A few months ago, on the initiative of the Bihar government, the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) conducted a social audit of children homes in Bihar. The Koshish unit of TISS visited 110 children homes in 38 districts of Bihar and submitted the audit report to the Department of Social Welfare on April 27, 2018. Koshish mainly works on urban poverty. The team constituted eight members—five men and three women.
According to Atul Prasad, chief secretary of the Bihar Social Welfare Department, the TISS report was divided into three categories: Better, Administrative Negligence, and Criminal Negligence. Sewa Sankalp Evam Vikas Samiti, an NGO running a shelter home for girls, was found in the category of criminal negligence.
The Social Welfare Department shared the information from Koshish’s social audit and report with all its regional officials, and ordered the authorities to take immediate action. Based on this, the police filed an FIR on May 31 under the Juvenile Justice Act and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act against Sewa Sankalp Evam Vikas Samiti of Muzaffarpur.
The police arrested Brijesh Thakur, Kiran Kumari, Meenu Devi, Manju Devi, Indu Kumar, Chanda Devi, Neha Kumari and Hema Masih on June 3, and sent them to jail. The police transferred 42 out of 44 girls from this home to various other child homes for girls in Patna, Madhubani and Mokama. According to members of the Koshish unit, in June itself, the Patna Medical College Hospital had found in the medical examination that 29 out of 42 girls were raped.
Some girls living in Sewa Sankalp Evam Vikas Smiti said in a statement given to the police, that a girl was beaten to death for not obeying the officials. Later, she was buried in the child home premises. This is when the case moved into the public eye. Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly, Tejasvi Yadav, raised the issue in the House. After this, the media across the country turned towards Muzaffarpur. The Chief Minister or Deputy Chief Minister have not given any statements yet. But according to some media reports, the Bihar government has issued orders for CBI inquiry into the matter on Thursday.
But this matter is not limited to only Muzaffarpur. In the same TISS report, it is revealed that there has been harassment in 14 other shelter homes. Neither has the media looked into it, nor has the administration acted on it promptly till now.
According to reports in Navbharat Times, Shiba Kumari Singh, wife of Muzaffarpur Girl Protection Home officer Ravi Kumar Roshan, has raised doubts about the husband of Social Welfare Minister Manju Verma. Shiba has alleged that Chandreshwar Verma, husband of Manju Verma, used to visit the girl protection home often. When he used to come, all the officials of the home were sent to the lower floors and the top floor was evacuated.
The administration is now looking into the Muzaffarpur incident and it looks like action has been taken too. But the information revealed in the TISS report by Koshish raises questions on 14 other shelter homes. Koshish researchers have shared this part of the report with Newslaundry. We are revealing the names of all those institutions and recommendations given on them.
When Newslaundry asked Raj Kumar, director of the Bihar Social Welfare Department, about the status of action on the rest of the 14 institutions, he evaded the issue. He was also angry with the media. He said, “The Bihar government should be praised. Who initiated the social audit from TISS? After that only all this information was revealed, but the media is not telling this to anyone.”
1 Sewa Sankalp Evam Vikas Samiti, Muzaffarpur (Girl Child Home)
The administration took action after the audit of this girl child home. It was reported that there are complaints of severe sexual harassment and violence with girls here. The girls are not allowed to go anywhere, and they were taken out of the room just for dinner.
2 Nirdesh, Motihari (Child Home)
Nirdesh is a child home located in Motihari. According to the report, all the children were beaten here. There is a special pattern to this; if one child does any mischief, then everyone is beaten. According to the children, an employee of the child home beats all the children if they do any mischief, or if they try to run away or fight with each other.
3 Rupam Pragati Samaj Samiti, Bhagalpur (Child Home)
The report raised serious questions about the secretary of this home in Bhagalpur. An employee of the institution who supported the children was also harassed by the secretary. The audit team examined the complaint box in the institution and found many complaints against RTO Rekha. In written complaints, the children mentioned many acts of violence. It was said Rekha physically assaulted the children, and was abusive with them. The institution was not willing to give the key of the complaint box to the audit team. They made excuses that the key is lost.
