A Cobrapost investigation reveals that 31 poor tribal girls allegedly trafficked from Assam, who had been rescued by police authorities on June 11 last year, have ended up in RSS-run schools in Gujarat and Punjab, in a well-orchestrated conversion agenda targeting children from poor minority communities. Given the resources and reach the RSS commands, what Cobrapost investigation reveals may just be the tip of the iceberg
New Delhi: On June 11 last year, 31 tribal girls deboarded the Poorvottar Sampark Kranti Express (Train No. 12501) at about 7.40 p.m. at the New Delhi Railway Station, tired and disheveled from the long journey. However, no sooner had they touched down personnel from Anti-Human Trafficking Unit of the Crime Branch of Delhi Police, Government Railway Police (GRP) and other agencies swooped down upon them and their two women handlers, Korbi and Sandhya, both associated with Sewa Bharati, a social service organization of the RSS. The agencies had been tipped off by Child Line India Foundation, an NGO working for the protection of child rights in India since 1996, alleging that these poor girls, all minors aged between 8 and 14 years, were being trafficked. The girls were to be picked by one Ramanikbhai of Halwad in Gujarat and Bina of Patiala in Punjab, both working for the RSS, and before the authorities could establish a case of trafficking and rescue the girls from their handlers, a mob of about 200 descended on the station. Within hours the girls were handed over to their new handlers, who would take them to their respective towns, after the authorities conveniently found that the girl children had been brought away from Assam for their own good: that is, free education.
The event did not make any headlines as the authorities pushed the matter under the carpet. However, Cobrapost launched an investigation to find the truth of this alleged trafficking. As the Cobrapost undercover operation, codenamed Operation Shuddhikaran, conducted by Sr. Associate Editor Syed Masroor Hasan, establishes, the motive of the alleged trafficking is least altruistic. Contrary to some authorities and individuals involved in this case whom Cobrapost met, their new guardians have no qualms in admitting with a sense of pride that the girls have been brought in with the sole aim of converting them to Hinduism. In other words, it is reverse proselytization or conversion, or Ghar Wapasi as the RSS and its affiliates would like to call it, at work disguised as social service.
Our investigation establishes the fact that these poor tribal girls from Kokrajhar, Bongaigaon, Gopalpara and Chirang areas of Assam were lured by RSS pracharaks with promise of providing them free education, even as their poor parents were offered money to give away their darling daughters. While moving them out of Assam, no approval of the state authorities concerned was taken. Written consent of the parents was not obtained either. The Child Welfare Committee and other such agencies of Assam, Delhi, Gujarat and Punjab, which ought to be duly informed under child protection and anti-trafficking laws that govern the movement of children from one state to another, were bypassed. Ending up in the RSS-run shelter homes and educational institutions, these girls are being initiated into or, in other words, converted to Hinduism to serve its cause. However, what our investigation reveals may just be the tip of the iceberg given the resources and reach the RSS and its affiliates command both in the government machinery and outside it, which have been working overtime on this agenda for many decades now across the country.
The first authority to raise a stink was Sushma Vij, Chairperson of the Child Welfare Committee (CWC), Mayur Vihar, Delhi, under whose jurisdiction the New Delhi Railway Station falls. In her report to her counterpart with the Assam State Commission for Protection of Child Rights, Vij alleges the GRP at the New Delhi Railway Station did not inform her office of the girls rescued by them because the officials concerned did not find it a case of trafficking as the girls were being sent to Gujarat and Punjab to receive education. The report says that Vij also spoke to her CWC counterpart at Surendra Nagar and her visit to Halwad shelter home, where 20 girls have been put, and the Saraswati Shishu Mandir, satisfied her.
Her report may be a tad tame but when Cobrapost spoke to her she was no less critical of the way the poor girls were taken away to an entirely different culture. At the outset, she says she should have been informed by the police, and although in one breath she says there was no trafficking, in the next she questions the motive: “They are comfortable staying there but our objection is that why from Assam to Gujarat … Poora culture change karne ki kya zaroorat hai … bache abhi Boda [sic] language ke alawa kuch nahi jante unko poocho na tumhara naam kya hai toh wo nahi bol pa rahe hain toh ye mera objection ye tha ke itni door la ke rakhne ki kya zaroorat hai maa baap mein se ek maa baap toh hain na to unko Assam mein hi rakha jana chahiye bees bachiyon ko tum yahan se yahan lake unko Gujarati sikha ke poora culture unka change kar doge (Where is the need to change their culture totally … The children don’t know anything other than Bodo language. They even can’t tell their names. My objection is that where is the need to take them that far. Some have either mother or father. So, they should have been kept at Assam itself. You have brought 20 girls here and by teaching them Gujarati you will change their culture entirely), and ultimately they’re going back to Assam only.”
