Long before an audit team stumbled across hints of sexual abuse in a shelter home this May, a team of Bihar's top body to protect child rights had sent a scathing report about conditions in Muzaffarpur's home for girls. It also ordered that the shelter home should be immediately shifted out but the district administration and social welfare department sat on the report.
"We sent reminders too... But nothing happened," Dr Harpal Kaur, the head of Bihar state commission for protection of child rights who led the inspection team to the shelter home in November last year, told NDTV.
The shelter home was being run from the residential premises of Brajesh Thakur, the politically connected owner of the non-profit Seva Sankalp Aur Vikas Samiti.
"I did not feel right about it," Dr Kaur said, recalling her visit to the shelter home dubbed Bihar's house of horrors after a police probe revealed how over 33 girls, one as young as seven, were drugged, raped, forced to sleep naked.
A copy of the commission's report accessed by NDTV shows it had also faulted the shelter home for not making special arrangements for education or vocational training to the girls.
Dr Kaur said she remembered how the non-profit that ran the place would lock up the girls inside.
"That is not how you can keep children... I pulled up the staff at the home and ordered them to never make this mistake," she said.
The Bihar child protection panel chief, who inspected all children homes after taking over in May 2017, said she makes it a point to speak with the children.
"When I spoke with them affectionately, spoke how I was like a mother to them.... three or four of them started crying but did not say why they were in tears. Finally, one said she didn't like it at the home," she said.
Dr Kaur said that she hadn't imagined in her wildest dreams of the torture that they were going through. "I was only thinking in terms of living conditions, their education, quality of food, sanitation and the like... I could not imagine this," she said.
The police probe that followed an audit report by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, or TISS, in May revealed the shocking account of the depravity of Brajesh Thakur and his many accomplices. In all, 10 people have been charged by the police, which have accused a network of police, politicians, administration and criminals of exploiting the girls.
With hindsight, Dr Kaur told NDTV that the girls may not have been as forthcoming because of the presence of some of the shelter home's staffers such as Madhu, the woman who ran the shelter and has been on the run.
But the scale and extent of the scandal has shocked even Mohammed Tarique, the TISS associate professor who was commissioned to audit nearly 170 shelter homes run in Bihar. "We felt there was something but we did not know that all this would come," Mr Tariq told NDTV.
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