Exonerating Muslim orphanages in Kerala of child trafficking charges going back to 2014, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has filed a closure report in the Ernakulam Chief Judicial Magistrate Court.
In the report submitted to the court, CBI has stated that parents and guardians of minor children had insisted that they had sent their children to Kerala hoping that they would get educated, free food and other facilities free of cost. In the report, they have stated that “no kind of exploitation was noticed by any witness”.
The sensational case saw the Railway Police detaining 589 children — who had arrived in two trains from Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal —in May 2014 at the Palakkad Junction railway station. All the detained children were from extremely poor families and the majority of them did not have documents to prove their identity. However, some of the children had identity cards of Mukkam Muslim Orphanage in Kozhikode.
Even when the children had been detained, the orphanage authorities had stated that some of these children were orphans and some others were there with parental permission as they were sent to Kerala hoping that they would get better education and care. The Kerala State Minority Commission said insisted then that no trafficking was involved.
It was then alleged by a few child rights activists and Central agencies that it was a case of child trafficking as none of them possessed the mandatory documents such as admission papers and certificates related to birth, age, income. Eight persons too had been arrested in the case and were released on bail only nine months later.
When the case did not make much progress, the Kerala High Court ordered a CBI investigation into the multi-state case in July 2015. After fours years, it has been found that it was a false alarm and a case of persecution of Muslim orphanages due to the prevailing anti-Muslim rhetoric.
The case shook political circles in Kerala after the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) had alleged ‘prejudice’ while filing the FIR. Former Kerala BJP president and the current MoS Parliamentary Affairs V Muraleedharan was one of the first to demand a CBI enquiry. Even the then Union minister for women and child development Maneka Gandhi had said it was a clear case of child trafficking and she had sought a report from the state government, which was then headed by Congress-backed United Democratic Front (UDF).
During the course of the investigation, CBI officials found that Idris Alam, one of the cooks at an orphanage, had admitted his daughter and son at Mukkam Muslim Orphanage and Manassery Muslim orphanage respectively in Kozhikode. His wife was also working in the orphanage as a cleaner. During their summer vacations when they went back to Bihar and Jharkhand, their neighbours and relatives, who are all daily wage labourers, requested the couple to take their children as well since most of them had at least seven children each.
From the same village Maulana Faizulla, Alamgir were also employed with the Orphanage. They took responsibility to take the children to Kerala. The parents had even got the destitute children certificates prepared from their village Pradhan and finally dropped off their children at the Bhagalpur bus stand in Bihar and Jasidih Railway Station in Jharkhand, from where they were taken to Kerala. It is a four-hour bus ride between the two places.
After checking for financial fraud, the CBI came to the conclusion that these orphanages were essentially run on donations and funds from Red Crescent and state funds. Donations came from believers as a part of their ‘Zakat’, money that is given yearly for the upliftment of the poor.
In what appears to be a case of bias on the part of the investigating agency, the CBI even states that “in spite of best efforts during the investigation, no pressure, coercion, fraud or deception could be established”. The CBI even states in its report that the children in the orphanage were well fed and would get chapati, dosa, biriyani, chicken, fish, egg and vegetables.
Both Mukkam Muslim Orphanage and Manassery Muslim orphanage come under the Manassery Muslim Orphanage Society, which was established in 1956. It runs several other schools and colleges and was set up by a family to help the poor. The society has also twice won the Central government’s National Award for Child Welfare.
In these intervening years during the investigation, it is the children who have lost out on their education as several of them were sent back to their poverty-ridden lives. The children were handed over to the Child Welfare Committee (CWC) and those children who had the ID cards of Mukkam Muslim Orphanage were sent to the Child Welfare Committee in Kozhikode. The children whose parents came to get them were sent after verification of documents. Of the remaining children, 119 were sent to CWC in Godda, Jharkhand, and 39 were sent to CWC Patna.