No home for girls

Muzaffarpur shelter scandal is a reproach to Nitish Kumar government’s claims of rebuilding the state.

By: Editorials | Published: August 6, 2018 12:07:17 am
Muzaffarpur shelter home abuse The incident has roused Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar to condemn it as shameful and to promise strict action against the guilty. Yet, this was not how the script was meant to unfold in Bihar.

The abuse and sexual violation of the young inmates of the Muzaffarpur-based NGO, Sewa Sankalp Evam Vikas Samiti, point at how the state fails its most vulnerable time and again. It is a story of sorry abdication, and a nefarious complicity, of several state agencies. What else could explain the repeated munificence shown to Brajesh Thakur — who ran the NGO — in the form of clearance and projects sanctioned and a yearly grant of Rs 1 crore from the Centre and the state to operate his five shelters, despite an adverse report given by Muzaffarpur’s social welfare department as far back as 2013?

The incident has roused Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar to condemn it as shameful and to promise strict action against the guilty. Yet, this was not how the script was meant to unfold in Bihar. In a state not particularly known for egalitarianism between the sexes, participation of women in elections has steadily risen to surpass that of men. Kumar had notched some remarkable successes in his attempts to deliver on his promise of being a Vikas Purush (man of development), one who seemed especially keen to address the state’s endemic gender imbalance. During his first stint as chief minister, between 2005-10, he had offered sops to his female electorate, and a taste of freedom — he reserved an unprecedented 50 per cent seats in Panchayat and local body elections for them; his flagship initiative, the Mukhyamantri Balika Cycle Yojana, and the scheme to provide free uniforms to girl students resulted in a turnaround in enrollment rates in secondary and senior secondary schools. In 2016, with his return as the head of the Grand Alliance partnership with the RJD, he enforced prohibition in Bihar — a misguided policy that cost the state exchequer — primarily as a nod to women voters, saying that alcohol was a potent cause of domestic violence. He also effected 35 per cent reservation for women in state government jobs, spoke against child marriage and dowry.

However, the power of a resolve is only as strong as the will to execute it and the establishment of a machinery with enough checks and balances is crucial to ensure that intent turns into meaningful action. In the absence or breakdown of an institutional mechanism, as in the case of Muzaffarpur, it not only results in a dereliction of duty, but also a trampling of the rights of those who are already on the fringes.

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