Muzaffarpur shelter home rapes: Nitish Kumar’s words are not enough

The layers of complicity and collusion that one finds in Arun Jaitley point to the enormity of the omissions and commissions under the CM’s watch. It is not enough to say nobody will be spared

Agitators protest the horrific acts of sexual abuse of children in Muzaffarpur
Agitators protest the horrific acts of sexual abuse of children in Muzaffarpur

Abbad Kamal

When she was shown photographs of people involved in running the shelter home, it was reported that she spat on the photograph of Brajesh Thakur. The speech impaired 13-year-old girl is the only one of the girls rescued from Muzaffarpur, who is believed to have gone missing ‘in transit’. She had been sent to a Home in Madhubani run by an NGO, ‘owned’ by one Uday Jha. He was the PA of Sanjay Jha, a JD(U) MLC said to be close to not just Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, but who is also believed to have worked with Arun Jaitley in Delhi.

Sanjay Jha is also a member of the Bihar State Planning Board and enjoys the status of a cabinet minister. He is also often seen with the Chief Minister at various functions and is believed to be a ‘ favourite’ of the CM.

Pragya Bharti, the wife of Uday Jha, told a news agency that the case of the missing girl should not be politicised. She explained that the girl ‘somehow went missing due to security lapse or conspiracy’. She had also explained that her Home could accommodate just 15 girls but when 14 more girls arrived from Muzaffarpur, there was a confusion in the midst of which the girl might have slipped out.

Nobody can say with certainty that the missing girl is part of a ‘cover up’. Nor can anyone deny the possibility as to what Nitish Kumar has done.

Under the law, the name and the photograph of the missing girl cannot be carried by the media and there is apprehension that the handicapped girl, a prime witness, may never be found. She may even get replaced by another teenager who could truthfully depose in court that nothing had happened to her.

Nobody can say with certainty that the missing girl is part of a ‘cover up’. Nor can anyone deny the possibility as to what Nitish Kumar has done. Too much of coincidence ?

The infamous children’s home in Muzaffarpur, now shut down,  is barely a kilometer from the red-light district of the town, Chaturbhujsthan. The red light area is said to have lasted for the past several centuries and its origin is traced to the Mughal period. Tawaifs, or courtesans, entertained the nobility, sang and danced for them and some shared their bed.

Madhu, an associate of Brajesh Thakur, apparently began life as a Tawaif at Chaturbhujsthan. Her name there was Shaistha Parveen. Thakur is believed to have rehabilitated her and helped her run an NGO,  ‘Vama Shakti Vahini’, which operated a short-stay home for women next to the red light area. She has been absconding along with 11 inmates ever since Thakur was arrested.

Tawaifs and sex workers at Chaturbhujsthan react with derision to the swirling scandal around Thakur’s  shelter home. A shopkeeper smirked and said, “We have never known of rape in Chaturbhujsthan; and children raped? Never.” A middle-aged sex worker is equally derisive. “If we had not been here, this town would have witnessed hundred rapes every day,” and adds, “Their income obviously fluctuates from day to day. “Some days we earn even a lakh of Rupees while some days we earn nothing,” said another sex worker wistfully. She claimed with evident pride that visitors to the sex workers included people from all walks of life and ranged from government employees to contractors, politicians and even judges. Then the bitterness creeps in. “Our children are fathered by these blue-blooded, respectable people but they take no responsibility in educating the children or in getting their daughters married. What option do we have but to initiate them eventually into the trade,” she asks, this time with a trace of belligerence.

The sex trade in Muzaffarpur, as elsewhere, supports a large number of people. Musicians who play instruments, the florists and the orchestra which accompanies the tawaifs to weddings. Cosmetics have also become expensive and in addition, they need to invest in fine clothes, they point out, besides facials, pedicure etc.

“We have started sending our children to school under false names and addresses. If the government is serious about our rehabilitation, it should ensure schooling for our children and ensure other employment avenues for us,” they tell me. One of them points out that they are law-abiding citizens and do not allow drunken brawls. “We do nothing to attract the police because we know that if we get arrested, we will lose our livelihood as well as our shelter,” one of them says.

Rescuing them and sending them to homes run by NGOs is clearly a poor idea, feel many of them. The law spares the depraved who use children as sex slaves in these homes but sex workers bear the brunt of police action and contempt of the society. They are understandably contemptuous of men. Pinki and Pooja tell me that girls are safe only with their mothers. “Homes are meant to siphon off public funds and give legitimacy to the men who visit them.”

If 32 separate FIRs were filed against former Chief Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav in the fodder scam, why has only one FIR been lodged against Brajesh Thakur, asks, well, a rickshaw puller. Weren’t 34 girls raped, he asks with a half-mocking smile and looks back at me.

