First in Muzaffarpur in Bihar, and then in Deoria in Uttar Pradesh, evidence has emerged showing how shelter homes for girls were used as dens of systematic sexual exploitation and abuse. The ‘homes’ trafficked and supplied girls and women, held captive on their premises, for sexual exploitation by rich and influential persons. These two shelter-homes are clearly the tip of the iceberg – it is likely that girls and women are subjected to such violence and abuse in many other such institutions all over the country.

The TISS report studied conditions in 15 shelters in Bihar, including short stay homes for women, shelter homes for girls and shelter homes for boys. One of these 15 homes is run by the Government, the remaining are run by NGOs which receive funding from the Government. Sexual abuse and violence were found in no less than 6 of the 15 homes. The Muzaffarpur home was run by an NGO belonging to Brajesh Thakur – whose small newspaper received a disproportionately huge amount in Government advertisements, and who boasted close links with the Chief Minister of Bihar. Reportedly, several BJP leaders including a Union Minister made calls to the police seeking to protect Thakur, who even now is in a hospital rather than in jail. Chandrashekhar Varma, husband of the Bihar Social Welfare Minister Manju Varma on whose watch these horrors took place, also reportedly visited the Muzaffarpur home many times and was closely in touch with Thakur. Nitish Kumar has refused to act against Manju Varma, and BJP leader and Bihar’s Deputy CM Sushil Modi has publicly assured that the whole of BJP backs Manju Varma to the hilt! The TISS report was submitted to the Government in February 2018, yet the Government made no move to rescue the girls or file FIRs till a media channel broke the story and massive protests by women’s groups in Bihar followed. One girl was reportedly beaten and killed at the Muzaffarpur home, and several witnesses are reportedly missing.

In the shelter home at Devariya (the district adjoining the UP CM’s own seat Gorakhpur), too, women were being forced to submit to sexual exploitation, and girls were beaten and forced to perform domestic labour.

The Supreme Court is now monitoring the Muzaffarpur case and has slammed the Bihar Government, saying that by failing to act even after being warned about the conditions in the homes, the Government was virtually “financing these horrific acts.”

What do these Government-financed horrors against girls and women whom they claim to be ‘sheltering’ or ‘rescuing’, tell us? When ruling politicians and Governments righteously demand death penalty for rapists, it is nothing but a red herring. Shelter homes and short-stay homes are crucial for women and children facing domestic violence, or who are destitute and trying to escape violent or exploitative situations. If these homes are run like jails – or worse, like dens of sexual slavery and violence – it is the Government that is squarely responsible. District Administrations and the Government are tasked with oversight and monitoring of such State-funded shelters, even if they are run by NGOs. But since girls, boys and women who land up in these shelters are poor and extremely vulnerable, the Government authorities treat them with contempt and see them as fodder for sexual exploitation.

The Prime Minister’s silence on these horrors – in states where his own party is in power – gives the lie to his slogan of ‘Beti Bachao’ – ‘Save Daughters’. In the name of ‘Saving Daughters’, his party unleashes violence against consensual inter-faith couples – but the same party, when in Government, presides over the systematic sexual exploitation of ‘daughters’ and children in the name of ‘rescue’ and ‘shelter’.

We demand a Supreme Court monitored probe into all the shelter homes and juvenile justice homes in the country, and stringent measures to allow regular scrutiny and social audits of such shelters by women’s movement groups. We demand action against all those directly or indirectly complicit in the shelter home rapes in Bihar and UP. We demand the arrest of Chandrashekhar Varma and the sacking of Bihar Minister Manju Varma. We demand that the Chief Ministers and Deputy CMs of Bihar and UP, as well as the Prime Minister, take moral responsibility for the horrors perpetrated on their watch.