On 8 January, the Central Bureau of Investigation told the Supreme Court that no children were murdered in the Muzaffarpur shelter-home case. Appearing on behalf of the agency, the attorney general, KK Venugopal, informed the court that all the “35 girls were alive.” The bench, headed by the chief justice of India, SA Bobde, accepted the argument without any comment. The CBI made the claim while updating the court about its investigation in the shelter-home case, which the court is overseeing. More than thirty young girls, all aged below 18, were mentally, physically and sexually abused at a government-funded shelter home, meant to rehabilitate abandoned or runaway children, in Muzaffarpur in Bihar. The Supreme Court had been monitoring the Muzaffarpur case since August 2018; the CBI was supposed to update the court regularly. In February 2019, the apex court also transferred the case from Bihar to a special court in Delhi that deals with offences under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act of 2012. The trial court is set to pronounce its verdict in the case on 14 January.
The CBI’s claim before the Supreme Court contradicted the agency’s earlier stand—in May 2019, the CBI itself had told the court that at least eleven inmates of the shelter home might have been killed, and it would be investigating the case further. But more importantly, this claim defied the witness statements the agency had recorded in September 2018. Witnesses had clearly told CBI inspectors that during their stay at the shelter home, they saw its owner Brajesh Thakur and the staff members murder several residents. The Caravan accessed the statements of 33 children who were physically and sexually abused at Muzaffarpur shelter home. The horrific details present in these statements—which include accounts of rape, gangrape, sexual abuse, torture, trafficking and unnatural sex—not only directly contradict the CBI version, they also reveal the deficiencies of the CBI’s investigation.
The main accused in the case, Thakur, owned a printing press that printed three publications, ran over ten NGOs and was also a journalist accredited by the Press Information Bureau. He was also part of a state-government committees that selected journalists who should be given accreditation. Each year, he received government grants worth Rs 3 crore to run various projects, including the shelter home. He was arrested in early June 2018. Later that year, while ordering that Thakur be shifted from a jail in Bihar to one in Punjab, the apex court had observed, “Such is his power and influence that the residents of the locality had not even informed about the screams of the girls that they had heard coming from the home.”
The accused also included Manju Varma, formerly the minister for social welfare in the Bihar cabinet; Dilip Verma, the chairperson of the district Child Welfare Committee; Vikas Kumar, a member of the CWC; Ravi Kumar Raushan, the child-protection officer; and Rosy Rani, an assistant director of the child-protection unit. The CWC is a statutory body and has power of first judicial magistrate. It falls under the state government’s social-welfare department.
Fauzia Shakil, the lawyer for the petitioner who approached the Supreme Court, said that the angles of trafficking, unnatural offences, and the miscarriage of girls “still remain uninvestigated by the CBI.”