Nothing can be more indicting than what she next says: “Jab wo wapas jayengi toh kya karengi … ya toh idhar hi settle karo yahin shadi karo … likh doh likh ke batao mere ko .. bolte nahi atharah ke baad hum toh de denge maine bola matlab kya hai unko Gujarati sikha aur Patiala wale Punjabi sikhane baith jayein toh bachiyon ke toh zindaki se khelte ho na tum toh. Assam mein reh ke unka ache se kara jaye toh unko maine bola hai ki aap pehle CWC Assam se baat karo ki unka kya vichar hai agar (What will they do when they go back home … I asked them they should help the girls settle here [in Gujarat] itself … I asked them to give me this undertaking in writing. They refused and told me that they will restore the girls back to their parents after they turn 18. I asked what they meant by it … by teaching them [these girls] Gujarati and teaching [those girls] Punjabi in Patiala, you are playing with their lives. Better give them education in Assam itself? I even advised them to seek the opinion of the Assam CWC and if) they are ready to take the children [back] immediately, [we shall] send them back …”
Our conversation with Vij made it clear that either she has not been briefed correctly by the police officers on duty that day or she has not investigated the matter in detail and leaves something to be desired. For instance, she does not have the details of the girls staying that evening in Delhi and she did not visit the Patiala shelter home where the rest of the girls had been taken to.
We knew that contrary to the brief that Vij got from the officials, the girls were not sent to Gujarat or Patiala the same day. The girls were taken to a Delhi-based ashram for the night. After many visits to the Nigam Bodh Ghat, Delhi’s largest cremation ground, and scouring surrounding areas for many days, Cobrapost finally managed to locate Swami Narayan Mandir at the Majnu Ka Tila, and met its in-charge Dalipbhai. As Dalipbhai starts talking, we come to know all girls brought from Assam had stayed at his ashram on the night of 11th June 2015: “Tees ladkiyan ayi thi … Assam se (Thirty girls had come from Assam).” His colleague seconds him: “Haan New Delhi station se jo leke aye the (Yes, they were brought here from New Delhi [railway] station).” These girls were brought there at about 11–12 o’clock that night. They were taken to Gujarat the next day after morning meals. He even knows what happened at the station to say: “Assam se jo ladki ayi thi … police walon ne gher liya tha (The girls who had come from Assam … Police had captured them).” He then divulges who the man was who took the girls and to where and what he does, after making some effort to recall the name. “Ramanikbhai.”
According to Dalipbhai, Ramanikbhai raises poor girls, who are sometimes orphans, educates and marries them off when they attain adulthood, and all the expenses are borne by some rich Gujaratis there. But the real motive of this altruistic enterprise is not social service. While trying to get Cobrapost reporter in touch with Ramanikbhai over phone, we get some idea from Dalipbhai how the girls brought to them are taken care of before they are initiated into Hinduism: “Toh humare mein kya hai ye trust mein kya hai ki ladki ko parhate hain nahlate hain nashta karate hain sar mein poora saaf karate hain achi tareh karte hain poora ye log aur achi tareh kapdon ki vyavastha karte hain toh wo log badi hoke jana nahi chahti ladki … Gujarat mein aise log pade hain toh usko ladki ko god le lete hain (The trust educates the girls, washes them, feeds them, gets their heads tonsured, gets them proper clothes, so much so that the girls don’t want to leave the place … and then there are many in Gujarat who adopt them).”
The ritual that Dalipbhai is describing is what is known as shuddhikaran in Hindu religious terminology. This purification ritual is performed when a person is considered defiled, thus outcast, to bring him or her back to the community fold, and Hindu missionaries perform this ritual before admitting those who gave up Hindu religion in recent or not-so-recent past. Tribal people who in the past have converted to Christianity and Dalits who leave Hinduism for its dehumanizing caste system are the primary target of this campaign, and at times this has led to violent clashes ending up in brutal murders. For instance, Australian Christian missionary Graham Staines and his two minor sons were burnt alive by a mob led by Bajrang Dal thug Dara Singh in Orissa’s Keonjhar district on 23 January, 1999. On 23 September a year earlier, three nuns were allegedly raped in Jhabua in Madhya Pradesh. RSS has made it its cause calibre to bring such converts back into Hindu fold as our investigation further establishes.
