Muzaffarpur: Nearly a year ago, the Muzaffarpur shelter home rape case hit the national headlines. The case, where at least 34 girls were sexually abused in a shelter home in Bihar, was appalling, and gave rise to a wave of protests – from Muzaffarpur town to Patna to Delhi. But a year later, the case is neither an election issue, nor a concern for the local residents, four days ahead of the Lok Sabha polls here.
The gravity of this case can be gauged from the fact that the Supreme Court, which is monitoring the ongoing Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe in this case, has repeatedly slammed the Bihar government for delay in taking action.
“What balika griha balatkar kand (shelter home rape case)? It is not at all an issue in Lok Sabha polls here,” said Rajiv Kumar, an auto-rickshaw driver from Muzaffarpur.
A group of thelewalas (handcart pullers) said unanimously that they have no idea about what has been happening in this case. “Last year, we had heard of it. Not even once in the election campaigning,” said Mohd Zafir, one of the handcart pullers.
Sita Ram Rout, told NewsClick that he, too, has not heard about this issue during the poll campaigning, while Santosh Kumar Patel, Ashok Kumar and Bimal Mandal claimed that the issues raised by ruling Bharatiya Janata Party-led NDA are dominating the campaigning.
Kameshwar Prasad, a retired government employee opined that what happened was not pardonable, but action is being taken. “The concerned authorities are taking action in this case. It is not an election issue.”
A sugarcane juice vendor nearby, named Devindar Bhagat, told NewsClick, “There are no local issues in the polls; only national issues are in focus.”
Tamanna Hashmi, a social activist from Muzaffarpur said that the shelter home rape case should be the main issue in the constituency ahead of the polls, but unfortunately, it has not even been referred to by the ruling party as well as the opposition. “Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is star campaigner of the NDA, has not said a line about this shocking case in his election rallies here. Modi has deliberately ignored this issue when he was praising Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar,” he said.
Last year, in August, it was none other than CM Nitish Kumar who had said he was ashamed of the incident, adding that the case "has left us with a sense of shame and guilt”.
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Hashmi alleged that the infamous rape case is missing from the campaign because the BJP candidate does not want to risk damage to the votes of a particular caste. “Brajesh Thakur, the key accused in the case, belongs to the powerful upper caste, Bhumihar, who have sizeable population in this constituency. They decide the outcome of the polls. If this issue would have turned into a poll issue, it could have angered the Bhumihars. This incident has also exposed double talk of PM Modi and failure of his much-hyped Beti Bachao Beti Padhao,” he said
Santosh Sarang, a senior journalist working with a Hindi daily in Muzaffarpur, said that not a single news story related to this case has appeared in the local dailies since the last month. “If the similar case would have happened in the rule of Lalu Prasad’s Rashtriya Janata Dal, it would have become the main issue in polls,” he claimed.
In February, this year, a special Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) court in Muzaffarpur had directed the CBI to conduct a probe against Nitish Kumar and two senior IAS officers.
The alleged sexual abuse of 34 minor girls at the Muzaffarpur shelter home, run by Thakur’s NGO, came to light in May 2018 after a social audit report prepared by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) went public. Following this, the Bihar Social Welfare Department had filed a complaint with the police.
A 16-year-old victim, who is also a prime witness in this case, had revealed names of several perpetrators – allegedly including top government officers and powerful politicians who used to regularly visit the Muzaffarpur shelter home.
After a hue and cry by the opposition, the case was handed over to the CBI in July last year, and Bihar Social Welfare Minister Manju Verma was forced to resign owing to reports alleging close links of her husband with Thakur.
Thakur has since been shifted to a jail in Patiala following the order of the Supreme Court, even as the other accused, including his close aides and some government officials are lodged in jails in Patna and Muzaffarpur.
The apex court had recently also directed the CBI to take over the probe into allegations of sexual abuse at all such shelter homes across the state.
Muzaffarpur will go to polls on May 6 in the fifth phase of Lok Sabha polls.
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