Why not indeed, I reflect. Shouldn’t Thakur and others be tried in 34 different cases and made to face the full vigour of law? What if the solitary case fails? Separate FIRs would ensure that even if one case fails for want of evidence, others have a chance to stand.

The rickshaw puller refuses to give his name. But he is clearly not over yet. “Why have lawyers in Muzaffarpur or Patna or in the Supreme Court not passed a resolution that no lawyer would represent the accused,” he asks with a sly smile and recalls that the lawyers had indeed passed similar resolutions in several cases involving rape.

In Tamil Nadu, lawyers beat up a child rapist in court. But in Muzaffarpur, there is not much outrage. There has not been much of a dent in the standing of Brajesh Thakur in the town and caste leaders and political leaders have rallied round him. True, a woman threw ink on Thakur in an attempt to blacken his face while he was being produced in court. But the 50-year old was able to convince the court that he needed to be in a hospital for medicare and not in jail.

Nitish Kumar had the Assembly pass a special law, which the High Court and the Supreme Court also refused to strike down. Under the law,  properties of corrupt civil servants are attached by the state government even before they are convicted in a court. There is a provision though that the property would be returned if the officers are proved to be innocent. Houses of former Director General of Police, G. Narayan, IPS and former Finance Secretary, S.S. Verma, in Patna have been taken over by the state government and converted into schools for the weaker sections.

Why can’t property of Thakur and the other accused be confiscated by the government of Nitish Kumar by the same logic, I reflect.

The rickshaw puller breaks my reverie. “You know how many times RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat has visited Muzaffarpur in the last one year,” he chuckles before replying, “four times”. But no, he has not been able to instill any character among his followers, the rickshaw puller sneers.

Muzaffarpur has been a hub of political activities for over a century and newspaper consumption is still high as one can see in the morning. Groups of people, even rickshaw pullers, listen attentively as someone reads out from the morning newspaper. Which possibly explains why the rickshaw puller appeared so well informed?

As I get down at my destination and start paying him, he springs another surprise. He looks into my eyes mockingly and says, “Journalist from Delhi, eh? Find out about Brajesh Thakur’s brother and his children, their movements and call records…,”. And before I could recover, he is gone. I look at the receding rickshaw, taken aback by the suggestion but before I can call him back, he turns a corner and disappears.

The Juvenile Justice Act lays down that Homes would have to provide both educational as well as recreational facilities, besides counselling. But at Muzaffarpur, the girls by all accounts were confined to claustrophobic cubbyholes with two tiny windows and no playground.

The conspiracy of silence extends beyond NGOs and the Social Welfare Department of the state Government. Muzaffarpur once boasted of over 400 daily newspapers and yet the homes escaped scrutiny by the media, undoubtedly because of the stranglehold over the media that Thakur wielded.

His newspaper Pratah Kamal, he claimed, sold 62,000 copies every day. That is the figure on which both the state and the central governments released government advertisements worth several crores every year. But a cursory inspection would have proved that he was fibbing. He was paying as little as Rs 200 per month as electricity charges. The monthly electricity bill that his father, mother and his daughter paid for the palatial house that housed the shelter home as well as his own home hovered around Rs 12,000 a month. No more proof was really required to show that the circulation figure was fabricated.

Anupam Kumar, who was shifted to Muzaffarpur as District Magistrate in 2013, the same year when Thakur got permission to run the home, is now the Secretary, Public relations Department which releases state government advertisements. He is said to be close to both Thakur and the Chief Minister, which possibly explains why the IPRD never bothered to check circulation figures.

A brother-in-law of his is the current president of the Muzaffarpur Press Club. Another brother-in-law is the general secretary. Thakur’s son was the editor of Pratah Kamal and associate Shaistha Parveen the editor of the virtually defunct Urdu daily.

While the IPRD turned a blind eye to Thakur’s dubious media ventures, the Social Welfare Department was equally benign. The Juvenile Justice Act lays down that Homes would have to provide both educational as well as recreational facilities, besides counselling. But at Muzaffarpur, the girls by all accounts were confined to claustrophobic cubbyholes with two tiny windows and no playground. Under the JJ Act, it should have been denied registration. But the department not only allowed the registration, it continued to release Rs 40 lakhs year after year, only a fraction of which was apparently used to take care of the inmates.

Ironically, the JJ Act also lays down the posting of ‘child-friendly’ policemen in police stations besides regular monthly meetings of the District Child Protection Unit. It also lays down specific responsibilities of the Chief Judicial Magistrate, the District Magistrate and the District Child Protection Officer—none of whom performed them but have got away even after the scandal broke.

In fact, even the high court cannot shirk its responsibility. Judicial officers are expected to sign on inspection registers and certify that all is well in the shelter homes. But till the time of writing this report, there is no indication that the Patna High Court has taken any action against successive judicial officers for dereliction of duty.

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