Our next port of call was Halwad, 60 km from district headquarters of Surendra Nagar in Gujarat, where Ramanikbhai runs an ashram and a Saraswati Shishu Mandir. Here we first meet the woman caretaker, Varsha Gavande, who tells us some more about what happened in Delhi: “Do din pareshan ho gaye the. Police walon ne bahut pareshan kiya tha (For two days we had a tough time out there. The policemen troubled us a lot).” Varsha tells us how the alleged trafficking was coordinated by Korbi, an RSS pracharika from Gauhati: “Main Delhi gayi thi Assam nahi Assam se toh wo Korbi didi hai na wo Assam ko Assam se Delhi chhodne tak ayi thi … Humne kaha ki wo Delhi tak tum aa jao hum wahan pe tumhein chhod denge toh hum Delhi se lekar yahan aye the (… I had gone to Delhi, not Assam. It was Korbi from Assam who came to Delhi to drop the children there … I told her to come to Delhi from where I took over and brought them here).” According to Varsha, of the 100 girl children they have, 20 are from Assam and 15 from Surendra Nagar. Ghansyambhai and Ramanikbhai are the trustees of this school. Varsha tells us that Ramanikbhai was there in Delhi on that day along with her and her husband: “Main aur Ramanikbhai saath mein the … main aur Ramanikbhai aur mera husband hum teeno aye the (I was there and Ramanikbhai was with me … I, Ramanikbhai and my husband, we all three had been there).” We get also the names of some of the girls brought from Assam while talking to them: Sunila, Babita, Motila and Surgi. They are being tutored in Gujarati. Varsha tells that of the 31 girls they have 20, and the rest were sent to Punjab.
As we were talking with Varsha came in Ramanikbhai. A fertilizer seller in Halwad, Ramanikbhai also runs a booming nursery business. There are six–seven businessmen like him who support Seva Bharati’s programmes. In fact, he has been involved in this work for the past 20 years. He corroborates the events of the day when he was there to receive the girls brought from Assam and how authorities got the wind and trouble broke. He tells us he too have Muslim and Christian girl, and how they are initiated into Hinduism and how they have to follow all daily rituals of Hindu tradition. Talking of the girls from Assam who were then into a month learning Gujarati, Ramanikbhai says one year into this training is enough to make them proud Hindus: “Ek saal ho jayega na toh wo poora ka poora aisa barkat ho gayega Hindu hain hum garva se ho jayega … wahi hum kar rahe hain … ek baar usko dilse ho jayega hum Hindu hain bas (One year into the initiation, they will fully identify themselves as Hindus and they will begin to take pride in it … exactly this is what we are doing … once they realize from the core of their hearts they are Hindus … our job is done).”
In our conversation, Ghanshyambhai, another trustee of the school, emerges as the main resource person who will fix everything related to conversion or reconversion. Here Ramanikbhai speaks highly of his fellow Hindu missionary: “Hum aapko milenge wo aapko poora poora iska dhyan denge aur kaisa karna hai kaise aage barhna hai kaise Hindustan mein Hindu ka wo danda kaisa lekar wo saksham banana ka hai wo sab wo poora dhyan wo Ghanshyambhai hai na usko barhiya bana denge … bahut barhiya admi hai wo aapko aisa sikhayenge aisa documents karna hai saisa karna hai aap kabhi bhi kahan fansne wala nahi hai (I will take you to him. He will pay you enough attention to teach how you should move and how you should be able to hold the staff of Hinduism in Hindustan, Ghanshymabhai will make you capable of that. He is a fine man and he will teach how you should prepare documents in such a manner that you will never have problem whatsoever).” He again speaks highly of the man when he says: “Christian ka lete hain ladkiyan .. pata hai sab lekin aise system chalna hum dikhaa denge wo Ghanshyam poora poora power wala hai wo system poora poora laga denge aapko koi bhi kissi ki humara kuch bhi nahi kar sakta aisa aisa kar sakte (Yes we take in Christian girls … we know all that … but we will show how the system works. Ghanshyam is a powerful man. He will employ the system for you and he can do things beyond our imagination and nobody can touch you).”
