The Supreme Court on Thursday took suo motu cognizance of the alleged rape and sexual abuse of girls at a shelter home in Muzaffarpur in Bihar and issued notices to the state government and Union Ministry of Women and Child Development.
The court also restrained media from telecasting morphed images saying the victims cannot be forced to “relive the trauma”.
A bench of Justices M B Lokur and Deepak Gupta took cognizance of the incident following a letter from a Patna resident. The letter referred to the situation in the shelter home where over 30 inmates were allegedly sexually abused over several years.
The bench said it was “extremely disturbed” by the contents of the letter and asked “is this the way we are treating our girls?”.
It also sought assitance from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS). The incident came to light following an audit of the shelter home by TISS, Mumbai. The audit report was submitted to the state government in April last and said that many girls at the shelter home had complained of sexual abuse.
Advocate Aparna Bhat has been made amicus curiae in the matter.
The apex court is already looking into matters of orphanages and observation homes across the country.
The bench asked the media not to conduct interviews with the victims and restrained them from telecasting the images even in a morphed or blurred form.
“Now the probe has been handed over to the CBI. Will these girls be questioned in front of a camera? It is not easy for anybody. They have to relive the trauma. It is horrible,” the court observed.
Speaking of the need for the media to be cautious while reporting such sensitive matters, Justice Lokur said “everyone wants to be the first one to get the news. There will be ten cameras that will come.”
He added: “How you talk to a child is different from how you talk to an adult. There are instances when issues like rape are spoken of in a casual manner. Why should a child be interviewed at all? Will the interviewer or the person holding the camera appear in the witness box? Never.”
It asked the investigating agency to take assistance of professional counsellors and qualified child psychiatrists to interview the victims.
Brajesh Thakur, the man who owns the NGO ‘Seva Sankalp Evam Vikas Samiti’ which runs the shelter home was arrested after the incident came to light. He was also running a local newspaper.
The court has now posted the matter for further hearing on August 7.
Following this, a special investigation team was formed to probe the complaints. But as the uproar followed, the Nitish Kumar government handed over the investigation of the case to CBI.