The distance between Guwahati (Assam) and Morbi (Gujarat) is 2,798 Kilometres. Not too many people would undertake the journey unless they have to, and certainly not minor girls.
But as many as 31 girls between the age of three and eleven boarded a train on June 9, 2015, in Guwahati escorted by two women from Sewa Bharati and Rashtra Sevika Samiti, both RSS affiliates.
The tribal girls belonged to poor families and were promised education in Punjab and Gujarat. A week after the girls boarded the train, Assam State Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (ASCPCR) described it as ‘child trafficking’ and requested the police to take all necessary steps to bring back the girls. That was on June 16, 2015.
Almost three years later, on April 12, 2018, the Child Welfare Committee, Morbi district in Gujarat, 60 kilometres from Rajkot and 259 kilometres from Ahmedabad, issued a notice (OW no./Depu/Assam Child/2018-19/80) to Assam Child protection Society that they are finally sending 19 girls back via train on April 22, 2018 to Assam and Meghalaya back to their parents.
The letter says that they were given shelter after floods and now the girls should be rehabilitated with the families. Affidavits of parents, in English, produced by Sewa Bharati earlier, had claimed that the families were ‘riot affected’ though!
There is no explanation yet on why minor girls were shifted 2,800 kilometres away from home for ‘shelter’ and ‘education’. There is no explanation why the girls could not be provided shelter and education nearer home, in Assam and Meghalaya. Nor is there any clarity on how many girls and from how many states are being provided ‘shelter’ and ‘education’ several thousand kilometres away from home by Sewa Bharati and indeed other organisations. The scandal reflects poorly on the implementation of the Juvenile Justice Act and the functioning of the District Child Welfare Committees the law mandates for every district.
The Assam Commission for Child Rights wanted the Assam police to file an Action Taken Report within five days. But no action was taken, no report was filed and even the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights ignored the call. They clearly did not want to fall foul of the RSS or the Government in power.
Besides violating the SC guideline of 2010 not to take any child outside Assam and Manipur for any purpose including studies, Sewa Bharati, Vidya Bharati and Rashtra Sevika Samiti also violated the Juvenile Justice Act by not producing the girls before CWCs in Assam or obtaining NOCs from them before taking them away to Gujarat and Punjab.
AFFIDAVITS BY PARENTS PRODUCED
On June 22, 2015, Malaya Deka, the chairperson of CWC, Kokrajhar, wrote a letter(CWC/KJR/06/2015) to the CWC, Surendranagar district, Gujarat, requesting the “restoration of children from Assam staying at Saraswati Shishu Mandir, Halvad, Surendranagar”.
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 gave consent to the RSS-affiliated “Shikshika Manglaben Harish bhai Raval Kanya Chatralaya/ Vidya Bharati Saulagna Saraswati Shishu Mandir, Surendranagar, Gujarat” to take the girls away for education.
Deka told independent journalist Neha Dixit, “This in itself is a violation of the law, since the affidavits should have been made before the children were being taken away, not a month later.”
HIGH DRAMA IN DELHI
When the children reached Delhi on June 11, 2015, Childline India Foundation (CIF) at Delhi, a nodal agency of the Union ministry of women and child development, received a call from an informer about the trafficking of these girls on the Poorvottar Sampark Kranti Express.
The girls were rescued at Paharganj station in New Delhi. The same day, Shaiju, a coordinator of Childline, wrote to Sushma Vij, chairperson of the Child Welfare Committee in Mayur Vihar, Delhi, informing her that the children were rescued and taken to the police station for cross-checking their documents.
But at this juncture, strangely, an order of the CWC, Surendranagar, intervened and within a day, the girls were sent onward to their destinations from the police station itself—20 to Halvad, Gujarat, and 11 to Patiala in Punjab.
The ASCPCR again wrote to the ADGP, Assam, on June 16: “The children were rescued on June 11, 2015, but the written evidence showed that Child Welf¬are Committee (CWC) (Surendranagar) issued the order to Secretary, Children Home, Halvad, under section 33 (4) of Juvenile Justice Act 2000 on June 3, 2015.”
“Without producing the children before the CWC, how can they issue order with regard to proper custody of the children in the children’s home situated at Halvad.... how can children of Assam who are with their parents/guardians have previous rec-ord, case history, individual care plan in a Child Welfare Committee of Gujarat state?”
REPORT IN GUJARAT SAMACHAR
A day later, on June 17, 2015, the Gujarat Samachar newspaper, Ahmedabad edition, published the following report: “Saraswati Shishu Mandir in Halvad, which is affiliated to Vidya Bharati Trust, organised a meeting in Delhi, during which it adopted 20 girls who have been orphaned during the recent floods in Assam. This humanitarian move has contributed to enhancing Gujarat’s image and made the state proud...The children were received at Delhi railway station by trustees of the Saraswati Shishu Mandir, Mr Ramnikbhai Rabdiya and Ms Varshaben Rathod, as well as two police officers.”
It has taken three years of persistence by activists and the Assam Commission to rescue the girls. It’s time for Sewa Bharati to come clean.