According Ramanikbhai, he has converted or reconverted no less than 20000 kids back to Hinduism in the past two decades as an RSS worker, saying with a sense of pride: “Mussalman aur Christian aur jo koi pehle Hindu the aur baad mein … parivartan jo ho gaya wahi hissab se bahut ladkiyan humne jo wahan se utha utha ke layin hai kal unko parha parha ke wo saksham kar di hum bhi Hindu hain aise aise (Muslims and Christians who were Hindus earlier … but who converted … you are right, we have picked many girls and raised and taught them to become Hindu … made them capable).” These girls thus brainwashed into Hindu ideology join this mission upon attaining adulthood.
We get a sense of reach of the network of RSS missionaries like Ramanikbhai which can be pressed into service right in the capital city of Delhi when he reminisces of the day: “Tumhari taraf hoga toh wahi sangathan hai Delhi mein ab humara … wo sangathan turant aa jayega. Wo din hua tha na hum ladki lekar aate the toh Delhi mein jo sangathan wala tha na wo sabhi log aa gaye the wahan do sau … do sau log aa gaye the … akar mujhe bol diya chacha aap idhar baith jao hum sab nipta lenge (If trouble occurs in your area, we have our organization in Delhi. It will come to your rescue immediately. You know what happened that day in Delhi when I was there to receive those girls. All the people from our organization reached there. About 200 workers reached there [the railway station] and asked me to breathe easy. They will take care of everything, they told me).”
Now, it was in order for Cobrapost to visit Patiala and piece together all the threads of investigation. However, while locating the shelter home at 1723/5 in Ramnagar area of Patiala was no less daunting, the two-storey rented building housing the Mata Gujari Kanya Chatravas where the girls brought from Assam were supposed to have been kept was found locked. The building had been vacated only recently and the caretakers had left the place almost without any trace. Thanks to a postal worker and a neighbour , we finally managed to locate the hostel. Here we meet first Bina and then Jyotika.
The moment we tell Bina and Jyotika that we have come from Delhi Swami Narayan Mandir where the girls brought from Assam stayed for the night, they begin to talk. As our conversation around the mission of Ghar Wapasi progresses, Bina confirms the events of that day: “Haan … ye mujhe pata hai wo thahre the uss raat ko jiss raat bachon ko station par pakda gaya thaw toh wahan se Sangh ke koi aye bhi the wahin se … Gujarat wahan se the Guahati se (Yes … I know that they had stayed that night after the children had been rounded up at the station … then someone from the Sangh had come there … he was from Gujarat).” She continues: “Jiss din station pe jo hua tha na kaand … uss raat Korbi ji un bachon ko Gujarat mein dene ayi thi lekin wo Swami Narayan Mandir mein thehri thi Delhi mein (That evening when problem arose at the station at Delhi after Korbiji had brought children to send them to Gujarat, she too had stayed at the Swami Narayan Mandir).”
Catch them young is this mission’s catch phrase, and we get the feel of how they condition the young, impressionable minds when Jyoitka explains us: “Itni si jo bachi hai na usko samjhana asan hai jo iss age mein aa gayi na aath, matlab athvin lelo nauvnin lelo dasvin lelo unko samjhan mushkil hai par unko iss cheez mein lana sabse asan hai kyonki unki baat ko pehle sunana wo kkya kehna chah rehe hain fir unke baat se … (It is easier to make smaller girl children understand but when they reach at the age of, say, eighth, ninth, tenth standard it is not easy to make them understand something. But it is easy to bring them into our religion. You have to understand what they want to say and then speak to them …).” While Jyotika tells us many pracharikas were working on this missions under a sanchalika on national level, Bina tells how the senior pracharikas work to bring the Christian children: “Wo hain jo badi pracharika hain wo nikal ke lati hain bachon ko isai dharma ke (It is the senior pracharikas who bring Christian children to us).” These children are conditioned in such way that they follow all the rituals and the ways of the Sangh wherever they go, even if they choose to leave its fold.
Now, it was pertinent for us to know who the parents were and if they knew where their daughters were. Therefore, the Cobrapost reporter visited Nakheda village in Chirang district and met the relatives of Sushmita, Sunita, Surgi Mardi, Lukhi Murmo, Motila Kisko and Sunila.
