Aditya Sinha: The shame of my hometown
The sexual exploitation of girls at the Muzaffarpur shelter is horrific and will finally spell good riddance to Chief Minister Nitish Kumar
The deaf-mute seven-year-old who could not speak of her sexual abuse broke my heart. Covered with bruises she told her story last month, through a fellow inmate, to a judge of her assault at a girls' shelter in Muzaffarpur, Bihar. What a nightmare. It's something I can never imagine. I think of my daughters. Also, I feel utter shame: my hometown is now and forever associated with this vile tale of paedophilia, rape, torture and god knows what other cruelty that took place, for god knows how long.
In July, a Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) team did a social audit and found that the home's 45 residents, between seven and 17, were raped and/or prostituted for VIPs by the shelter's owner, Brajesh Thakur. Medical tests confirmed 34 raped. Some were pregnant, some had had abortions. Four girls had run away. One girl was reported dead but an excavation of the grounds yielded nothing. A total 471 girls have stayed there since it began operations in November 2013. A FIR was registered on July 31, ten persons arrested. One fugitive is untraced. More arrests are expected as the investigation deepens.
The image in everyone's mind is of Brajesh Thakur grinning grotesquely as he is led away by policemen. His smile reminds me of every upper caste acquaintance who constantly has a mouthful of paan. I telephoned a couple of cousins for more details on this low-life. Their first reaction: "I don't know this fellow... I left Muzaffarpur a long time ago... he's probably not even from Muzaffarpur."
He, however, is from Muzaffarpur. Maybe not from town, perhaps from a nearby village, but still Muzaffarpur. His father Radha Mohan Thakur, from whom he inherited the newspaper Praatah Kamal, was equally notorious: "People say his father was dirtier than the son," a cousin said. The newspaper is known to my exclusively Hindi-speaking cousins; its office, sharing a large premises with the shelter, is beyond Kalyani chowk, near "chhoti Kalyani", a short walk from the house where I was born. It is a busy part of town, and it is impossible that passers-by did not hear the girls' cries at night.
Thakur was a fixer. Such a man is politically connected to everyone. Though Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Tejashwi Yadav went hammer-and-tongs against Chief Minister Nitish Kumar over this case, a newspaper recently published an old photograph of Thakur shaking hands with former CM Lalu Prasad. The photo may be harmless. What is widely known in my hometown, however, is that Thakur is exceptionally close to the MLA, Suresh Kumar Sharma. He is a diehard BJP man. Newspapers report that several politicians, including a loud-mouthed BJP minister, have shielded him in the past.
I watched TV news briefly over the weekend because, despite my dislike of the noise, I wanted to know more about what had happened. There was news of a rally in Delhi by opposition leaders, and someone complained that politics was overtaking the tragedy. This is a misleading assertion. The Bihar government's Social Welfare Department had suspended Thakur's licence for a few years until 2017, yet he still managed to collect from it one crore rupees per year. The Bihar Child Protection Commission visited the Muzaffarpur home more than once but despite warning signs, did not pursue the matter. Perhaps because it had no women members. Why should it, such panels are sinecures for political supporters. Politics are very much intertwined in this systemic failure, and its unspeakable tragedy.
There is also a deeper societal issue. In Muzaffarpur, 900 girls are born for every 1,000 boys. In upper-caste Muzaffarpur, where I am from, matters about women and girls are scoffed at as Westernised or big city distractions. Girls are treated worse than cattle. My own sister, who has spent her life in America, was forced in her youth by our mother into an arranged marriage in Bihar. (She divorced not long after.) When I lived in Chennai, a visiting cousin whose tongue was loosened by a shot of whiskey casually made some loathsome remarks about the local women. I was horrified (as were my daughters). Sexual violence is part of the lexicon.
Worse, Thakur's daughter defended her father saying he could have had beautiful women whenever he wanted, why would he go to sickly, ugly, poor girls. My cousin disgustedly said: "She must have grown up witnessing her father's activities." Nitish Kumar has tried to carve out a constituency for himself with free bicycles for girl students and prohibition (to help homemakers). That has gone for a toss. The non-upper castes are against him. Even government-supporting TV news channels have been on the offensive. The end of his political career is in sight. Nobody will shed a tear.
Aditya Sinha's latest book, The Spy Chronicles: RAW, ISI and the Illusion of Peace, co-written with AS Dulat and Asad Durrani, is available now. He tweets @autumnshade Send your feedback to email@example.com
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