If 16 girls could be raped and one murdered in a “shelter” in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur district, the incident is much too grotesque to fetch a comparison with the Delhi gangrape and murder on 12 December 2012, as did an RJD member in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday.

But whereas the tragedy in the National Capital Region was greeted with nationwide shock and awe, the horrendous crime in the backwaters of Bihar has been unravelled only last Monday ~ two months after it was reported by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) and not the district administration, still less the Janata Dal (United)/BJP coalition government in Patna.

This two-month gap urgently calls for an explanation from the state. The home is run by an NGO, under the supervision of the state’s social welfare department. This begs the question of why the crime was kept under wraps. Was the department aware of what had happened? Answers to these questions may not be forthcoming any time soon. The suspicion must deepen as the “shelter” is owned by a local politician, who is among the ten persons arrested.

His party affiliation is yet to be disclosed. Neither the department nor the police were aware of the enormity of the tragedy till TISS furnished its 100-page report to the government, indeed a document which formed the basis of the social welfare department’s FIR to the police.

Horror of horrors, one of the girls, who was intrepid enough to resist sexual harassment, was killed and buried inside the complex, a hideous development that has been confirmed by the district’s Senior Superintendent of Police. The outrage has taken a grave turn, and literally so. Arguably, the incident might still have been under wraps were it not for the social audit report prepared by a private academic entity.

The Muzaffarpur outrage has resonated in Parliament, and the harsh truth must be that it lends no scope for legislative shadow-boxing between Lalu Prasad’s RJD and Nitish Kumar’s ruling JD(U). The matter calls for a thorough investigation, with a degree of seriousness that has not been manifest for the past two months.

Thus far the probe has been incredibly sluggish, of a kind that has prompted the Congress and RJD to shrill for a CBI inquiry. Home minister Rajnath Singh’s assurance comes with a rider ~ the Centre will consider ordering a CBI probe “if there is a recommendation from the state government”.

Which seems rather unlikely, if the immediate response of the Bihar government is any indication. “We are satisfied with the investigation by the police,” is the decidedly delusory response of Bihar’s Director-General of Police. There is much dodging and hedging by the government, far too little of earnest investigation.