Shelter home kids in the lurch in Ludhiana
13 of 30 children who went missing from Ludhiana shelter home traced to tribal families in Maoist belt of Jharkhand; lured by free shelter, food and gifts, 300 kids have stayed here since 2006.
The illegal Packiam Mercy Cross Child Shelter Home, which is in the eye of a storm for confining and converting 38 children from Jharkhand and Bihar to Christianity, was being operated discreetly from a three-storeyed house on a 150 square yard plot at Phullanwal village on the outskirts of Ludhiana for 12 years.
It was only when villagers watched TV reports of women and child trafficking rackets being unearthed from shelter homes of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh in July that they got suspicious about the goings-on at the home being run by Satyandra Parkash Musa, 59, in their vicinity.
Requesting anonymity, a neighbour said he informed the police on July 26 that an unregistered orphanage was being run at Phullanwal, 10 km from the town. “Neighbours said they used to hear children being thrashed. In the absence of an attendant, the children, aged between five and 18 years, used to cook and wash along with doing other chores,” says Sanjay Maheshwari, an office-bearer of the child welfare committee (CWC).
He says the Ludhiana CWC informed its Jharkhand counterpart, who in turn informed the state police and a case was registered there.
Of the 38 children, 13 were girls and were lodged on the second floor of the building.
Ludhiana district child protection officer Reshmi Saini says after receiving the information from the police, a judicial officer accompanied her to the shelter home on July 31. “We gave a 10-day notice to the shelter home operator (Musa) to comply with the Juvenile Justice Act (JJ Act) and get the home registered. But when I reached along with the CWC team on August 9, Musa expressed inability to complete the formalities so we ordered the closure of the shelter home,” she says.
Asked why the children were not taken into protection that day, Saini says, “Musa sent 30 children back to Jharkhand during the verification process. As soon as we learnt about it, we took preventive action and sealed the home. The remaining eight children were sent to a government-approved shelter in Doraha on August 20. Four of the eight are from Bihar.”
A team of the Jharkhand police, led by West Singbhum superintendent of police G Kranti Kumar, arrested Musa on August 28.
A magisterial probe was ordered into the role of the district officials for delay and laxity. A case is yet to be registered in Ludhiana.
Packiam Mercy Cross Child Shelter Home. ( HT Photo )
Mystery for most
The rescued children told the Jharkhand police that they had not seen their parents for more than a year.
“We have traced 13 children to their families in Jharkhand and efforts are on to locate the rest. Four children were brought from the shelter home in Doraha. Most of them belong to the Sarna tribe in the Maoist-hit belt. They were being taught Christianity here. Bringing them here on the plea that education and healthcare in Jharkhand is not up to the mark is a lie. We have government infrastructure for the education of the needy,” says Kumar.
“At least 300 children stayed in the home since 2006. Musa has revealed that 70% of the children were from Jharkhand and 30% were from Bihar. All of them were from tribal families and were lured by offering free food and shelter besides gifts from NGOs,” he says. Musa told the police that he approached church pastors in the two states who sent the children.
Musa’s house remains a mystery for most. The gate is reinforced with iron bars and remained closed. The porch and window panes were covered with wire mesh that restricted visibility.
Neighbours say Musa, his wife Rajni and son Sunny Jaijill, 21, kept to themselves and did not mix up with them. Musa owned a sheep and would take it out for grazing. “At times, we saw him ferrying sick children on his scooter,” said a neighbour, requesting not to be named.
Donations and grants
Vinod Gupta, who runs a daily needs shop nearby, says till last month many people used to visit the shelter home and donate generously. “Nurses and doctors from a local missionary medical college were regular visitors at the home. Even I visited it to celebrate two birthdays with the children. The children played musical instruments and sang for me,” says Gupta, expressing ignorance of any wrongdoing at the “orphanage”.
VS Jindal, general manager of Nikhil Singal Noble Trust, admitted that the trust was paying the school fee of the children living in the shelter home. “We were told that the children were orphans and that there was no one to look after them,” says Jindal.
‘Big price for small mistake’
Musa, who belongs to Bihar, told the police that he had converted from Hinduism to Christianity in 1978 and had come to Ludhiana in 1999 in search of a job. After doing some odd jobs, he bought the plot on the outskirts of the town in 2004.
Musa’s son, Sunny Jaijill, 21, says his father is being framed. “My father did not convert the children to Christianity. We believe in Christianity but that does not mean we were converting others. I have studied at RS Model School in Shastri Nagar. It does not mean I became a Hindu. Religion is a personal choice. None of them was baptised,” he says.
Asked why his father had not got the shelter home registered, Sunny says, “Yes that was a mistake he made. But laws are so stringent that it is difficult to run a shelter home. My father is paying a heavy price for helping needy children.”
Christian United Foundation president Albert Dua says Musa is “a victim of circumstances”. “There have been incidents of child abuse in orphanages and shelter homes in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. A general atmosphere has been created that all orphanage operators are racketeers. It is sad. Musa was helping the poor. He was naïve and did not get the home registered with the government. He is paying a big price for a small mistake. We are with him,” he says.
First Published: Sep 01, 2018 09:51:24