On 8 January, the Central Bureau of Investigation told the Supreme Court that it had found no evidence of murders being committed at the Muzaffarpur shelter-home and that all the “35 girls were alive.” The Caravan’s ongoing investigation of the case has revealed that at several stages of the inquiry there is significant variation in the total number of minors involved in the case. All the government and court documents—barring the CBI’s submissions to the court, which were in sealed envelopes—have no clear record of why inmates were transferred to another shelter home a few days after the audit report. The report highlighted the abuse at the shelter home; how many minors were present at the shelter house when the investigation began; how many inmates were transferred between multiple other shelter homes in the state when the investigation commenced; how many minors were handed back to their families; how many minors went missing during the course of the investigation; and how many of them are still to be rehabilitated since their rescue from the shelter home.
The sequence of events, from 15 March 2018, when the Tata Institute of Social Sciences first submitted its independent audit report of 17 shelter homes in Bihar, to 20 January 2020, when the court convicted 19 of the 21 accused in the CBI’s chargesheet, indicate that there was a concerted attempt to obfuscate the numbers of minors involved in the Muzaffarpur case. The documents in The Caravan’s possession trace the trajectory of the minors’ rehabilitation and reveal how, at different stages of the investigation, the number of affected minors kept decreasing in the government’s records. The Caravan has previously established how witness statements of the minors refuted the CBI’s claim of “no murders”; how the agency tried to protect several bureaucrats and high-profile politicians; and how the CBI ignored the Bihar police’s investigation.
The minors’ movements have been mapped based on multiple documents—statements of the first investigating officer of the Bihar Police, Jyoti Kumari; statements of the superintendents of the shelter homes where the minors were transferred to, which were recorded by the CBI; the attorney general KK Venugopal’s oral submission to the Supreme Court in January 2020; minutes of the meetings of a rehabilitation committee set up by the state government in August 2018 to monitor the resettlement of the affected minors; and the Bihar government’s affidavits to the apex court. I also interviewed Santosh Kumar, one of the petitioners in the case; Fauzia Shakil, a lawyer of another petitioner; Santosh Singh, a local journalist who works with a news channel that broke the Muzaffarpur shelter-home story; Sudhir Kumar, a lawyer of one of the accused; and Aparna Bhat, an amicus curiae in the case. None of them knew how many victims had been rehabilitated so far, how many minors were still under government observation and where the remaining minors were housed. Bhat told me she had no information “because they are not sharing with us. Only two people have this information, either the Bihar government or TISS.” I also spoke with Mohammad Tarique, the head of the TISS audit team and a member of the state’s rehabilitation committee.
The discrepancy in narratives begins with the submission of the TISS audit report. The report was originally submitted to the state government in March 2018. It contained a “letter of submission” that specifies the date as 15 March 2018. However, a printed copy of the report, which was issued by an assistant director of the social-welfare department, included a corrigendum stating that the “date 15.03.2018 should be read as 27.04.2018.” There is no explanation for the delay. In July 2018, Ranjeet Ranjan, a Congress member of parliament from Supaul in Bihar, raised this issue in the Lok Sabha and said that the state government deliberately “suppressed” the report.
Five days after the submission of the TISS report, on 20 March, eight inmates were shifted from the Balika Grih—the Muzaffarpur shelter home under investigation—to another shelter home in a northern district of Bihar bordering Nepal. The Caravan will not disclose the exact locations and names of the various shelter homes that the inmates were shifted to, to protect their privacy and safety. The transfer of these eight inmates was revealed in the statement of the superintendent of this shelter-home which was recorded by the CBI in September 2018. According to the superintendent, of these eight inmates, one went home to Nepal. There is no explanation on how the inmate “went to Nepal” on her own or who authorised her transfer.