLA, and questioned the character of Rupam. Incidentally, another woman of Purnia had hurled a similar charge of sexual harassment against the late MLA.
Perhaps nothing exemplifies the situation in Bihar better than the two fasts––the first of 72 hours and the second of 48 hours––undertaken by women’s groups in Patna in the last five months in protest against the big rise in crime against women. The first one was undertaken under the banner of Bihar’s Women Network and the second under Nagrik Pahal. Those who took part include Sister Sudha Varghese.
The two protests in Patna––and elsewhere too––followed a spate of incidents of gang-rapes in various parts of Bihar, stripping of girls and uploading of videos.
Women rights activists Neelu and Kanchan Bala are of the view that never have women felt so insecure in Bihar as today. Perpetrators feel so safe that they are now even daring to upload videos of the crimes they commit.
Unlike in the past, there is an attempt to suppress those who are protesting against the crime. When on July 24 the activists of Nagrik Pahal was erecting a stage to organise a two-day fast, the police tried to obstruct them. However, they resisted the police and continued their fast in Patna’s Gandhi Maidan.
Though the Nitish government had, after initial opposition, recommended a CBI inquiry into the Muzaffarpur case, activists such as Pushpraj doubt that anything concrete would come out against Brajesh Thakur, who used to run the NGO in Muzaffarpur, as he is reportedly very close to the powers that be in Bihar.