Updated: August 4, 2018 12:19:25 pm
“They are filled with anger and aggression. It’s much better now… When they came here on May 30, they were continuously fighting, abusing each other or crying. Even amongst themselves, they are barely cordial. They keep to themselves, and when they do interact, it is mostly fighting.”
This is one of the counsellors working with 10 of the 34 girls rescued from a shelter home in Muzaffarpur in Bihar on May 30 after allegedly being sexually abused. The girls have been staying at three institutions across the state.
On June 2, the police arrested Brajesh Thakur, owner of the NGO that ran the shelter home in Muzaffarpur, after filing a 16-page chargesheet in the POCSO Court. Nine others have been arrested and another accused is on the run.
The case came to light following a report by Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) in April which said that the shelter was being run in a “highly questionable manner” and that “several girls (had) reported about violence and being abused sexually”.
Last week, The Indian Express reported on a string of alleged irregularities at the NGO — how Thakur got another contract from the government despite the TISS report, how he allegedly inflated his newspaper figures to get state government advertisements and how his NGO had a “ghost” secretary no official had interacted with.
The Indian Express spoke to officials and counsellors — who are working with the girls — to piece together how they are grappling with the trauma of what the chargesheet paints as a nightmare that scarred their lives for nearly four years.
“We do not talk to them about the tragedy at all because that only disturbs them. They listen and understand what we say but do not always respond. They have been through a lot and it will take time for them to recover,” says one of the three staff members at one of the centres.
The girls at this centre, as well as the two other institutions in Bihar, officials said, arrived at the Muzaffarpur shelter under different circumstances between 2013 and 2017.
“70 per cent of the girls here are from Bihar — Motihari, Bettiah, Sitamarhi and Muzaffarpur. We also have one girl from Dehradun and another from Haryana. The youngest, 7, was upset with her mother for not taking her to her grandmother’s house. She left home and got lost and was later picked up by the police,” says the resident counsellor at the centre.
Adds Nikki Hembram, a member of the state women commission who met the girls last week, “One of the girls, 18, had fled her home for a boyfriend who had promised to marry her. He did not turn up at the railway station where she collapsed out of shock, grief. Later, she was brought to the Muzaffarpur home. Some of the girls were fleeing their families, others were abandoned by their parents… A few of them are also those rescued from prostitution.”
With only a preliminary understanding of the extent of their trauma, most people associated with the recovery of the girls admit that the journey is a tough and long one.
“We have to take each day as it comes. When I met the girls for the first time in Patna, they were in a state of panic. They could barely speak…They didn’t trust anyone. However, when we met them recently, they seemed cheerful and told us that they were happy,” says Hembram.
At this centre, the 10 girls have spent the past two months undergoing counselling, battling deep-seated issues of anger and grief. “Getting them to put their minds to one task is very difficult,” says the counsellor.
While the CBI is investigating the case, the Bihar Social Welfare Department is in charge of the recovery and rehabilitation of the girls. “We are providing psychological and psychiatric treatment to the girls to help them recover soon. We have engaged two counselling centres to help them,” said Raj Kumar, director of the Social Welfare Department.
At this centre, the girls have been staying in two rooms, their days packed with activity. For two months the girls have been following a set time table: wake up at 6 am, yoga between 7-8 am, breakfast at 9 am, cutting vegetables at 9.30 am followed by a three-hour class in Hindi, English and Maths. All the girls at this centre are unlettered and most of them can only speak Bhojpuri.
“We have to ensure that they follow a normal routine; a routine that a child or young girl would follow. That is the only way out for them,” says the counsellor.
There is also an anger-management session with the counsellor at 5 pm. At night, before turning into bed at 9 pm, the girls are allowed an hour of television. “It’s mostly serials and movies. They look forward to it,” says an attendant at the centre.
Controlling the girls’ anger is one of the major concerns for members at the centre. During the ‘recreational hour’, say staffers, it is difficult to manage the girls “if a fight breaks out”. “They shout and hurl abuses at each other. It is tough to ensure that they stick to their assigned tasks,” says an attendant.
“A game of carrom, learning the Hindi alphabet, drawing and colouring, are some of the activities that the girls enjoy,” she adds.
Until a few weeks ago, their daily itinerary also included an hour for a walk in the garden.
However, that has now been slashed because of the constant media presence outside the compound. “There is too much media glare on the girls. There are cameras around here all the time. They need to be left alone to recover,” says the secretary of the centre.
Adds the counsellor, “Also, it has been raining for days… Now with most of the cameras gone, we are waiting for the rain to end to take take them out again. Outdoor activities helps them clear their minds.”
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