Indian activist hold placards as they take part in a protest over the sexual assault of girls at a state-run home in eastern India city, near Bihar Bhawan in New Delhi. Image Credit: AFP

Patna: The Supreme Court on Thursday took a suo motu cognisance of the alleged mass rape of girls lodged at a care home in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur town and imposed a blanket ban on telecasting images — either hidden or blurred — of the victims.

A medical examination has confirmed the rape of as many as 34 girls, out of the total 44 girls lodged at the shelter home.

A bench of justice MB Lokur and Deepak Gupta expressed deep annoyance over a media interview of the victims and restrained the media from doing this further. “They can’t be compelled to relive the trauma again and again,” the bench said while posting for a further hearing on August 7.

“There are various departments and officials investigating the case separately. Apart from them, media people too are interviewing the victim girls, which is very reckless,” the court reportedly observed.

The top court said the probe agency would use the help of professional counsellors and qualified child psychiatrists while questioning the victims. It also issued notices to both the Centre and state government and sought a detailed reply from them.

In another related development, the Left parties supported by like-minded parties enforced a shutdown in Bihar on Thursday, to protest the alleged sexual abuse of destitute girls at the child care home. While the shutdown impacted all parts of the state, it saw a particularly marked response in Muzaffarpur, where the sexual abuse took place.

Angry protesters blocked both rail and road traffic, inconveniencing commuters. Business establishments also remained shut while several schools announced a holiday. In some places, protesters had minor clashes with the police.

“The Nitish Kumar government has no right to stay in office even for a second, as it has failed to protect the rights and dignity of women in the state,” said Kunal, state secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist). He also sought a court-monitored probe into the sex scandal and the dismissal of two ministers whose names allegedly cropped up during the investigation.

Tejashwi Yadav, the opposition leader in the Bihar assembly, launched a vituperative attack on the chief minister for his silence over the scandal. “The chief minister frequently talks about ethics and morality, but in this case he has been maintaining a mysterious silence. We will force him break it,” Yadav said.

Meanwhile, the police have seized four boxes of condoms and medicines from the terrace of a shelter home which has reported 11 women missing. “Several condoms and medicines were thrown on the terrace and kept in boxes. Several registers were also seized during the raid,” a local deputy superintendent of police, Mukul Ranjan, told the media on Thursday.

The shelter home, funded by the Ministry of Women and Child Development and monitored by the state’s social welfare department, was also running in Muzaffarpur town.