Bihar’s Shelter Shame: Why the Buck Stops With the Nitish Govt

TISS scholar Mohd Tarique tells The Quint how the pattern of abuse was uncovered by audit team.

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The Nitish Kumar-led government in Bihar is currently reeling under allegations of sexual abuse at a state-run shelter home in Muzaffarpur. It was due to the concerted effort by a team comprising TISS (Tata Institute of Social Sciences) scholars that blew the lid off crimes against inmates, revealing a pattern of abuse and neglect at shelters for the destitute.

Highlighting Irregularities in Govt-Run Institutions

In a telephonic interview, Mohd Tarique who led the Koshish team from TISS, told The Quint that the objective of a social audit was to understand what factors were impacting the efficiency of these institutions. Of course, there were concerns right from the beginning:

When he (principal secy) said, ‘I want to know the ground reality’, one concern which we had, and we shared with him, was about government seeking accountability because a lot of those things were due to the government’s own shortcomings.
Mohd Tarique, Member, ‘Koshish’ Team

Different categories of institutions covered under the audit by TISS team included shelter homes for women, child care institutions, adoption agencies, rehabilitation centres for beggars and old age homes. The ‘Koshish’ team visited 110 institutions across 35 districts, out of which only 14-15 were being run directly by the government, rest were being controlled by NGOs.

Among 110 institutions that the TISS’ Koshish team had surveyed, as many as 15 institutions had ‘serious concerns’.

How the Survivors Opened Up About Sexual Abuse

Talking about sexual abuse is difficult, and, in this case, the TISS team came to know about it only when children began talking about it in third person.

Certain children spoke about it but not necessarily as themselves being the victims. So, somebody would probably speak about it in someone else’s name and that was the pattern we have seen because we have been working with such institutions for a long time.
Mohd Tarique, Member, ‘Koshish’ Team

According to Tarique, instances of sexual abuse was reported at three shelter homes, one of them being Muzaffarpur. But what was crucial for the audit team was the fact that children were revealing how they were being subjected to abuse and violence and therefore, immediate action had to be taken.

When you have experienced abuse and you do not want to talk about it, and then you also want to talk about it, but feel guilty or you fear what will happen, so you don’t talk about it as your first-hand experience. For us, it was important that all such reporting, sharing that happens with us, this was investigated properly, formally by an appropriate team.
Mohd Tarique, Member, ‘Koshish’ Team

Why Didn’t the Child Welfare Committees Take Any Action?

Around 15 institutions were listed as ones with serious concerns. While at one shelter home, abuse of younger boys by elder boys came to light, at another shelter home, the guards were reportedly passing lewd comments at girls.

The larger question the TISS report raises is how such horrific crimes went unnoticed by the district-level child welfare committees that are supposed to monitor such institutions? And that’s the apprehension of Mohd Tarique as well, who raises questions about the the existing safety mechanism around state-run institutions:

It’s not that the Child Welfare Committee was not in place, or the Child Protection Officer was not appointed. It was not that no visitors were going there, but in spite of all of that, how this issue remained unreported, that worries me about institutions in other states.
Mohd Tarique, Member, ‘Koshish’ Team

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