Statements of 33 inmates belie the CBI’s claim of no murders in Muzaffarpur shelter-home case

13 January, 2020

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.” 

The Muzaffarpur shelter-home crimes came to light in April 2018 after a team from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences conducted an independent social audit of 110 shelter homes in Bihar, under the supervision of the Bihar government’s social-welfare department. The audit expressed “grave concern” over the functioning of 17 such child-care institutions. The Muzaffarpur shelter home, named Balika Grih, was one among these.

In the beginning, the Bihar police registered and investigated the case. A month after TISS researchers submitted their report to the government, on 31 May 2018, the police registered a case against 11 persons, including Thakur and his accomplices, which included a state cabinet minister and members of the state’s child-welfare committee. The police selectively registered cases in 10 such incidents, leaving seven other shelter homes out of its investigation. In July 2018, after the Patna high court took suo moto cognisance of the Muzaffarpur case, the Bihar government handed the investigation over to the CBI.

 In September 2018, the agency recorded these statements under Section 161 of the Code for Criminal Procedure, which outlines the power of the police to examine witnesses. In the statements, the children gave out the names of the alleged murderers and the manner in which the victims were murdered. The witnesses recounted their own suffering as well—they described how the owner, the staff and people from “outside” regularly drugged, raped, gangraped and physically tortured them.

According to the documents in The Caravan’s possession, at least twelve witnesses told the CBI that they saw murders being committed in the shelter home. Thirteen said “outsiders” raped them, and many said they were taken to hotels as well or knew of girls being taken of the home—suggesting offences of trafficking or forced prostitution. Nearly all the witnesses said they were regularly subjected to unnatural sex and rape. The statements all named Thakur as the main perpetrator. The victims accused Thakur of regularly raping and abusing the girls in the shelter home, and of killing some inmates. Several victims said that they witnessed Thakur, along with accomplices, killing a mentally disabled girl and disposing off her body in a gunny sack. One victim said that Thakur killed a young girl and the staff forced the victim to bury the girl in the yard of the shelter home. Another victim said that Thakur threatened her and forced her to strangle and murder a mentally challenged inmate of the shelter home. 

One victim recounted that a man she referred to as “Mamu” had raped her with the help of Kiran and “Meenu Aunty,” who worked at the home. “Kiran Aunty had tied my hands and legs and choked my mouth with a handkerchief once. After that, Mamu raped me in Meenu Aunty’s room … He had given Kiran Aunty money in exchange.” Another victim recounted how Thakur had sexually abused her and that she witnessed him raping another girl. Several victims recounted that Thakur and Roshan, the CPO, would visit the shelter home drunk, and force the girls to dress in skimpy clothes and dance for them. Another victim also recounted that Thakur “used to stab me with his burning cigarette many times. On my palm, on left hip, on both hips and above knees … I used to cry a lot and would ask him to let me go saying ‘please, please’ with my folded hands.”

Thakur “forced me to drink alcohol mixed with another intoxicating substance,” another victim recounted. “He raped me by tying my legs and hands with a dupatta.”

Several victims recounted that they had witnessed Thakur kill a resident, and that they had either been threatened into silence or forced to collude with him. (Some such statements have been reproduced at the end of this report.) One victim recounted:

Brijesh killed one girl and put her in a tank. Brijesh through [two other victims] and Meenu Aunty got a mentally challenged girl [name redacted] killed. Brijesh had told them, “If you don’t kill her, I will kill you.” Brijesh killed her by stepping on her neck and [the two others] and Meenu had held her limbs. After the death, Meenu Aunty had her thrown into a gunny bag. I saw through a window. If someone asked, it was told that a dog has died.

