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Bihar Shelter Home Horror: We Need To Ask The Right Questions

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Tuning in to daily TV debates (or shouting fights for that matter) around the ‘shelter home horror’ in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur, one usually misses the core questions. The usual blaming of the government by the opposition persists (and we are not arguing against this), but nobody seems to be ready to ask the more difficult and more serious questions of how this could happen and how it could be prevented.

The first interesting thing to notice is that it was not a report by the State Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (SCPCR) or its national sister organisation that finally brought the abuse and the daily rapes to light. It was the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) that did the audit. It was young psychologists who got the confidence of the children and who followed clear rules in their work: They accepted no hospitality, no tea, and spoke to the children in private warning staff not to enter the room. This was a clear signal to the victims: We are not on their side, you can trust us, we are neutral. At the same time, they did not make any promises they might be unable to keep.

This is a common practice internationally when it comes to working with vulnerable children, yet it must be compared with how the Bihar SCPCR acted. Their president noted: “I visited the shelter home in ’17 and saw girls were kept locked inside a room. When I questioned this, I was told the girls run away so they have to be kept locked.” It is now easy to blame her for this reluctance (even though this blaming is justified), yet one has to realize that doing this job is seriously tough and requires professional training, institutional backup (especially if investigations aims at powerful people), discipline and a clear value system. To enter institutions of powerful people and to be suspicious and rigid requires a strong character and commitment. Yet, we are right to expect this from people in the SCPCR.

We could stop our analysis here and point at individual failures. But we would not do justice to the victims if we did so. The question is how we can prevent this from happening in the future.

What is wrong with SCPCRs and the NCPCR?

Do they exist? – No, not always in reality. For instance, in Uttar Pradesh, it simply does not exist for a year.

Is it run by the wrong people? Maybe. The comment by the president of the SCPCR in Bihar (quoted above) makes one ask this question. Yet, missing training can also contribute to making mistakes.

Are they independent? – No. Read some details here.

Are they properly staffed? No. For instance, regarding its role in the field of the Right to Education, the NCPCR in November 2016 stated that its effective functioning as a grievance redressal authority is affected by appointments of short-term contractual staff (Report No. 23 of 2017 by the Auditor & Comptroller General, p. 63).

What should be done now?

Our focus should be on how we can ensure the safety of our children. The safety in schools, in shelters, at home, and also how we can ensure that their rights, such as the Right to Education, are not being denied by the government. There is a lot going wrong with the NCPCR and SCPCRs, but at the same time, the TISS audit showed that right-minded, trained and compassionate people can make a difference, a huge difference.

We have to think about how we can institutionalize this good practice, what setup and legal rules are required for our NCPCR and SCPCRs to become effective institutions. This is what our legislators should focus on, this is what we should demand from them. And this is where both, the government and the opposition are failing horribly.

We can go the easy way. We can chant “Hang the culprit!” – and nothing will change. What will we chant next time? “Hang this one, too”?

No, we need to ask the difficult question of how we can prevent this. What reforms we need. How we can get people like those young psychologists from TISS into our NCPCR and SCPCRs, how we can make the institutions independent, powerful, but yet accountable.

These are difficult questions, but necessary ones. In 10 years from now, the girls from the Muzaffarpur shelter will judge us. Have we acted wisely and honestly and did we do everything we could to prevent this from happening again or have we done nothing but chanted slogans and pointed fingers?

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  1. Sanjay Singh

    India is a land of marvels, no doubt, but with every single day, the incidents across the country horrify the public gravely. While many are so concerned about cows, the safety of women and children is least talked and cared about. To be precise, their lives are in jeopardy.

    Lately, reports have shed light on the alleged rape and killing of girls at a government-funded night shelter home in Bihar. The sexual exploitation of girls lodged at the shelter home was exposed in a social audit done by Mumbai based institute, following which the state social welfare department lodged an FIR in this regard last month. Though the report was released on March 15, 2018, the probe was only initiated recently.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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