‘Sankalp hai shaheedon ka, deshbhakton ki manzil, swadhin Bharat ka jhanda lehraane laga (This is a resolution of the martyrs, the destination of the patriots, the flag of independent India has started unfurling).’
These were the starting lines of the morning prayer recited by the 300-odd children studying in grades I to VIII on the Jawahar Bagh premises. The children would be taught English, Hindi, history among other subjects during classes from 6 to 10 am, and would learn that “satyug (the good era)” was coming.
Since the Thursday evening clash, the children, many of them separated from their parents, have been lodged in child care homes in different districts of Uttar Pradesh.
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Among the nine now lodged at the home in Mathura is an 11-year-old from Bulandshahr, who says she and her mother arrived at Jawahar Bagh two months ago after her father was jailed following a raid by Mathura Police on vehicles carrying groceries for members of the Swadheen Bharat Subhash Sena.
“We lived in comfort,” the girl says. “We got food at guruji’s (Ram Vriksha Yadav’s) canteen, my mother rarely cooked at home. We used to go to school at 6 and were served breakfast like khichdi or chapati with oil and salt. After class, we would spend the rest of the day doing homework, playing and sleeping.”
On Thursday, the day of the clash, no classes were held, she says. Yadav addressed the members and while children were kept out, she claims to have heard him say, “We will give police proper response if they attack us.” When the clash began later, she recalls, there was total confusion. The last thing she remembers is her mother telling her to follow their neighbour. She hasn’t had any news of her mother since.
About Yadav, the 11-year-old says that while she never interacted with him, “Everyone said guruji was very nice, so he must have been a good man. My mother told me that satyug is coming and guruji was helping us.”
Other children say the grown-ups worked on the premises, and were not allowed out. Some worked as security guards, some in the canteen, and others ran the flour mill or a departmental store.
A 10-year-old from Kanpur Dehat recalls coming to Mathura with her parents eight months ago. Her parents spent the day preparing “rotis” in the canteen, the girl says. “Dinner was served 7 onwards.They served milk, vegetables, rotis and rice.”
Calling life “exciting”, the children add that the only thing that bothered them was not being allowed to leave the Jawahar Bagh premises. “They told us that if we went outside, police would beat us,” says a 10-year-old, who claims to have come a year back from Rajepur in Ambedkar Nagar district. He adds that those wanting to leave were also “threatened” by others. “Unki peshi hoti thi guruji ke saamne (They were produced in front of guruji),” he says. None of them knows the meaning of “satyagrahi”, the term the members of the cult used for themselves.
The uncertainty now gnawing, one of the children says, “I want to meet my mother, please help me meet her.”
The children will stay at the home till further orders, says G P Pandey, an accountant who also manages the Mathura child care home. He adds, “Most of the children are waiting for their family members. Who knows if they are dead or alive?”