In the mainstream media’s obsession with the alleged suicide or murder of a Bollywood actor, which has degenerated into targeting women actors who might or might not have used drugs in the past, an order issued by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) has virtually gone unnoticed.
The commission has ordered the closure of all the care homes of children in eight states — Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Mizoram, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra and Meghalaya — in 100 days.
The district magistrates have been ordered to ensure that the children at these homes are restored to their parents. It is not clear what they should do about the children who are orphans. The commission wants them to find persons who will adopt the children and place them in foster homes.
The chairman of the commission, Mr Priyank Kanoongo, has clarified that in due course all the children’s homes in the country would be closed. What prompted him to take this drastic action were two incidents of abuse of children reported from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in the past.
Surprisingly, UP and Bihar are not included in the first list. Mr Kanoongo was an RSS worker from Vidisha in Madhya Pradesh who was appointed chairman just two years ago. His expertise on the subject stems from the fact that he was a member of the same commission before he was elevated to his present post.
His argument is absolutely flawed. He says the rightful place of a child is his or her home and it is the parents who should take care of the children. Some time back, a BJP MP called me. He wanted my help. His “maid servant”, whom I would call a domestic help or worker, stayed in a joint family with her husband and his elder brother. She had two daughters.
She had been noticing that her husband’s brother had been inappropriately behaving with her adolescent children. Her husband did not bother much, as he was beholden to his brother for some petty crumbs like free accommodation. She feared that the man would one day violate the children.
The MP wanted me to help find a placement for the children in a child care home. He was ready to foot the bill also. I told him that the care home where he sought admission for the children was in Haryana.
The children would have to be produced before the district child welfare committee which alone had the power to admit them to the care home. He was frank enough to tell me that he tried it in Delhi but failed. He did not want to make another attempt. I felt sad that I could not help the children.
I did not have the courage to ask him about what happened to the children. Was their mother able to protect them from her relative? I have read reports that during the lockdown, there was a sudden rise in the incidents of sexual violence against children.
In most cases of sexual abuse, the predators are relatives as close as the father. The contractor of a canteen in Delhi which, according to my wife, served “authentic” Kerala dishes, is now on the run, as his wife has filed a case against him for abusing their own nine-year-old daughter.
I know a case where the mother of two daughters allegedly got her husband eliminated. She wanted to lead a free life for which her daughters were a hindrance. She managed to get them admitted to a children’s home, where they are growing up well.
I also know an orphan who was abandoned by her parents, who is today a highly qualified lady who can counsel such students. Does not all this go against Mr Kanoongo’s argument that children should always stay with their parents?
In Delhi and other cities, one can see thousands of children living on the roadside with their parents. None of them goes to the school. They grow up as beggars. Is this what the NCPCR wants such children to become? Since Mr Kanoongo takes his inspiration from the “sacred books of the east”, let me cite an example from the Mahabharata.
It is believed that today’s Delhi is a descendant of Indraprastha, the brand new city that the Pandavas built when they were evicted from Hastinapur. It is also believed that their common teacher Drona had a school somewhere in modern-day Gurgaon district of Haryana.
That is why when the BJP came to power in Haryana, it changed the name of Gurgaon to Gurugram. It is a different matter that it was the same Guru who asked for the thumb of Eklavya, an Adivasi boy, who learnt archery by building a statue of Drona, as his gurudakshina (offering to the guru).
The cunning Drona knew that once Eklavya was deprived of his thumb, he would never be able to excel in life at a time when expertise in archery was like a Ph.D from Harvard or another Ivy League institution. Arjun won the hand of Draupadi solely on the basis of his skill to hit the target, whether it is a fish’s eye or his teacher’s heart.
Drona might have been a great teacher but the fact is that he loved only his own son. He devised clever ways to teach his son some exclusive lessons which would keep him a notch higher than Arjun, who was smarter than his teacher.
He managed to outwit Drona and learnt everything that was to be learnt in archery, becoming the greatest archer of all times. I have a statue of Arjun in Kathakali dress that my friend Mannodi Ravindran gifted me when we built our house at Kayamkulam.
The point I want to make is that Drona’s school was residential and it attracted students from not just Hastinapura but from neighbouring countries, including modern-day Pakistan, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka etc.
Why did Dhritarashtra, the King of Hastinapura, allow his children to leave the palace and live with Drona in humble circumstances? Kunti, who brought her sons to Hastinapura after her namesake husband Pandu died, did not think twice before sending the Pandavas to Drona’s school.