4 Panah, Munger (Child Home)
Munger’s Panah child home does not have its own building. It runs inside a barrack-like structure. The inspector of Panah resides in the campus itself, and asks the children to clean and cook. If they refuse, he beats them. A child who cooks for the inspector showed a nearly three-inch long mark on his cheek. This mark was allegedly owing to the beating of the inspector. Due to the injury, the child now has problems in speaking and listening.
Another child, who is nearly seven years old, is also prone to hearing problems. The child complained to the audit team that the inspector had snatched his hearing machine. The audit team helped him get his machine back.
5 Daudnagar Organisation for Rural Development, Gaya (Child Home)
This institution operates like a prison, with an exploitative environment. The boys at the home told the audit team that the women employees ask the boys to write absurd messages on pieces of paper, and force them to give these to the other women employees. The children also said they are beaten. The audit team expressed its suspicions that the employees used the children for other work too.
6 Nari Gunjan, Patna. RVESK, Madhubani. Gyan Bharti, Kaimoor (Adoption Agency)
These three adoption agencies operate in pathetic conditions. The number of caretakers in proportion to the number of newborn infants and children is very low. All three institutions were unhygienic. The audit team found out that the children are hungry and unhappy. The employees complained that they have not been paid for a long time.
7 Observation Home, Araria
This is a child home run directly by the government. The boys complained that a guard of the Bihar police beats them severely. A child showed the injury on his chest to the audit team. It looked as if his chest had been pressed heavily, due to which there was swelling in the chest.
The children were extremely angry with the guard. A child said to the audit team, “This name should be changed from Borstal to Spoiling House.”
8 Institute of Khadi Agriculture and Rural Development, Patna (Women’s Shelter Home)
Many “lost” girls stay at this home. The girls have complained of violence here. Some girls had the contact numbers of their family members, but the organisation’s employees did not allow them to contact their parents. Last year, a girl committed suicide due to frustration from the everyday violence. Another girl, a victim of harassment, has lost her mental balance. The girls do not have adequate clothing or medicines.
9 Sakhi, Motihar (Women’s Shelter Home)
It was revealed that physical violence is done with girls and women suffering from mental illness. All the charges of violence are on the counselor. The girls complained that they are not given sanitary pads. They have very poor living conditions, and it needs immediate action.
10 Novelty Welfare Society, Munger (Women’s Shelter Home)
The institution has given a portion of the building to a family on rent, and is charging ₹10,000 per month for it. The girls did not say much, but said there is no latch on the bathroom door. The audit team asked that a closed room be opened, and released a mentally ill woman from it. She grabbed a member of the audit team and started crying.
11 Mahila Chetna Vikas Mandal, Madhepura (Women’s Shelter Home)
The audit team found the conditions in the home to be very unkind. A girl complained that she was forcibly brought here from the road, and that she was not allowed to contact her family members. The audit team tried to gather more information about the case of the girl, but there was no one else other than the cook in the institution, who was very scared. The girls do not have mats to sleep on. They sleep on the ground.
12 Gram Swaraj Sewa Sansthan, Kaimoor (Women’s Shelter Home)
Girls have complained of sexual harassment involving the security guard. The girls and women said the guard passed unwarranted comments, and his behaviour was also “unfair”. Since the guard supervises all the affairs of the organisation, he rules over the girls.
13 Sewa Kutir, Muzaffarpur
Sewa Kutir of Muzaffarpur is run by the Om Sai Foundation. Girls have complained about abuse and violence. These girls were brought here on the pretext of employment. The audit team did not get the documents related to the organisation because the employee of the institution said he did not have the keys of the cupboard where they were kept. The cupboard keys were with another employee, who was on leave on the day of the audit.
