Saviours turn predators

As one chilling detail after another is adding horrendous dimensions to the sordid sexual abuse in a shelter home in Bihar, the lid has been blown off yet another appalling case. In a shocking similarity to the Muzaffarpur incident, it has come to light that minor girls in the Women and Girls’ Shelter Home in Deoria, UP, were not only being sexually abused, but also pushed into the flesh trade. That India is not a safe place for women and children is no revelation, but that rampant abuse goes on inside the walls of the very homes meant to protect the hapless is as reprehensible as unpardonable. What is even more abominable is that such incidents are not isolated nor confined to any one state. Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and even Chandigarh; the tale of horror follows the same sickening trail.

If preying on the vulnerable and marginalised deserves the strictest condemnation, respective governments, too, have not covered themselves in glory. No lessons are ever learnt from previous examples. Heads have begun to roll in Bihar and the Yogi Adityanath-led government in UP has ordered the inspection of shelter homes across the state. But for the innocent who have suffered immeasurably at the hands of merciless perpetrators in the garb of caretakers, the delayed response would bring little succour. Why no action was taken against the Muzaffarpur-based NGO, Sewa Sankalp Evam Vikas Samiti, despite the social welfare report pointing out anomalies way back in 2013, is as inexplicable as the generous funding it continued to receive.

Mandatory social audit of shelter homes as recommended by the team of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, whose report exposed the rot in Muzaffarpur, is the need of the hour. The Delhi Commission for Women’s decision to go ahead with the same is welcome. Be it government-funded or privately-run shelter homes, at no cost can these alternative homes for the poor and destitute be allowed to turn into houses of exploitation. If constant vigil backed by foolproof systems is the answer to impeding the recurrence of such incidents, rehabilitation of those rescued has to be the top priority.