Based on a terrifying true incident, Netflix’s film, Bhakshak, sheds light on the extent of cruelty humanity is capable of. It is stories like the Muzaffarpur Shelter Home Case that make us believe that our evolution is most likely moving in the wrong direction. We have turned into monsters in human skin. The real story revolves around a shelter home, or Balika Grih (in Hindi), in Muzaffarpur, where the chief of the foster home, Brajesh Thakur, was found guilty of sexual abuse, rape, and physical violence against the underage girls whom he had vowed to protect. In Muzaffarpur, Brajesh ran a state-funded NGO named “Sewa Sankalp Evam Vikas Samiti” under the guise of which he was not only skimming huge amounts of money from the Bihar government in the name of welfare but also exploiting the minor girls living in his shelter home. As per the reports, Brajesh and his accomplices used to send these teenage girls to powerful people in the area at night, thereby forcing them into prostitution, a word that many of these girls didn’t even properly understand.
Who is Nivedita Jha?
One might say that the monstrous acts against these innocent girls would have continued if the media hadn’t brought Brajesh’s true face to the world. After watching the film, I believe, Bhumi Pednekar’s character, Vaishali Singh, is loosely inspired by a real-life independent journalist, activist, and poet, Nivedita Jha, who hails from Patna, Bihar, much like her fictional counterpart. However, Mrs. Jha is unaware of the fact that the character is based on her real-life struggles. As per our conversation with Nivedita Jha, the creators of the Netflix film, Bhakshak, didn’t contact her before or after the making of the film, even though they did have a conversation with her long-time friend and Supreme Court lawyer, Fauzia Shakil.
Mrs. Jha, who began her journalism career with the Navbharat Times, quickly shifted to independent journalism, just like Vaishali Singh. However, in real life, it wasn’t a female journalist who broke the news in the electronic media. Instead, many local newspapers from Muzaffarpur leaked the information presented in the social audit report conducted by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in 2018. A journalist named Santosh Singh, working for Kashish News (which had been changed to “Koshish News” in the film), covered the news for television, but to no avail. Later, a real-life activist, Nivedita Jha, with the support of numerous women associated with Bihar Mahila Samaaj (the National Federation of Indian Women, NFIW), protested against the government’s ignorance towards underage girls, soon after which the police got into action and began their slow investigation.
What Was Nivedita’s Role in the Shelter Home Case?
In the film, it was Vaishali’s informer, Gupta ji, who filed the PIL in court; however, in real life, it was Nivedita Jha, who filed a total of four petitions in the Muzaffarpur Shelter Home Case, with the help of Fauzia Shakil.
In July 2018, the case finally reached Patna High Court, where, after a month of investigation, the concerned court announced a “blanket ban” to stop the journalists from reporting anything on the Muzaffarpur shelter home case. The Patna High Court expressed its concern about the leak of information in the media and, therefore, barred the media from publishing anything until the investigation was over. However, as Nivedita Jha got wind of the situation, she filed her first petition to remove the media ban. She played an important role in bringing the entire matter to public attention and fought against the court, believing that the public had the right to information, and if it wasn’t for the media, then the matter would have never become an issue of national concern. Soon, her hard work paid off as the Supreme Court of India lifted the ban on October 4, requesting the media to exercise caution. However, this entire fiasco wasn’t presented in the Netflix film.
TISS had conducted a social audit of more than 100 shelter homes in the state of Bihar, and they flagged 17 such institutions, among which Brajesh’s shelter home was one. But as usual, the investigating authorities focused their attention on the most controversial case in order to save their souls, thereby ignoring other shelter homes. At this juncture, Nivedita Jha filed her second petition so that a thorough investigation could be carried out on the remaining shelter homes in Bihar.
Bhakshak ended soon after the arrest of Brajesh’s fictional counterpart, Bansi Sahu, who was apprehended by the police after Vaishali played a witness’ testimony on her news channel, forcing the sitting minister of the state to take appropriate action. However, in real life, no such thing happened. After the police raided the shelter house and rescued the girls, the investigation was quickly transferred to the CBI due to the involvement of the state in the crimes. The real-life victims revealed true accounts of the horrendous acts committed against them, which most likely became the source of inspiration for the film’s fictional narrative. According to them, they were drugged at night, after which some men and women used to visit the shelter house and force them to indulge in vulgar acts. Some even had the audacity to make them dance and record them in uncomfortable positions. However, if any of them tried to raise their voice against the perpetrators or resist them, they would be physically assaulted, similar to what was presented in the Netflix film.
However, it is to be noted that after the case was handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation, they refused to share their findings with the media and the public, as too many big players were involved in the entire scam. It’s at this juncture that Nivedita Jha filed a third petition so that the victim’s testimony could come to public attention and appropriate actions could be taken against their perpetrators. It was only after her petition that CBI approached the matter with utter seriousness and started digging the Muzaffarpur Shelter Home property for potential evidence of murder. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that it’s because of Nivedita Jha and her lawyer, Fauzia Shakil, that we are aware of the atrocities committed against these girls in Muzaffarpur Shelter Home.
Are the murder accusations true?
Even though Bhakshak began with the murder of an innocent girl, the real-life investigation says otherwise. Some 12 real-life victims confirmed to the CBI that many girls went missing from the shelter home and were most likely murdered by Brajesh or his staff. Even though the concerned authorities conducted a murder investigation at first, they soon made a contradictory statement, telling the court that all 35 girls were alive, and no one was really murdered. While there could be some truth in the CBI’s final statement, it’s safe to assume that there was some foul play, as a murder investigation would have done more damage to the political party than anything else. In the end, Brajesh Thakur, along with his partners-in-crime, became the face of the crimes and were turned into scapegoats for the government. But the truth is, they wouldn’t have been able to commit such a grave crime if they didn’t have the support of the government and ministers.
Where is Nivedita Jha now?
The real-life journalist is a proud member of the prestigious South Asian Women in Media (SAWM) organization and acts as the president of the Bihar Wing of the same. After her departure from the Navbharat Times, Nivedita started writing independently for various newspapers, magazines, and media outlets. She even received the Laadli Media Award for her contribution to Hindi journalism. In her writing career, Nivedita has written an assessment and a book on social discrimination against girls in Bihar and Jharkhand and has published three poetry books along with a book compiled of short stories that highlight the discrimination against women in the two states.
Currently, Nivedita Jha resides in Patna, Bihar, where she continues to write and report independently on important social issues that need public attention. She is quite active on Twitter (X), as she makes use of the social media platform to comment on the presiding government, bringing certain flaws and errors to light. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that it is the rebellious spirit of such courageous journalists that gives us a ray of hope in these dark times.