The horrifying news from a state sponsored shelter home at Muzaffarpur town in Bihar has lowered the national esteem beyond imagination. All over the country there has been shock and dismay at this shameful news. No one believed that even such kind of ghastly act can take place in a state run shelter home.
Now, when the heat and dust of over such monumental shame is settling down, it is time to take stock of the situation. This should begin with the acknowledgment of those who are the prime movers of this news into the public domain.
First mover and shaker of this news is the “Team Koshish” (field-action programme of Tata Institute of Social Sciences) that conducted the ‘Social Audit’ of the Muzaffarpur shelter home and brought out the shocking irregularities. The ‘Koshish team’ is worthy of praise because they have worked in an extremely hostile milieu to audit the lives of the marginalised destitute, homeless and beggars and brought out the graphic details.
Even though, all the members of the ‘Koshish team’ deserve accolade, the special one must go to Mohammad Tarique (an Ashoka Fellow) who led the team from the front with excellence and passion. He selflessly supervised an outfit of youth committed to prepare the audit report impartially and bring the finding in an extremely tight time frame.
The second kudos goes to Atul Prasad, Principal Secretary, ‘Social Welfare Department’ government of Bihar for envisioning such an unprecedented social audit. He deserves bigger accolade for accepting the truth and publishing the “TISS Report” and making it public. The truth may have remained buried in the files of Social Welfare department of Bihar had it not the gone public with the TISS report.
The third person who deserves credit accolade is Ms Harpreet Kaur, Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP), Muzafarpur. It is her investigation which had made skeletons tumble out. She showed promptness to lodge the FIR in this case and arrested the key accused. She has shown to the country what an upright police officer can do if allowed to handle such sensitive cases.
The case so far and where it’s heading? A nationally reputed NGO carried out a social audit of the state run shelter home and based on evidence of ‘inmates’ reported the instances sexual assault on them. The social welfare department of the state made the report public.
Following which the Superintendent of police filed FIR and book the culprits. In the process police have video-graphed evidence based on statements of victims. The independent medical board from reputed medical college of the state corroborated the incidents of rape.
There was a public hue and cry for speedy disposal of case and exemplary punishment for those found guilty. After that the Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar handed over the case to the CBI for investigation. He declared that no culprit, however powerful will be spared.
It is likely that the CBI will carry out further investigation of this case and collect more clinching evidences to make it a water tight case. Then the case will be heard in a court and justice will to deliver justice in a time frame.
It is now clear that most of the rape was committed on minors and falls within the jurisdiction of Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses (POCSO) Act 2012.
Under the new provision of POSCO Act that was amended in 2018 after “Asifa rape case” states that “all accused are guilty till proven innocent.” This is a significant shift from the previous position that, “All accused are innocent till proven guilty.”
This Muzafarpur shelter home case is a rarest of the rare case, where under the new provision of POSCO Act 2018 the accused can be given death sentence for raping of minors below 12. It is expected from the custodian of justice to award award maximum punishment to those pathological criminals found guilty of committing such heinous crime.
Muzafarpur shelter home expose has blown over the lid of such horrific crime. The National Human Right Commission Reports testify to the fact that such sexual abuse of girls and women are more of a norm than exception in Mental Hospitals government, private or NGO run homes.
It is high time that all the state government to fast-track all such social audit and make it public. An honest audit by the bunch of committed youth like those of ‘Koshish team’ can deliver the desired results.
Such social audit should have full state support and protection and be combined with speedy follow up action. The various reforms suggested in the audit report should be implemented expeditiously by the state governments and monitored periodically.
Another concern is how to reorganize the rehabilitation programme. These girls are victims of social and psychological malaise of the society; they have been protection in the shelter homes to escape from the society. Now in such protected home they have been physically and psychologically humiliated. A full proof rehabilitation programme of these victims poses a big challenge to the state governments.
There are no quick-fix solutions to such problems. The heart of the matter is that governments are absolving themselves from the welfare responsibilities and handing it over to some non-governmental organizations. This is the biggest take away from this story.
There is no quick fix solution to such national shame. This malaise will not be set right unless the governments become proactive in discharging the social duties. It is a very serious issue and the response to it should be in proportion to the pandemonium created in the country today.
[Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.]
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