Investigators have confirmed that skeletal remains of a young girl recently recovered from a cremation ground in Muzaffarpur, India are believed to belong to a former resident of the Balika Grih Girls’ Shelter.
The Indian Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) will now be expanding the scope of its investigation into allegations of rape and abuse of residents at the state-funded girls’ shelter at the hands of politically well-connected staff and other individuals, to include the possibility of murder.
Suspicions that some of the missing former residents of the Muzaffarpur Balika Grih girls’ shelter may have been murdered have been circulating since the rape scandal was first uncovered in spring this year.
In August police dug the front portion of the recently shuttered girls’ shelter in response to a tip off that a 15-year-old girl, missing since 2013, had been beaten to death and her body buried under banana leaves when she threatened to expose abuses at the youth home.
That search failed to turn up any evidence of human remains, but police hope this latest discovery may help investigators piece together the full extent of what happened at Balika Grih and why it was allowed to go on for as long as it did.
Drugged, Raped And Beaten While Authorities Stood By
Despite rumors surrounding conditions at the girls’ shelter circulating locally for many years, residents’ accounts abuses officially came to light early in 2018.
A scathing report by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), which was first circulated in February 2018, but was submitted to Bihar’s Social Welfare department in its final form in April, documented numerous instances of serious sexual violence against shelter residents between the ages of 7-17 at the hands of their caregivers.
Girls reported being raped, drugged, scalded with boiling water, forced to sleep naked, forbidden from contacting family members, confined to locked dormitories and routinely beaten.
But despite the seriousness of the alleged offences authorities did not move to rescue the forty-four underage residents of the state-funded shelter until June 14 2018, more than a month after criminal complaints had been filed against shelter director Brajesh Thakur and ten others.
NGO Boss Pimps Out Destitute Teens To Win Government Contracts
Brajesh Thakur, who until his arrest ran the NGO that administered the Balika Grih girls’ shelter, as well a number of other community projects in the northeastern Indian state of Bihar, including a women’s shelter and old age home, was the proprietor of several small newspapers, who at one time had harbored his own political ambitions.
Described as a small-time strongman with stellar connections in the worlds of local politics and government bureaucracy, Thakur is alleged to have offered up young girls in his shelters to be abused by local officials, in return for granting his NGO contracts to provide welfare services.
Among those arrested this summer in relation to alleged abuse at the Balika Grih girls’ shelter were Vikas Kumar, a member of the child welfare committee, and Ravi Roshan, the district child protection officer.
Police believe that the greater part of Thakur’s personal income came from grants given to his NGO.
A senior police officer who was part of the initial probe said, “The estimated cumulative earning from his NGO projects would be no less than Rs 2.5 crore ($340,000 USD) a year. If the earnings from his three newspapers are added, Thakur made at least Rs 3 crore ($406,000 USD) a year.”
Minister Steps Down Suspected Of Sheltering Girls’ Home Rape Scandal Suspect From Arrest
The month long grace period between the indictments against Brajesh Thakur being made and his eventual arrest, not to mention public incredulity that his NGO could have been granted public money while allegedly abusing society’s most vulnerable for as long it did, has led many to believe Thakur was under the protection of local power brokers.
In August the Minister of Social Welfare in the Bihar state government, Manju Verma, was forced to resign after it was revealed that her husband had been in regular contact with Thakur in the period between the publication of the TISS report and Thakur’s belated arrest in June.
On July 29 a further complaint was registered against Thakur relating to 15 women and children who had gone missing from another of his shelter homes, since June 9 2018.