New Delhi: In a ‘rare’ case of Central intervention, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) under the Ministry of Women and Child Development has written to the Madhya Pradesh government to take action against the district magistrate (DM) of Sagar for failing to provide information it had sought about a case of ‘religious conversion’ at a children’s hostel run by a Christian organisation.
The NCPCR intervention has come even after the sub-divisional police officer of Bina town, where the hostel is located, the district population officer (DPO) and assistant district prosecution officer (APO) of Sagar told the Central government entity this September that it had conducted an inquiry as asked, and has no further information to provide to it.
In June 2015, following an investigative report in Outlook magazine about 31 tribal girls from five districts of Assam allegedly trafficked by three RSS-affiliated organisations to Punjab and Gujarat reportedly in violation of several laws, the state commission for protection of child rights had written to NCPCR to take action on the matter. The report had stated that the girls, some as young as three, were forced to embrace Hinduism, speak Hindi and give up their customs.
However, the NCPCR didn’t intervene on the matter and the right-wing organisations instead lodged a criminal complaint at the Gauhati high court against the news magazine, its editor and the reporter for promoting “disharmony, of feelings of enmity, hatred between different religious, racial , language or regional groups, or castes or communities”.
The news about the NCPCR’s recent action has so far been reported only in the right-wing online news site, Swarajya, which has been subsequently picked up by the RSS mouthpiece, Organiser.
As per the Swarajya report, which terms the Central entity’s action ‘rare’, the NCPCR intervention in the case is based on a news report, published in the Hindi newspaper Patrika, in July. As per Swarajya, the news report in Patrika had said that nine girls were “rescued” from Euphrasia Bhawan hostel in Bina town by Sagar district administration. One of the girls allegedly said they were “forced to worship a particular deity”. The Patrika report also quoted Child Welfare Committee of Vidisha district, which took the girl’s statement, claiming that they “seemed to have been illegally kept in the hostel and it seems a case of religious conversion”. Since there was no CWC in Sagar at that time, the CWC at Vidisha had taken the statements of the girls.
The Swarajya report quoted the girl’s statement as, “…yahaan puja bhi nai karayi jaati thi naa hi mandir hai. Madam Christian prayer karati thi aur gale mein bhi kuch pehenti thi (the place had no temple, but we were made to recite Christian prayers. Madam would wear something around her neck too).”
On July 14, the NCPCR stepped in by taking cognisance of that news report. It sought an action taken report from the Sagar DM on the matter, but reportedly didn’t receive any reply.
“The commission subsequently issued summons on 17 August, directing the DM to provide information on 13 points. These included,
What action was initiated by the administration on the basis of statements of the children of the CWC;
Whether an FIR under sections 42, 75, 82 of Juvenile Justice Act was registered;
Why was this hostel open when all schools and coaching were closed on the orders of the government citing pandemic;
How many hostels are being run by the organisation running Euphrasia Bhawan hostel n Madhya Pradesh, and what is their source of funding.”
On receiving no reply from the DM, on September 15, it held a hearing with some officials from Sagar administration. “The officials told the NCPCR that they had completed their inquiry in the matter and there was no further information which could be provided to the commission. The officials included sub-divisional police officer of Bina, district population officer (DPO) and assistant district prosecution officer (APO) of Sagar.”
However, the commission “concluded that the Sagar DM had simply failed to provide information which was tantamount to suppressing information”.
On November 27, the NCPCR wrote to the state chief secretary Iqbal Singh Bains directing him to take action against the DM for “failing to discharge his duties”.