For years they lived crammed in a room,stale food on their plates,children allowed no play,television or even phone calls to their families. The 51 children,mostly from the Northeast and rescued from two homes in Jaipur on Tuesday,had become so used to confinement that they have gone into a shell since being set free. Counsellors say they have reacted violently to efforts at conversation,some insisting they had been happy where they were.
Twenty-nine of the children,all but two of them girls,between ages 5 and 17 were found in a room at Grace Home in Mansarovar. On the walls were posters with instructions not to step out of the house,not to attempt to phone home and not to watch television. In the attic were some 600 liquor bottles,in the store rotting vegetables. They lived there unguarded,with a 14-year-old boy as caretaker. The other 22,all minor boys,were in a home in Jawahar Circle and housed in similar conditions.
The quest for the children had begun a fortnight ago. A girl aged around 12 had managed to sneak out of the home at Mansarovar and call up an aunt,telling her she was ill. She was being administered pills for tuberculosis,was taken home by her aunt,and died shortly after. The aunt then alerted an NGO about the conditions in which the children were living.
Members of FXB India Suraksha watched the home for two weeks. There is a park right opposite the home. For two weeks we just stayed there and watched, said Lata Singh,state coordinator of the NGO.
Sometimes we went to neighbours houses to ask about the home, she said. No one even knew there was a childrens home next door. And we did not see anyone coming out or going in. All the doors and windows were shut,and there was such silence that it was difficult to imagine there were children living inside. Initially we were wary about involving the Child Welfare Committee for a raid,because nothing suggested we would find anything inside.
On Tuesday morning,a team of the Rajasthan State Commission for Protection of Child Rights,members of the NGO and the police did raid the Mansarovar home and found the first 29 children. On being questioned,they informed the officials of the similar boys home in Jawahar Circle.
The families of the children had been promised that they would be given a good education free and looked after, said Deepak Kalra,chairperson of the child rights commission. Not only are the homes not registered,there are no Child Welfare Committee orders permitting the children to be brought to this state. Even if parents permitted the owner of the home to take their children,there is a legal formality; the CWC issues an order to permit the handover of a minor. There are no records of financial transactions of running the homes. On paper,they dont even exist.
It has not yet been established why the owner of the homes,a pastor,Jacob John,was running them,but the immediate suspicion is that he earned foreign funding. On the walls of the home hang pictures of children smiling as they flank people from abroad,apparently funders.
Also,medical tests were conducted on Thursday on three of the children. These showed no evidence of sexual exploitation; the other children too will undergo tests.
Counsellors have been called in from New Delhi. They too are from the Northeast,chosen so that they could put the children at ease in their own language. But when one of the counsellors,Seema Awungshi,tried approaching the children,she was stunned to see that they insisted on Hindi. The children had been strictly instructed to speak in Hindi and some of them said they had forgotten their mother tongue, Seema said. About 30 of the 51 children are from Manipur and speak the same dialect as I do. But they would get mixed up and they insisted we speak in Hindi. They have been brainwashed so deeply that they insist they were happy even in those terrible conditions.
She recounted the childrens description of those conditions: Some children told us that if their monthly provisions got over before the end of the month,they would spend the rest of the month fasting. They were let out in the garden only three times a week,that too for only half an hour.
The older children had been brainwashed that there could be a situation when they would get caught and they would then have to stand by the owner for what he has done for them, Lata said. These children are getting aggressive when we approach them. Apprehending they could influence the younger ones,we have kept them in separate homes.
The owner,pastor Jacob John,has been arrested under the Juvenile Justice Act and slapped charges of kidnapping and illegal detention among others. We are recording the statements of all the children and the witnesses and will soon submit a chargesheet, Jaipur police commissioner B L Soni said.
Three subdivisional magistrates have been deputed to record the statements of the children,many of whom have withdrawn. The child rights commission is getting in touch with their families so that they can be sent back home. We are writing to the child welfare committees of the respective states. While most are from the Northeast,there are children from seven other states including Punjab,Delhi and Chhattisgrah. Once all the statements are recorded we will rehabilitate these children.
Minister for Women and Child Development Bina Kak has announced Rs 5,000 from the Chief Ministers Relief Fund as financial assistance for each of the children.