In Delhi, Protesters Demand Justice for Muzaffarpur Shelter Victims

Bahut hui mahilaon par vaar, abki baar Modi sarkar (Enough attacks on women, it’s time to vote in the Modi government). You must have seen the smiling face of Modi on hoardings, to me it seems he is mocking, with this slogan,” Exclaimed CPI national council member Kanhaiya Kumar, at a protest yesterday in New Delhi against the rape of minor girls in Muzaffarpur, Bihar. The rapes took place in a government-funded shelter home called Balika Grih.

On July 30, various civil society organisations and political parties gathered in front of Delhi’s Bihar Bhawan to protest the revelations about the shelter. In the short time since the initial news broke, it has also emerged that the Bihar social welfare department had filed an FIR about the rapes, based on a social audit of the shelter which was conducted by an organisation based in Mumbai. The audit’s report clearly showed that many girls in the home had complained of sexual abuse.

The protesters on Monday evening came from various organisations –  from the student and woman wings of the Communist Party of India (CPI), CPIML-Liberation, Jan Adhikar Party (JAP), Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Jamaat-e-Islami and a few other civil society organisations. At Bihar Bhawan, they raised slogans against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar. The state government of Bihar currently comprises a coalition between the BJP and Janata Dal (United). Seeking a fair probe into the incident, they demanded Kumar’s resignation and a court-monitored probe of all such shelter homes in the state. The main demand is speedy justice for the victims.

Ali Anwar Ansari, a former JD(U) MP told Telegraph India, “The culprits are many, the victims are many and the scenes of crime are many, yet there is only one FIR. The result is zero – there is no action on the high and mighty who were involved.” He added, “The CM should resign as Bihar and India have been shamed in the world due to this.”

Also present at the protest was Gargi Chakravarty, the vice president of the National Federation of Indian Women, who said, “It’s taken two months of public pressure for the Bihar government to agree to a CBI probe. The demand for the CM’s resignation may be symbolic but it is needed, as he has to accept responsibility of what is happening in state-funded institutions.” The general secretary of the National Federation, Annie Raja, pointed out that while crores of rupees have been spent on the central Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao (Save the Girl Child, Educate the Girl Child) scheme, the chief minister has failed Bihar.

Theatre group Asmita performs at a protest outside Bihar Bhawan, New Delhi, July 30 2018. Credit: Afreen Khan

Theatre activist group Asmita’s member, Arvind Gaur, who was also present at the protest, believes that although people are now more aware about sexual abuse, the threat of legal punishment has not stopped such crimes from taking place. “The legal process is too slow and implementation of stronger laws are improper. Initially, during the discussion with the audience after our plays, people blamed women and movies for rape. The main change that has come about is that now people are aware and accept that such crimes are happening in our societies,” he told Telegraph India.

People protesting the rape of minor girls in a shelter in Muzaffarpur, Bihar, outside Bihar Bhawan, New Delhi, July 30 2018. Credit: Afreen Khan

Manoj Jha, a Rajya Sabha MP from the RJD, has questioned Modi’s silence on the issue. Speaking in the Rajya Sabha last week, he said “a chilling incident” had taken place in Muzaffarpur, wherein about 40 ‘Nirbhayas‘ had been abused.

Medical reports indicate that over half of the 40 girls at the shelter may have been sexually assaulted at some point, police said. The NGO which ran the shelter has been blacklisted, and the girls have been shifted to homes in Madhubani and Patna. Local police arrested the man who ran the NGO, as well as women staff members of the shelter.

Featured image credit: Afreen Khan