Another victim recounted that Thakur instructed her and another girl to choke a mentally disabled resident. When they refused, he threatened to kill them. “Both of us got scared because he could do anything,” the victim told the CBI. The young girls tried to choke the mentally disabled girl but were not able to kill her. “Both of us became terrified, we left her there and ran. The next day, around 4–5 o’ clock Brijesh sir came to the Balika Grih. Vijay and Jaanvi”—the caretakers of the mentally disabled girls—“took the mentally challenged girl from there.” According to the victim’s statement, the caretaker, Jaanvi, later came and told them, “How did you two kill her, she was still alive.” The victim continued: “After that, we asked what happened to that girl, so she said, ‘Brijesh sir has finished her off.’”

Since its inception, the investigation had been under a cloud, due to the involvement of people connected to the ruling government as well as the direct involvement of secretary-level officials of the state governments and officials of statutory institutions that were put in place to protect abandoned children or those who have faced physical and sexual abuse. Dilip Verma, the head of the district CWC, absconded soon after the first-information report was registered. He surrendered five months later. Similarly, the police told the apex court that the then cabinet minister, Manju Verma, had become “untraceable” after she was accused in the case. Her husband, Chandrasekhar Verma, was reportedly a friend of Thakur’s who regularly visited the shelter home. During the investigation, a huge cache of ammunition was found from Chandrashekhar Verma’s home. The couple was then charged under the Arms Act.  Manju Verma resigned from the cabinet two months after the case was registered.

In August 2018, a Supreme Court bench comprising the justices Madan Lokur, Deepak Gupta and KM Joseph took suo motu cognisance of the case. The bench had described the case as a “state-sponsored incident.” The justices observed, “Was the credentials of this NGO which runs the home-Seva Sankalp and Vikas Samiti been verified? If you are doling out funds to NGOs without verifying their credentials, it almost amounts to state involvement. It will appear that all their wrongdoings are state-sponsored.”

A few months later, in November 2018, Lokur and Gupta summoned Bihar’s director general of police and asked him to explain why Manju had not been arrested for her connection with the case. The bench said, “That is fantastic. A cabinet minister is not traceable. Fantastic. How could it happen that a cabinet minister is not traceable and nobody knows where she is.” A week after that, Manju Verma surrendered before a local court. She was sent to judicial custody for three months and was released on bail in March 2019. The accusations appear not to have impacted her political power. In March, ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, she was seen sharing a stage with Giriraj Singh, a cabinet minister in Narendra Modi’s government at the centre, in Bihar’s Begusarai district.

In November 2018, Supreme Court had also reprimanded the police for diluting the charges and also being selective about the investigation in other shelter home cases. “When a charge of sexual violence has been levelled, it could either be aggravated or minor in nature, but how can the police say that it is not aggravated while recording the FIR? If the offence is not included in the FIR, how will you investigate?” the court said. In the same month, the court transferred the remaining the cases to CBI and further asked it to include all 17 shelter homes in its investigation.

Any hope of a thorough investigation by the CBI faded soon after. In December 2018, the agency filed a composite chargesheet that did not include charges for unnatural offences and trafficking. Though the new chargesheet named 21 accused people, it did not include the names of any powerful persons. The advocate of Dr Ashwini, one of the accused who the victims alleged would sedate the girls before they were raped, told the trial court in Saket court that the CBI was not recording Ashwini’s statement. He alleged that the Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar and two officers of the Indian Administrative Services, Atul Prasad and Dharmendra Singh, were involved in the case. The court forwarded his petition to the CBI, but the trio was never named as accused. 

In March 2019, Shakil filed a special leave petition in the Supreme Court, on behalf of a woman named Nivedita Jha, a Patna-based journalist. Shakil submitted that the CBI “has failed to conduct a thorough investigation” and that its ongoing work was “hogwash.” Shakil said that the CBI had not added any cognisable offences that the victims had disclosed in their statements, such as murder, trafficking and prostitution. The court accepted her petition.

