Delhi court convicts 19 for Bihar home sexual abuse
Thakur, whose non-governmental organisation owned the shelter home, and four others, including DK Verma, a former chairperson of the state’s Child Welfare Committee (CWC), were found guilty,Updated: Jan 21, 2020 01:59 IST
A court in Delhi convicted on Monday 19 people, including key accused Brajesh Thakur, in a one-and-half-year-old case of sexual and physical assault on underage girls at a shelter home in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur, delivering its judgment in the scandal that sparked countrywide outrage and led to the ouster of a state minister.
Thakur, whose non-governmental organisation (NGO) owned the shelter home, and four others, including Dilip Kumar Verma, a former chairperson of the state’s Child Welfare Committee (CWC), were found guilty of aggravated sexual assault under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, criminal conspiracy, rape and gang rape, among other offences.
One person was acquitted by additional sessions judge Saurabh Kulshreshtha, who said arguments on the sentencing of the 19 convicts — 11 men and eight women — will be heard on January 28. Five former employees of the shelter home, two former members of the child welfare panel and two officials of the Bihar social welfare department are among those convicted.
The maximum sentence that can be handed to Thakur is life imprisonment for the remainder of his life, according to legal experts. The amendment to the POCSO Act, which introduced death penalty for sexually abusing minors below 12 years in 2019, will not be applicable because the case dates back to 2018, said advocate Prabhsahay Kaur.
The shelter home came under the spotlight after the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) submitted an audit report to the Bihar government’s social welfare department in April 2018,
highlighting the alleged sexual assault on minor inmates there.
Thakur, who ran the NGO Sewa Sankalp Evam Vikas Samiti, and seven others were arrested on June 3, 2018. In July that year, the Bihar government recommended an investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which filed its charge sheet by the end of 2018 and named 21 people. One of them is absconding.
According to public prosecutors, the court in Delhi’s Saket, which heard the case on the Supreme Court’s directions, examined 69 prosecution witnesses and 20 defence witnesses during the trial.
The judge also held the convicts guilty of different offences from abetment to criminal conspiracy to causing hurt, and relevant sections of the POCSO and Juvenile Justice Acts. Rosy Rani, the former additional director of the district child protection unit under the social welfare department, Bihar government, was found guilty of not reporting the offence.
As the judge pronounced his order around 2pm, many of the convicts and their family members broke down in the packed courtroom. “I have not committed such shameful acts on the girls. You are sending me to jail for these acts. I will commit suicide inside the jail,” Ravi Roushan, a former member of the Child Welfare Committee said, alleging that the probe was not carried out properly.
The judge asked his counsel to console him. “You can approach the higher court against this judgment. It is your right,” the court said.
Thakur’s counsel, Pramod Kumar Dubey, said he would appeal. Advocate Gyanendra Mishra, who represented Verma, too, said he would challenge the order.
Soon after the scandal came to light, 44 inmates of the shelter home were shifted to other such facilities in Patna, Mokama and Madhubani. Their statements alleged rampant sexual abuse and raised suspicion of possible murders.
In its charge sheet, CBI said some employees of the shelter home coerced children to wear skimpy clothes and made them dance to “dirty” songs. Before the assault, children were administered injections that would make them fall unconscious, the agency said.
Amid nationwide outrage, the Supreme Court took note of the case, and ordered in October 2018 that Thakur be shifted to a jail in Patiala so that he could not influence the probe. In February 2019, the top court ordered that the trial be shifted from Patna to the POCSO court in Delhi.
In a political fallout of the scandal, Manju Verma, then Bihar social welfare minister and a former leader of the state’s ruling Janata Dal (United), resigned from her post on August 8, 2018, after it emerged that her husband, Chandrashekar Verma, had links with Thakur.
CBI officials dug up a cremation site close to the shelter home on October 4, 2018, and found parts of human skeleton. Last May, the agency told the Supreme Court that Thakur and his associates were suspected to have killed 11 girls.
Earlier this month, it told the top court that 35 girls believed to have been murdered were found to be alive, and that the agency had not been able to find any evidence regarding the alleged murders in the shelter home.
A political war of words broke out in Bihar soon after the verdict. Former chief minister and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Rabri Devi said the government led by Nitish Kumar owed an apology to the shelter home girls. “The tears of the helpless girls will not go waste,” she said.
Opposition leader Tejashwi Yadav alleged that Thakur was a “disciple of CM Kumar”. “...Why was [then minister] Manju Verma ousted? What happened to the other NGO officials...,” he tweeted in Hindi.
Senior JD(U) leader and minister Neeraj Kumar rejected the allegations, and said: “The government ordered social audit of shelter homes across the state. It lodged an FIR and asked for a CBI inquiry...It also asked for the court-monitored inquiry into the case.”
Senior Congress leader Prem Chandra Mishra said the court’s verdict was a victory of truth. “However, justice to the victim would not be complete until all persons, who extended patronage to the kingpin, and those in power who indulged in a cover-up...are penalised,” he said.
Bharatiya Janata Party’s Prem Kumar, who is the agriculture minister, said the verdict had sent out a strong signal that people involved in such kind of crime will not be spared.