How the Parivar flouted every law on children to traffic 31 young tribal girls from Assam to Punjab and Gujarat to ‘Hinduise’ them. And how it leaves their parents forlorn.
On June 7, 2015, two days before Babita left for Gujarat, her native Kokrajhar district, in Assam, saw the second showers of the monsoon. It did two things: it accentuated the breathtaking expanse of greenery in her village and forced the khangkrai alari out of their flooded holes in the three bighas of paddy field and farmland her father Theba Basumatary owns, next to their small mud house, in Bamungangaon Bhatipara village.
Six-year-old Babita was always fascinated by these burgundy-coloured, eight-legged crabs. Each monsoon, she would spend hours catching them, putting them in a bamboo basket covered with her mother’s worn dokhana. That evening, Babita demanded khangkrai alari curry. “It’s tedious to catch them, take out their outer shell and legs and cook the edible parts. But I cooked it, thinking who will make it for her in the school hostel,” her mother Champa recalls. Theba, sitting next to her, gets up and walks up to the wall. “Stop discussing all this,” he says to Champa, tears welling up in his eyes.
On June 9, 2015, two days after Babita’s demand for crab curry was met, she and 30 other tribal girls—aged 3-11 years—were made to board a train by two women, Korobi Basumatary and Sandhyaben Tikde, of two Sangh parivar outfits, the Rashtra Sevika Samiti and Sewa Bharati, on the promise of education in Punjab and Gujarat. The girls were from five border districts of Assam, Kokrajhar, Goalpara, Dhubri, Chirang and Bongaigaon. A year has passed since Babita left. The monsoons are back and so are the crabs. In all this time, the girls’ parents haven’t been able to contact them.
PHOTOGRAPH BY SANDIPAN CHATTERJEE
On September 1, 2010, the Supreme Court of India, dealing with the ‘Exploitation of Children in Orphanages, State of Tamil Nadu vs UoI and Others’ case, concerning large-scale transportation of children from one state to another, said: “The State of Manipur and Assam are directed to ensure that no child below the age of 12 years or those at primary school level are sent outside for pursuing education to other states until further orders.”
This came after a probe into the trafficking of 76 children from Assam and Manipur, most of them minor girls, to “homes” run by Christian missionaries in Tamil Nadu. In spite of this apex court order, according to a CID report from Assam, over 5,000 children have gone missing in 2012-15, and activists are convinced this roughly corresponds to the number of children trafficked on the pretext of education and employment. At least 800 of these children went missing in 2015.
“I never wanted to send my daughter so far. What if she fell sick? What if she needed me? Where will I go looking for her? But this guy forced me,” says Adha Hasda, his eyes bloodshot with anger.
Mangal Mardi, his neighbour and a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) worker, stood by the barbed-wire fence marking out the small cowdung-plastered patch on which Adha Hasda’s house stood. He got me to meet Adha to hear for myself about the excellent welfare work that the RSS was doing in Bashbari village of Gossaigaon area in Kokrajhar district. Adha’s unexpected outburst has stunned him. He uttered something in Assamese but Adha was undeterred.
“Do you plan to send the other three children too, like Srimukti?” I ask.
“No,” he says, looking up in anger. “Not even if they pay me money.”
Mangal smirks at this exchange, kneeling by the pillar of house as he twirls a smartphone in his hand.
Adha, a landless labourer of the Santhal tribe, earns Rs 200 daily. He’s 30, but looks much older. He has four children. His daughter, six-year-old Srimukti, is one of the 31 children trafficked by the Sangh.
“But why did you send her in the first place?” I ask.
“Because he helped me set up home after the 2008 riots,” says Adha. That year, his house was damaged in the Bodo-adivasi conflict. He had to spend a month in a relief camp before Mangal stepped in as an RSS volunteer.
“You are complaining as if I did it for my benefit,” says Mangal. “She has gone to study. Even my daughter is gone.”
“How come you can speak to your daughter on the phone every day and I have not been able to do that in a year?” Adha retorts. “Who knows whether she’s in school or not!”