14 Sewa Kutir, Gaya (Old Age Home)
The Meta Buddha Trust operates Gaya-based Sewa Kutir. This is an old age home. The audit team found the people staying in Sewa Kutir to be very thin. They saw the employees of the institutions instructing the people through gestures. The institute was run in a very dictatorial manner. There were a considerable number of mentally ill people here.
According to the local newspaper Prabhat Khabar, the residents of Sujata Bypass complained against the operators of Sewa Kutir in December 2015.
15 Kaushal Kutir, Patna
This organisation is operated by the Don Bosco Tech Society. Here, both women and men are abused. The women and men are very strictly kept separate. They attend classes together but are not allowed to interact with each other. They are not even allowed to go into the open space.
Administration is insensible
On May 26, 2018, the Social Welfare Department instructed its officials to act promptly on all those found guilty in the report. The action against Sewa Sankalp Evam Vikas Samiti was covered by the media, but Newslaundry tried to investigate the action taken, if any, on the other places mentioned in the report.
The report said Nari Gunjan and the Institute of Khadi Agriculture and Rural Development, both in Patna, have serious allegations against them. When Newslaundry inquired about action taken against these two, the District Magistrate, Kumar Ravi, expressed his unawareness. He was not even aware that the two NGOs in Patna were mentioned in the TISS report. He said, “So far, this matter has not come to our notice. We got to know about it from you. Information will be given to the officials in this regard.”
Gaurav Mangla, the SP of Munger, said FIR has been registered against the Novelty Welfare Society. The FIR was filed on Monday, July 23. Mangla said, “The investigation is going on. Till now there has been no arrest.”
The district officials of Gaya, Araria and Motihari could not be reached. Questions have been sent to them regarding the cases, and the story will be updated with their responses.
Raj Kumar, director of the Bihar Social Welfare Department, was asked on the status of action taken. He said, “Action has been taken on behalf of the Department of Social Welfare against the places from where serious complaints have been received.” The TISS report has revealed serious incidents in 15 institutions, but the director doesn’t consider these complaints as serious.
Why did the government delay action after the report of TISS? Raj Kumar presents a different picture of the whole event. He said, “On April 27, TISS submitted the draft of the report to the department. The team members of Koshish requested the department to hold a meeting in connection with the report. The meeting was held on May 5 and 7 with the department. The final report was submitted by TISS on May 9. After this, there was a departmental meeting with regional officials on May 26.”
Raj Kumar had said the government needs praise for initiating the social audit in the first place. Newslaundry asked when was the last time an audit had been conducted by the department. Does the government allow grants to child homes without checking? Raj Kumar avoided answering this question. Before disconnecting the phone, he only said that the department is considering conducting an audit on a regular basis.
Handing over supervision to transgenders
After the TISS report, the Bihar Social Welfare Department decided to hand over the responsibility of security to transgenders. According to a statement made to The Indian Express by the Principal Secretary of the Social Welfare Department, by giving responsibility of security to transgenders, there will be reduction in the cases of harassment. He said, “This move will help avert sexual exploitation, and also offer employability to transgenders and give them social parity.”
Members of Koshish don’t agree with this move. In a conversation with Newslaundry, a team member, on condition of anonymity, said, “We have never given this advice to the government. Those who understand human trafficking know what kind of dangers are there for transgenders.”
Members of Koshish expressed satisfaction over the action taken in Muzaffarpur incident. They want governments to regularise social audits. Let the children, the elderly and women talk about the conditions within the homes. Koshish is not happy with the reporting efforts of the local media. They believe that this matter should have been raised earlier itself, and that too with great importance.
This is still a very sorry situation. A meeting of officials took place after the names of 15 tainted institutions were revealed in the audit. It was said that prompt action would be taken. Two months later, there has been no action taken against 14 of the institutions. Have administration, media and politics become the tools to demolish people’s expectations? Or incidents of rape and harassment have become normal for us.