Were Dhritarashtra and Kunti depriving their children of parental care when they were sent to Gurugram to learn archery? Parents, whether ancient or modern, want their children to excel in life. They know that they will never achieve success in life if they are kept with them.
Two years ago, Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad published a beautiful picture on his Facebook page. It showed Mr Prasad sitting on a sofa with his daughter Aditi sitting on the armrest of the same sofa. It was a pretty picture. I wondered where Aditi’s mother was when he got the picture clicked in vertical format.
Their happiness was obvious on their faces. Aditi was leaving for MIT, Boston, in the US to do her Master in Business Administration. Did the minister consider how dangerous it was to send her to a foreign country when she could have done her MBA in India at a fraction of the cost?
No, I am not blaming the minister, who wants her daughter to have a successful career, may be as his successor in politics. That is why he was ready to send her abroad when he could have enjoyed her company.
However, Mr Kanoongo wants all the poor children in the country to be with only their parents. Even if the parents live on the roadside or are in jail or are beggars or are criminals or are pimps or are pedophiles or are rapists!
There are tens of thousands of residential schools in India like the Doon Public School at Dehradun where BJP MP Maneka Gandhi’s husband Sanjay Gandhi and leader of the opposition in Madhya Pravesh Kamal Nath were classmates.
Sanjay Gandhi’s grandfather and India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was sent to Harrow School in England. Later, he joined Trinity College there.
Were Motilal Nehru and Indira Gandhi violating your principle that children should live with their parents when they sent their own children to far-off places to study. True, no child likes to be separated from his or her parents but good parents know that their children should go out and get the best education.
That is why millions of parents who are affluent send their children to residential schools like the Scindia School at Gwalior and the Dalhousie Public School at Dalhousie, often, paying through their nose.
If Mr Kanoongo wants all the children to live with their parents, why did he not ask his leader Narendra Modi and RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat to order closure of all such hostels, including those run by the Sangh Parivar?
He will, then, know how the media and the elite in India would react to such a proposal. He would soon find himself dumped in the Sangh Parivar’s dungeon where he would rot for ever. Mr Kanoongo certainly knows why there was not even a whimper of protest from the media when he ordered the closure of the children’s homes. It is because they house the poorest of the poor.
A large majority of the children in care homes are Dalits, Adivasis, Muslims and Christians. There may not be any twice-born types like the NCPCR chief among them.
As Mr Kanoongo claims, there are about 2.5 lakh children in such homes all over the country. About three-fourth of them are in the eight states. Does he know that these children’s homes were set up by philanthropic-minded groups and persons to take care of children picking rags or pockets or graduating into criminal activities?
They were being provided education so that they could become good citizens of the country. Then the government asked all such hostels to be registered with the government under the Juvenile Justice Act. Soon, they came under the government.
Now, even those who run the homes at their own cost, cannot admit a child, like the one recommended by the BJP MP, because it is the government which controls such hostels. Now, what kind of justice is it that the government orders closure of all such hostels?
I know a children’s home from where six children appeared for the 10th board examination and passed with flying colours. Now they are in Class XI with their total cost met by the NGO concerned.
If the home is closed and the children are sent to their parents who are so poor that they cannot send them to school, their education will come to an end.
That is exactly what Mr Kanoongo and the persons who appointed him to such a post want. An elderly nun belonging to the Missionaries of Charity in Jharkhand was sent to jail on a trumped up charge. On that pretext, the homes run by her congregation were closed.
Of course, it has not affected those who govern the country like Mr Ravi Shankar Prasad who can send his daughter to the US for a degree which she can easily obtain in India.
The last time I went to the US Embassy in Delhi for a visa, I had to stand in a long queue. Those who were given the same time slot for interview were a large group of girl students from an elite school going on a three-week tour of the USA. They were smartly dressed and spoke good English.
Mr Kanoongo’s order will not affect those children. In fact, there are thousands of Indian children who go to the US, Australia, Europe and England after their 10th examination. One reason why the cut-off percentage for admission in colleges like St. Stephen’s, Hindu and Lady Sri Ram in Delhi has touched almost 100 this year is because such students are unable to go abroad for studies thanks to Covid-19.
I wonder why the NCPCR is not bothered about the rich sending their children abroad for studies when it insists that the poor children who are happily staying in children’s homes should be sent back to their parents within 100 days.
Yes, the commission does not want them to do well in life. Otherwise, how will they get cheap labour to wash utensils, drive cars, clean toilets and do backbreaking jobs so that the elite can live comfortably? What a pity, Mr Kanoongo!