“This guy has gone mad,” says Mangal, clearly upset, and signals me to walk with him. “You come with me.”
Adha and Mangal’s daughters, Srimukti and Rani, both six, had left together last year for a school in Gujarat. “He told me both of them will be together. But now he says Srimukti is in Punjab and will not come back for the next four years,” says Adha. “What kind of education is this that does not allow parents to meet their children?”
Phoolmani joins him, “Who do we ask now? We only have Mangal’s assurance to continue hoping that she will come back one day.”
On June 16, 2015, a week after the girls were taken away, the Assam State Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (ASCPCR) wrote a letter (ASCPCR 37/2015/1) to the ADGP, CID, Assam Police, and marked it to the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, calling this incident “against the provision of Juvenile Justice Act 2000” and concluded that it amounts to “child trafficking”. The commission requested the police “to initiate a proper inquiry into the matter and take all necessary steps to bring back all 31 children to Assam for their restoration”. The police was asked to submit an Action Taken Report to the ASCPCR within five days of receipt of the letter. No action was taken; no report was filed; no cognisance was taken by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, which is monitored by the BJP-ruled Centre.
After the ASCPCR letter to the police and other government bodies, members of the Child Welfare Committee (CWC) of Kokrajhar made several visits to the houses of the trafficked girls.
Sewa Bharati and Rashtra Sevika Samiti, however, sought to circumvent this by obtaining affidavits from the children’s parents, signed in the presence of a notary public and judicial magistrate in Kokrajhar on July 13, 2015, a month after the girls were taken away. The 31 affidavits give consent to the RSS-affiliated “Shikshika Manglaben Harishbhai Raval Kanyachatralaya/ Vidya Bharati Saulagna Saraswati Shishu Mandir, Surendranagar, Gujarat” to take the girls away for education. Outlook has copies of the affidavits—all in English, signed in English, and identical, while most of the parents Outlook met are either illiterate or don’t know English.
- I am a cultivator and a riot victim.
- My home is totally damage(d) in the riot which occurred on 25th January 2014.
- I still stay in relief camp.
- I don’t have source of income.
- I could not afford the school fees for my daughter.
- So, for better education I am sending my daughter to Gujarat to study in (by) my own will.
“But all adivasis aren’t Hindus,” I say.
Traditionally, Santhals worship Marang Buru (or Bonga) as the supreme deity, and according to their religious view, there is a court of spirits handling different aspects of the world. All through the year, they have rituals connected to the agricultural cycle, besides rituals for birth, marriage and burial at death. They all involve petitions to the spirits and sacrificial offerings, usually of birds.
But Mangal has his own reasoning. “You see, Hinduism is not a religion per se,” he says. “All those who believe in god are Hindus. The world was once inhabited by Hindus.”
Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Praveen Togadia had said the same thing at a rally in Bhopal on December 22, 2014. He’d said the VHP would go all out to raise the population of Hindus in India from 82 per cent to 100 per cent.
Mangal repeats what Phoolendra Dutta, an RSS worker who has worked in Kokrajhar for 19 years, told me earlier: the RSS tells tribals that anyone who worships the sun, trees, wind and nature is a Hindu. The complexities of the tribals’ animist practices are flattened out for the Sangh parivar’s agenda. Dutta had told me they tell the Santhals and other tribals to plant tulsi as an initiation into Hindutva.
“What do you do as an active member?”
“What is our duty to the Hindu nation?”
His face is flushed. “I can’t talk to you any more. Ask Korobi.”
PHOTOGRAPH BY SANDIPAN CHATTERJEE
“As a Sevika Samiti pracharika, I’ve learnt how to fight for my rights and take what is mine,” I remember her telling me at the camp, her face flushed with blood, the fixation on “revenge” seeming absolute.
“Who took away her pictures?”
It’s a story the parents of Sarmila, Surgi, Sukurmani and other children among the 31 missing have told me before: after visits from the CWC and the ASCPCR, inquiring about the missing girls, Korobi had sent people to take away all the pictures of the girls from the parents.