It has been more than four months since the RSS workers took away their daughters, yet they did not have any word about them. Cobrapost had managed to get photographs of some of the girls and it was in order to get them identified by their parents who in earnest brought their photographs curious as they were to know if our reporter had seen them. In their paternal eagerness they huddle around our reporter. They identify Motila Kisko and Surgi Mardi. When the reporter asks why did not they file a complaint with police or local authorities, they fall silent. Sensing their unease, the reporter asks them about the activities of RSS and VHP, says Kisko’s father: “Zyada din toh nahi hua doh saal se aage hai thoda (They have been active here for not more than two years).” Did they get the money they were promised for giving away their daughters? “Nahi nahi … kuch nahi (No … nothing),” says Kisko Senior. “Jtina hai Gosaingaon se le gaya tha toh udhar mein thoda itna karke … doh hazar karke (They paid Rs. 2000 to those of Gosaingaon from where they took away girls).” Here not a single penny was paid to these parents. When asked who is involved in this racket, Kisko has this to say: “Idhar ka toh Devsiri ka Vishwa Hindu Parishad ka un logon ko le gaya (The Vishwa Hindu Parishad man from Devsiri took away our girls).”
Why they don’t protest? Kisko sums up the fate of his community in these words: “Kuch nahi bola khali bola toh Gujarat mein Vishwa Hindu Parishad ka parhne ke liye le jata hai hum bahut aage mein bhi le ke gaya tha fir aaker aur toh upay nahi hai jo Bodo ka gundon se hum log … khane peena ka taka paisa nahi income nahi hai … nahi nahi upay nahi hum logon ka business ka koi parhne ka bacha log parh nahi sakta (They did not tell us anything except that Vishwa Hindu Parishad people will take them to Gujarat for education. They have taken children away earlier too … No we don’t have any choice … we cannot fight the Bodo goons … No, we don’t have any choice … we don’t have any money to get two square meals … we don’t have any business … we don’t have any means to get our children educated).”
We met a young woman hardly in her thirties, who is running a small shop made of tin shed. She too does not know her daughter’s whereabouts. But after she is shown the photographs of some of the girls, she identifies her daughter with the curiosity and promptness of a mother. “Yeh hai (Yes this is [my daughter]).” She has a name: Sunita. A look at her somber face is enough to know the helplessness of a mother who does not know about the fate of her child, and how tragic a tale life has become for tribals like her. Talking in monosyllables, Sunita’s mother understands that parents like her have been taken for a ride but is unable to express her anguish. She simply gazes at the earth pensively, with pain writ large on her face.
At the same shop is sitting her brother-in-law Bhim Toppo who upon a little goading comes forth. It is Bhim Toppo who explains why the parents or local tribals we spoke with were reticent: “Bodo ke dar se (We are afraid of Bodos).” The reason is obvious as the Bodos are armed to teeth and it is their writ which runs far and wide in this area. Toppo sums up their helplessness: “Hum log khali haath hoga un log ke hathiyar hoga … issiliye thoda dikkat hota hai (We don’t have any arms whereas they are armed … that is why we have tough times).”
Sunny Murmo, our guide, turned out to be an RSS worker and his uncle Shiv Charan Varma is Devsiri RSS head, who is also involved in trafficking tribal children to convert and initiate them into Hinduism. When Cobrapost reporter asks him if his uncle knows about how children are being trafficked from this area, he says: “Haan, jante hain (Yes he knows about it).” Is he involved in this racket, wonders our reporter. “Haan (yes),” replies Sunny. The young RSS worker also tells us the Bodo militants kill the tribals. “Haan adivasiyon ko marte hain (Yes, they kill the tribals),” he says, corroborating what Bhim Toko tells us about the reign of terror that Bodos have on this area.
Kisko’s words of utter helplessness “Nahi nahi upay nahi (No, we don’t have any choice)” sum up the fate of a community caught between insurmountable poverty and the ethnic and communal strife since the 1970s that began with All Assam Students’ Union movement against outsiders. With the emergence of dreaded terrorist outfits such as ULFA and Bodoland Liberation Tigers Force, the spate of violence continued unabated. More often than not, poor minority communities such as Christian tribals, Dalits and Muslims bear the brunt of this violence. Natural disasters like floods, coupled with this violence, only accentuate the existential crisis for vulnerable sections of population, particularly children, leaving them open for manipulation by human traffickers. There is no surprise then if more than 4754 children, including 2753 girls, have disappeared since 2012 according to a report that the Assam Crime Investigation Department had released in October last year. There is no surprise then if under such circumstances, poor parents have to make such compromises as giving away their children to RSS pracharaks for their own good, as claimed by authorities, little realizing that they have sacrificed their children at the altar of Hindu faith.
(For a detailed version of the story, please log on to our web site: cobrapost.com)