New Delhi: Human rights activist and former Indian Administrative Service officer Harsh Mander has said that two children’s homes he was associated with in the past have been raided by the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), as a part of the “witch-hunt” against those who participated in the anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act.
The raids, he said, were carried out at two homes – Ummeed Aman Ghar and Khushi Rainbow Home – on the morning of October 1.
“The NCPCR is India’s apex body for child rights, and is well within its rights to enquire about the welfare of children in any context. But the timing, mode and questions raised by them are unconventional and raise doubts about the motivation of the agency, whether it will be just one more willing tool for the witch-hunt that is ongoing against independent dissenters in India today,” Mander said.
Mander is one of dozens of activists, academics and peaceful protesters who have been named in the Delhi Police’s chargesheets on the February riots. The NCPCR raids, the activist said, is the government’s latest attempt to use an institution to try and defame peaceful protesters and those who dissent.
“It is no secret that the Union government, using various official agencies which fall under its control, has launched a massive campaign against those who participated in the peaceful non-violent protests against the CAA/NRC/NPR from December 2019 to March 2020. It has been made amply clear by the actions of the state machinery that I am one of those targeted,” he said.
The NCPCR has been accused of furthering the ruling regime’s political vendetta in the past too, when the head of the body filed a police complaint against Alt News co-founder Mohammad Zubair under the POCSO Act. NCPCR chairperson Priyank Kanoongo publicly commented on the situation himself and said his body was cooperating with the police.
On Thursday, the NCPCR also took suo motu cognizance of reports of sexual crimes against two minors in the Congress-ruled Rajasthan. The timing of this action has also been questioned, as the Congress has been vocal against the death of a 19-year-old woman and incidents of sexual violence in Uttar Pradesh. Observers say the child rights body is being selective in its endeavour to protect the welfare of children, as it has not taken cognizance of reports of crimes against minors in the BJP-ruled state.
Kanoongo has been popular with the right-wing of late, with RSS mouthpiece Organiser even publishing an article supporting him.
Mander’s full statement is below.
I learnt today that the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) descended on a surprise ‘raid’ on two children’s homes in Delhi with which I have been associated in the past, Ummeed Aman Ghar and Khushi Rainbow Home, this morning on 1 October. This was led by the Chairperson of the NCPCR himself.
A brief context maybe useful. After I left the IAS, I felt that one of the things I must try to do was to find humane highly scaleable public systems of protection for homeless street children. Their neglect by public policy for more than half a century I regarded as an unconscionable public crime. My colleagues and I developed the idea for homeless children to share existing school spaces, where they would study with other children in the day and sleep in safety at night. These were open, voluntary, non-custodial stay homes for children without homes and families, with high standards of comprehensive care, and high focus on child participation. This was accepted as a model by Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan policy frame work in 2011, it is continued even in Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan in 2018. This idea has been replicated over the last 13 years by dedicated people and organisations in various cities in our country, reached out to over 10000 children, presently taking care of 5000 former street children.
I am no longer formally associated with these homes. But I have close bonds of great love with the children especially in Delhi, who call me Harsh Papa. I visit them when I can, to assure myself about their welfare, speak to them about the world and leading a good life, and sing songs together.
The NCPCR team in its “raids” on the two homes had four central focuses. The most important was whether the children participated in the anti-CAA protests. The second focus was about my association with the homes. The children spoke about the occasional visits to meet them. The third focus was on foreign funding. As it happens, Ummeed is entirely funded from Indian donors. Khushi also is largely supported by Indian donors, but has some foreign donors as well. The fourth question was whether we had given shelter to any Rohingya children. My colleagues said that for us, we don’t focus on the identity of any child; the only thing important for us is that she or he is homeless and in need of care and protection.
It is no secret that the Union government, using various official agencies which fall under its control, has launched a massive campaign against those who participated in the peaceful non-violent protests against the CAA/NRC/NPR from December 2019 to March 2020. It has been made amply clear by the actions of the state machinery that I am one of those targeted.
Also read: The Death of Billo Rani’s Kids
In its affidavits to the High Court and Supreme Court, and in a number of its charge-sheets, the Delhi Police has charged me with the fantastical allegation that I was part of a group that fomented hate under the ‘facade of peace’, referring to my address to anguished students in Jamia Millia Islamia University on December 16, and that I committed contempt of the Supreme Court by criticising its failures to defend minority rights and freedoms. The full recording of this address, and indeed all my speeches and public writings make apparent that instead I spoke about the centrality of love and the Constitution, the importance of non-violence, and that the soul of the freedom struggle and the constitution was the idea of a humane and inclusive nation of equal citizenship for people of all faiths, castes and genders.
This morning of 1 October it was evident that the government was using one more of its agencies, the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) to advance its campaign against the peaceful protesters and dissenters, to defame me. I have no idea about the spin that the NCPCR may give to their investigation. The NCPCR is India’s apex body for child rights, and is well within its rights to enquire about the welfare of children in any context. But the timing, mode and questions raised by them are unconventional and raise doubts about the motivation of the agency, whether it will be just one more willing tool for the witch-hunt that is ongoing against independent dissenters in India today.
It is apparent that the objective behind this hydra-headed witch-hunt of wild police charges and defamatory innuendos to damage reputations and shut down organizations – using a range of official agencies -is to intimidate and discredit dissenters who are committed to the defence of the constitution into silence. My former colleagues are deeply committed to standing by the most vulnerable homeless child whatever it may take. I am convinced that our republic is passing through one of its darkest times, dominated by the politics of hate and the crushing of freedoms. Therefore it is my foremost duty, as also the duty of all those who love this country and its people, to not be silenced, to continue to resist, to continue to speak out and organize for love, fraternity and justice.
Note: This article was updated to include NCPCR taking suo motu cognizance of two cases of sexual crimes against minors in Rajasthan.