“We want to live like normal human beings, eat sweets and wear new clothes on Holi and Dussehra. Some of us have families, we want to go back to them. This shelter home feels like jail”.
This is how six girls, who had escaped from a shelter home near Patna and were later found at the home of one of the girls, narrated their ordeal before Patna district Child Welfare Committee members on Monday.
The girls told the committee that they fled the home run by an NGO, because of “suffocating ambience and too much restrictions”. The girls said five of them had families in Bihar and UP and would like to live with them instead of living in “confinement under women guards’ watch”. One of them asked why they should not be allowed to use mobile phones.
Seven girls escaped the shelter home late on the night of February 22 and headed to a railway station. Two girls belonged to separate villages in a north Bihar district. “As we fought over where to go, one of us sat in another compartment. We had no money to buy tickets. We boarded a general compartment…We got down at a station and walked 10 kilometres to a village on February 23,” said a girl.
The father of one of the girls informed the local police about their arrival. By late evening, a police team arrived and took them away. On February 24, they were shifted to a shelter home in Patna and were produced before the district Child Welfare Commitee. The girls were later sent for medical examination to Patna Medical College and Hospital (PMCH).
Bihar DGP Gupteshwar Pandey told The Indian Express: “A Special Investigation Team was formed soon after the girls escaped. We recovered six of them. Our team has been searching for another. We are investigating all possible lapses. We have also increased security cover at the shelter”.
The DGP said the police have not concluded their inquiry and the social welfare department would take a call on where the girls should stay.
Since May 30 last year, when they were rescued from a shelter home in Muzaffarpur, 34 girls have been staying at three institutions.
The management of the shelter home from where the girls fled has drawn flak not just for “security lapses” but also for not providing “adequate nutritious food and proper medical care”.
With 32 girls recording their statements before a Muzaffarpur POCSO court, alleging sexual abuse and physical abuse at the Muzaffarpur shelter, the CBI wants them to stay at a secure place.
They are key witnesses in the case in which Brajesh Thakur and over a dozen others are accused. The CBI has been probing 17 shelter home cases, filed on the basis of a social audit report by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences. TISS had submitted its report to the Bihar government last April. The first case, that of Muzaffarpur, was lodged in May last year.