Nitish Kumar has traced the real culprit in the Muzaffarpur shelter home outrage - the 'system'
The Bihar CM announced that all shelter homes in the state will now be run by the government. What a comfort that is.
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A state-funded shelter home, minor girls who were drugged, tortured and raped, a woman social welfare minister busy inaugurating "one-stop centres to empower women", an NGO proprietor with friends in high places and a Chief Minister with unaccounted dollops of "conscience".
As more and more horrific details emerge in the Muzaffarpur shelter home case, and the Bihar government finds itself cornered from all sides, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has announced that all shelter homes in the state will now be run by the government.
"Now no shelter home will be run by NGOs and the government will provide buildings and other infrastructure to run them," Kumar told mediapersons at his weekly ''Lok Samvad'' (public interaction) programme.
The basic premise of Indian democracy has always been that it doesn't matter what our governments do, but depends on what they claim they will do.
What is astonishing is that Nitish Kumar feels our women and children will be safe if the state takes charge of all shelter homes where they are being housed. A person has to be horribly ignorant about governance if he feels that "providing building and other infrastructure" amounts to "running" shelter homes.
Protesters hold up placards against the Muzaffarpur shelter home rape case. (Credit: PTI photo)
Firstly, the shelter home in Muzaffarpur was state-funded, which should ideally have made it impossible for any NGO proprietor to carry out such horrific crimes with impunity. Why were the activities in the shelter home not monitored by the social welfare department, whose primary role is to look after people's welfare?
Secondly, even if run by a private entity, the state has every right — and duty — to look into its functioning.
Nitish Kumar's biggest crime is his apparent moral corruption — the powerful pulpit from where he has been accusing others of doing what he himself is guilty of now. Even after all this, the man is accusing the Opposition of "trying to scuttle the debate on corruption with their continuous protest on the issue".
Merely saying that those involved in the case "would not be spared at any cost and sent to jail" is not enough, especially when he seems absolutely confused about his own stand on the issue. On the one hand, he is saying that if someone at the ministerial level is found to be involved, they will be punished. On the other, he is trying hard to justify how anybody can be held responsible without any reason.
"I'd called and asked her (Manju Verma) about the issue. She denied emphatically," Nitish said about social welfare minister Manju Verma.
Verma is in the eye of the storm, following allegations that the minister’s husband frequently visited the shelter home’s upper floor (where the girls lived) and would often ask the accompanying officers to stay on the ground floor.
Blaming the system — but who exactly is that? Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar seems confused on the Muzaffarpur case.
Besides the alleged involvement of her husband in the case, Opposition parties and a section of the BJP have been demanding the minister's resignation for the delay on her department’s part in lodging an FIR after receiving the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) social audit report.
But, instead of asking his own minister tough questions, Nitish Kumar has managed to find another alibi — the proverbial "system".
Declaring that henceforth no NGO would be allowed to run shelter homes in Bihar, the CM said that the Muzaffarpur incident happened due to “flaws in the system”. “During the review, it was found that the wrongdoings were committed by the NGO. There are some flaws in the system. We have asked the officers to check those flaws. Now, only government employees will be involved in running shelter homes for having better control.”
But ask the Chief Minister who runs this 'system' — he will perhaps find someone else to pin the blame on.
According to Imamuddin Ahmad, the former Director of Social Welfare at the Department of Women and Child Development in Bihar, the state’s care homes for women lack institutional management. “We have no proper counsellors, social workers or outreach workers,” Ahmad was quoted as saying in a newsdeeply.com article.
“Since the government has no other place for women above 18 years, whenever a state agency comes in contact with any woman in distress, they send her straight to a care home, and hence [the homes] are overcrowded. Once a girl is in the care home, she is robbed off all her dignity and treated like a slave. It is like being kept in a cage.
"...residents are often forced to work at the homes to make up for staff shortages. It creates an environment where [residents] are treated unequally and there is an abuse of power by the administrators.”
The same article also quotes Anjum Mara, the former chief of the Bihar State Women Commission, who, until recently, was responsible for overseeing the state’s women’s homes. According to Mara, she "never saw obvious signs of abuse during her inspections at the home, which usually lasted about an hour". “As an officer, when I visited the home, I only saw things they showed me.” But Mara didn't rule out the possibility that abuse is taking place in such shelter homes around the country. “In our society, women are systematically discriminated against. It is difficult to deny that helpless women are being abused inside the homes.”
To say that governments don't intend to do what they promise will be redundant, but the constant dereliction of duty, the blame game and the eventual exonerations have added to the burden of this democracy and its people.
Of course, the "system" is famous for increasing this burden.
According to Union Minister of Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi, she is afraid there could be "many more" shelter homes, similar to the ones in Muzaffarpur and Deoria, Uttar Pradesh, where inmates are being subjected to abuse and harassment".
"It’s not only frightening, it makes me sad. I know there will be many more because, for years and years, we have paid no attention, apart from giving them money," she was quoted as saying by news agency ANI.
She proposed that MPs go to institutions in their constituencies and give her reports and she will take immediate action. The minister feels a long-term solution is to make large homes for 1,000 women, 1,000 children, with all-women staff, rather than small centres.
As always, more and more politicians would call for "strictest" action, and more and more ministers would come up with "long-term" and "short-term" solutions, without ever being held accountable for executing and implementing them.
It is true that democracy does not necessarily produce insensitive and insincere leaders, but one thing is constant about the Indian political system — voters suffer for their own mistake of electing leaders who can't lead them. They thus get a 'system' they have never voted for.