After the horrific incident of the sexual abuse of girls at a state-funded shelter home in Muzaffarpur, the Bihar Social Welfare Department suspended 14 officials on account of their “negligence and dereliction of duty”.
Bihar social welfare minister Manju Verma had also resigned days after the incident had come to light. But let’s not forget that this happened only after days of resistance, during which political parties and the media kept the attention on the purported telephonic conversations Verma’s husband had with key accused Brajesh Thakur.
More importantly, the fact that incidents of sexual assault in shelter homes in the state are still coming to light raises the question of whether Bihar government’s action is more focused on political damage control than improvement of the state of shelter homes.
After all, another case of alleged sexual harassment of women at a short stay home in Hajipur has come to light. On Sunday, it was also reported that two inmates of the state-run ‘Aasra’ shelter home in Nepali Nagar locality of Patna were found dead under unknown circumstances.
Reports of alleged sexual assault of inmates at a remand home for juveniles from Arrah also came to light on 1 August.
In fact, the seven-member team of Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), which had exposed the Muzaffarpur shelter home sexual assault case, had also pointed out similar incidents at 14 other shelter and short-stay homes in Bihar, reported The Hindu.
And apart from taking reactionary measures to deal with criticism and half-baked measures like appointing transgender guards at shelter homes to deal with sexual assault, the government has not been taking necessary action.
For example, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) has said that Bihar is one of the nine states which has been resisting social audits at the state’s child care institutions.
NCPCR had informed the Supreme Court about the states resisting the social audit, following which the apex court observed that those states resisting social audits by the child rights body appear to be “hiding something”.
“We are distressed to note from the affidavit filed that a large number of states have not permitted the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) or its agency to conduct social audits,” the Supreme Court had said.
“We make it clear that since there is a direction of this court and if the state governments are resisting in conducting the social audits, it appears that they are trying to hide something and so they do not want social audits to be conducted under the directions of this court,” it had said.
On Friday, the Supreme Court had also pulled up the governments of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh for not providing date on shelter homes. “With all these incidents happening daily, we can see why they are not giving data,” News18 had quoted the apex court as saying.
“Social audits are not what our governments do very frequently or with ease. A reason for that could be the political vulnerability that it could create if services aren’t appropriate. UUnfortunately, even the regular monitoring mechanisms in place have little scope for capturing the ‘lived experiences’ of the target groups,” The Times of India quoted Mohammad Tarique — the leader of the field action team from TISS that blew the lid off this scandal — as saying.
While it has to be acknowleged that eight states apart from Bihar also resisted social audits of shelter homes, Bihar government so far seems to be focused only on taking negative action against authorities to deal with criticism. The fact that the government is resisting positive action to bring about transparency in shelter homes, like conducting social audits, shows its true intent.