Five witnesses in the Muzaffarpur sexual assault case were among seven girls who fled from a government-run children's shelter in Bihar's Mokama town early this morning, police said. This incident, which comes as a major blow to the criminal proceedings against main accused Brajesh Thakur, might expose the Nitish Kumar government to charges of not doing enough to protect key witnesses in a high-profile case that's being monitored by the Supreme Court.
The case involving the sexual assault and torture of over 30 inmates at a state-funded children's shelter was earlier shifted from Muzaffarpur to a court in the national capital on the CBI's insistence. The central agency claimed that the victims will not be able to get justice in a city where Brajesh Thakur wields considerable influence.
Police said five of the seven girls who fled the Mokama shelter home by allegedly cutting through a window grille had been brought there from the Muzaffarpur facility, which was demolished after the incident. "The seven escaped between 3 am and 3.30 am today. They were being treated at the facility for violent behaviour," news agency PTI quoted Social Welfare Department Director Raj Kumar as saying.
Seven accused -- including key aides and close relatives of Brajesh Thakur -- were supposed to be presented before the Delhi court today. The CBI has been investigating the case since July last year.
Although the Senior Superintendent of Police of Patna was unavailable for comment, District Magistrate Kumar Ravi termed it as a "serious" issue. "We are doing everything to trace the girls," he said.
A number of people have been arrested in connection with the case, which came to light after a social audit report filed by the Mumbai-based Tata Institute of Social Sciences mentioned instances of sexual abuse at the shelter last May. While Brajesh Thakur has been lodged at a prison in Patiala, the other accused have been accommodated at jails across Bihar.
Opposition leader Tejashwi Yadav alleged that it was part of a plan hatched by the Nitish Kumar government to weaken the case against Brajesh Thakur. The Rashtriya Janata Dal leader has long claimed that the state government is trying to protect BJP ministers close to the main accused.
(With inputs from PTI)