“Don’t you have another copy?”
PHOTOGRAPH BY SANDIPAN CHATTERJEE
“What kind of sanskaar?” I ask.
- June 9, 2015: 31 tribal girls, between the age of three and 11, from five border districts of Assam are taken to Delhi on the Poorvottar Sampark Kranti Express
- June 11, 2015: The 31 girls travelling with Rashtra Sevika Samiti pracharika, Sandhya, rescued by Childline Delhi. They are taken to Paharganj police station. But on a dubious order from CWC, Surendranagar, and perhaps other pressure, the girls are still sent off to their eventual destinations.
- June 16, 2015: Assam State Commission for Protection of Child Rights terms it ‘child trafficking’ and against the Juvenile Justice Act 2000. Directs Assam Police, National Commission for Protection of Child Rights and others to bring back the 31 children to Assam for restoration to their parents.
- June 17, 2015: Ahmedabad edition of Gujarat Samachar publishes news that Saraswati Shishu Mandir in Halvad, which is affliated to Vidya Bharati Trust, adopted 20 girls who have been ‘orphaned during the recent floods in Assam.’
- June 18, 2015: Kumud Kalita, IAS, member-secretary, State Child Protection Society, Assam, writes to CWC, Kokrajhar and Gossaigaon, informing them that though Childline Delhi rescued the 31 trafficked girls with the help of police, some political power managed to take them to the destined place at Gujarat and Punjab. Expresses shock at CWC, Surendranagar, which passed an order to keep 20 girls in children’s home in Rashtriya Seva Shikshan Seva Pratishthan, Halvad, without informing the CWC of the source district. Asks several CWCs in Assam to bring back the children at the earliest.
- June 22, 2015: CWC Kokrajhar writes to CWC Surendranagar to request the restoration of the girls. CWC Surendranagar does not respond.
- June 23, 2015: Childline Patiala visits Mata Gujri Kanya Chatravas, Patiala. Find the home is illegal and the girls in abysmal situation. They are threatened and physically attacked by local RSS members.
- June 23, 2015: Vasuben Trivedi, Gujarat’s minister of state for women and child development, endorses RSSP Halvad for adoption of “20 orphan girls” from Assam. Calls it the ‘Pride of Gujarat.’
- February 2016: Probationary officer, CWC, enquiring about the 31 girls physically threatened by local RSS worker. FIR registered in the Gossaigaon police station in Kokrajhar.
- March 2016: CWC Kokrajhar informs the High Court and the CJM and district sessions judge, Kokrajhar, that affidavit filed on behalf of parents by Sangh outfits are false. Requests action. No response.
- July 2016: One year later, 31 girls still not back in Assam. Parents desperate.
- The SC in 2010 expressly directed “the State of Manipur and Assam to ensure that no child below the age of 12 years or those at primary school level are sent outside for pursuing education to other states.”
- Article 9 of United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child says, “Children must not be separated from their parents unless it is in the best interests of the child (for example, in cases of abuse or neglect).” India ratified the Convention in 1992.
- Article 30 (children of minorities) of the United Convention on the Rights of the Child states, “Every child has the right to learn and use the language, customs and religion of their family.”
- The Juvenile Justice Act 2000 states an NOC, home study report, case history and individual plan must be taken from the local Child Welfare Committee (CWC). The first option to rehabilitate any needy child is always with the parents.
- Needy children must stay in a protection home registered under the JJ Act 2000 with a legal validity. The girls are living in a home in Patiala that is registered under the Societies Registration Act, 1860.
- The Juvenile Justice(Care and Protection of Children) Act 2000 (amended in 2006), states Child Welfare Committees have the same powers as a metropolitan magistrate or a first class judicial magistrate. CWC also has powers to hold people accountable for the child and to transfer the child to a different CWC closer to the child’s home or in the child’s state to dispose of the case and reunite the child with his family and community.
Published by Outlook magazine on July 29, 2016
Original link: http://www.outlookindia.com/magazine/story/operation-betiuthao/297626