In May 2019, the CBI told the court that it suspected 11 inmates had been murdered. In June 2019, a bench comprising the justices Indu Malhotra and MR Shah passed an order on Shakil’s petition and ordered the CBI to investigate various new aspects. These included offences under Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which defines unnatural sex as illegal, and the Information and Technology Act, 2000, as victims had alleged in their statements to the CBI that the accused videotaped the girls while sexually abusing them. The court also directed the CBI to investigate the involvement of outsiders and officers, as well as the possibility of illegal trafficking.

Recently, on 8 January 2020, when the CBI filed its status report in a sealed envelope, its counsel Venugopal did not say anything in court about what the agency had done to pursue these aspects. Since the CBI filed its status report in a sealed cover to the bench and did not share it with Shakil, she did not know the contents of the report.

The opacity of the investigation is such that even the petitioner is not aware how many victims at the moment are part of the case. Both the police and the CBI have failed to give a clear picture on the number of victims involved—it is not clear, even to the petitioner and Shakil, how the CBI arrived at the conclusion that 35 girls were said to have been murdered, then claimed that it was in fact 11, and later, supposedly found 35 alive. It is not clear whether these are the same girls whose statements were recorded in 2018, or whether they became part of the investigation at a later date. Shakil told me, “I am not even sure if 161 were recorded for all girls,” referring to the statements recorded under Section 161 of the CrPC. “We never got any record from CBI and have been shooting in the dark.” 

At the beginning of the investigation, even before the FIR was registered, the CWC authorities shifted the victims from one shelter home to another. In 2018, Ranjeet Ranjan, then a member of parliament from Supaul, a district near Muzaffarpur, told the Lok Sabha that the girls were exchanged and made to disappear even before the investigation began. Atul Prasad, who was a principal secretary to the secial-welfare minister, told the media in January 2019 that the girls were shifted under his supervision, and that many in the department were not aware of the decision.

Shakil’s confusion and Ranjan’s suspicion find credence if one examines the statement of the first investigating officer and the superintendents of the shelter homes where the girls were later shifted. 

According to the first IO Jyoti Kumari’s statement to the CBI—one of the documents in The Caravan’s possession—a day before the FIR was registered, on 30 May 2018, during a raid at the home, she  found a total of 46 girls, who were aged between 8 and 17. That day itself, Kumari wrote, two among these girls were handed over to their parents on the order of the social-welfare department, even before their statements were recorded. Of the remaining 44 girls, 14 were shifted to a shelter home in Madhuban. In her statement, Kumari described these 14 girls as “suffering from mental illness.” She stated that another 16 were shifted to two different shelter homes in Patna city, while 14 were shifted to Mokama, in Patna district. 

Kumari further stated that she was able to produce 30 girls before the magistrate to record statements. She wrote, “13 other girls, due to suffering from mental illness, could not give their statements.” Kumari did not clarify what happened to the fourteenth girl, whom she had earlier stated was also “mentally ill.”

The answer can be found in the statement of the superintendent of the Madhubani shelter home, one of the places where 14 of 42 girls were shifted. The Madhubani superintendent wrote that in July 2018, one of 14 girls “ran away” from her shelter home at 3.24 am in the morning. The statements of other superintendents of shelter homes in Patna, Madhubani and Mokama, revealed that while the investigation was on, the girls were shifted regularly within the district. The statements also reveal that girls from the Muzaffarpur shelter home were brought to Madhubani in March 2018, even before TISS had submitted its report officially. One of the statements, by the Madhubani superintendent, said that that during this period, two girls were also sent to Nepal.

Against this backdrop, the agency’s latest claim to the apex court makes even less sense. “We never said that 35 girls were murdered. We don’t even know the number of murdered girls,” Shakil told me. “It was the CBI’s case that 11 girls were murdered. Then, girls disclosed about the murders in their 161 statement. If now CBI says that there were no murders, then either the girls were lying or CBI is changing its stand.”

Five of the 33 statements have been reproduced below, along with translations.


This is the first report of an ongoing investigation into the Muzaffarpur shelter-home case. Read the entire series, “House of Horrors,” here.