Bulldozer at large: Raid Raj in children’s name

A. J. Philip A. J. Philip
12 Jun 2023
On the Gandhi Jayanti Day of 2020, I wrote a column titled “Let Children Beg: A Monstrous Order” in this journal questioning Mr Kanoongo’s decision.

There are 2.5 lakh children in over 7,000 children’s homes in the country. All of them are from the poorest of poor communities. Many of them are orphans or are children of single parents or were once juvenile delinquents. They come under the district child welfare committees, though the homes are run by religious, philanthropic, non-governmental societies and Trusts.

Mr. Priyank Kanoongo became the chairman of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR). He did not have any expertise in the field but was chosen for the post because of his political clout. He is closely associated with the RSS and has taken upon himself the responsibility of ensuring that its ideology is taken to its logical culmination.

It was against this background that Mr Kanoongo issued a Tuglakian order in 2020 asking all the district magistrates/collectors concerned to close down the children’s homes in their jurisdiction. He wanted the children to be sent to their parental homes, as if they had such homes. Alternatively, foster homes should be found to accommodate them.

On the Gandhi Jayanti Day of 2020, I wrote a column titled “Let Children Beg: A Monstrous Order” in this journal questioning Mr Kanoongo’s decision. The district magistrates would have consigned his order to the dustbins. I also understand that some NGOs challenged his decision in the Delhi High Court. His problem is that he does not understand his limitations.

He has been behaving like a bulldozer without a bell and brake. Of late, he has been active in his home state of Madhya Pradesh. I have seen a video of the gentleman terrorising the nuns, who were running a hostel. When reports came of his controversial visits to some Homes at Katni, Junwani, Ghoreghat and Sevadham, all in Madhya Pradesh, I decided to visit those centres.

For logistics reasons, I chose to first visit Asha Kiran, located on the campus of St. Paul’s School, Civil Lines, Katni. The law empowers him to inspect a children’s home, even without giving notice, and submit a report to the state government. Alternatively, he can send an order pointing out the loopholes and deficiencies he found and asking for a compliance report.

The chairman does not have any other power. What he did at Asha Kiran was to arrive there shouting inanities in the late afternoon of May 29. What he did had all the characteristics of a raid, as shown in third-rate films, not an inspection. He did not show any patience to hear the staff, go through the records and understand the problem, if there was any.

Far from that, he and his team went around ransacking the cupboards, opening almirahs and asking the poor nuns present questions like whether they were busy building chapels with government money.

If Mr Kanoongo had taken the trouble to find out, he would have learnt that the home was started as early as 2005 when the railway authorities approached the church to organise a home for the children loitering in the station premises and creating nuisance for the staff and the passengers.

It was a tough task for the sisters to bring them to a tin shed and involve them in curricular activities. It is a measure of their dedicated service that the home provided a ray of hope (Asha Kiran) for the children.

What Mr. Kanoongo did was to break open a cupboard and find a Bible Diary of 2013 used by one of the students to note down the telephone numbers of his friends. He seized it as if it was clinching evidence of a bid to convert.

If the chairman had shown patience, he could have seen a large collection of religious books of all faiths at the Home. I saw photographs of Swami Vivekananda and Dr BR Ambedkar in the reading room where I met the staff.

There were in all 20 employees to look after roughly double that number of children and all of them barring an exception were Hindus!

In 18 years, hundreds of children have moved out of the Home but not even one has become a Christian. Mr Kanoongo also knows this because his own wife is, I understand, employed in a Christian school. The poor children were terrorised when he and his team interrogated them individually.

Five of them, whom he found slightly disgruntled, were forcibly taken away to the Home only to send them back at night with a mobile phone in their hands to threaten the staff that they would report if they were questioned. What Mr Kanoongo and team did were punishable offences under the IPC.

Because of his political clout, the police are at his beck and call, though he has no authority to order registration of FIR or arrest of persons. I had an occasion to interact with the RSS chief, Mr Mohan Bhagwat. He was very polite. I know many of the top RSS leaders and they are all extra decent.

None of them would enter a Christian prayer room wearing chappal but that is what Mr Kanoongo did, despite a nun telling him that their practice was to leave the footwear outside the chapel. Since he holds a constitutional post and he is paid for by every citizen in the country, not RSS members alone, he has no right to be haughty towards anyone.

He forced the police to file a case against the Bishop, who happens to be the president, when he should, ordinarily, have been in the dock for taking the law into his own hands. I met five boys who are pursuing higher education with the support of the sisters, although they are no longer part of the Home as they are above 18.

In every organisation, be it the RSS or the BJP or the Congress, there would always be some disparate elements. There are such people in Modi’s Cabinet also, though they don’t have the guts to speak out. What Mr Kanoongo and his team members do is to look for such people to build up his case against Christian institutions.

That is exactly what he did at Janwani JDES Girls Hostel in Dindori district. A girl student, allegedly notorious for her rude behaviour, was caught jumping over the boundary wall to go out and fetch some narcotic substance. She was warned several times but was allowed to remain on the campus in the eternal hope that she would mend her ways.

When she was scolded yet again by the Principal and a sister, she used someone’s mobile to send a selfie that showed her crying to her brother. That brought the authorities of the MP Commission for Protection of Child Rights and Mr Kanoongo to the school campus on March 3 from 7.30 pm to 10.30 pm.

A word about the school would be in order. Set up in 1943, it is the preeminent girls’ school in Mandla district. It has always recorded the best result. Thousands of students who passed out from this school are doing well in life. A large majority of them would not have got the kind of education they received but for this school.

The students were preparing for the examination due the next day when the Kanoongo team arrived. His modus operandi was the same, first create havoc, terrorise the staff, scare them with gun-wielding policemen and ask for original files and certificates of registrations, which are not to be returned.

Thereafter, he and his team would interrogate the children individually and ask them all kinds of questions. They had also brought dry fruits like raisins to mollycoddle the small children. They were not so much interested in questioning the senior students as the junior ones. 

Incidentally, there were more men than women in the team that accompanied the Chairman. They freely roamed in the hostel, even entering the residential areas of the girls. One of the policemen was drunk and he had no compunction in easing himself in front of the girls’ hostel. 

They took away some children for God knows what without seeking the permission of the hostel authorities. Four of them were offered cheques for Rs 10,000 each with the promise that the government would take care of all their educational needs. Two of them refused to accept the cheque treating it as good as the 30 silver that Judas received.

Dr. Nivedita Sharma, Mr Omkar Singh of the MP Committee and Mr Kanoongo or their subordinates had been visiting the hostel for several days with the result that the students could not prepare well for the board examination.

Mr. Kanoongo also forcibly took away all the documents from the school without giving a proper receipt. Principal Nansingh Yadav, whose integrity everybody — teachers, parents and students — vouchsafes had to remain in jail for 41 days. A teacher, KM Chand was also arrested.

The charge against the manager is that he did not take action when the complaint reached him. The fact of the matter is that there was never a complaint except in the mind of a vindictive student. There had never been any such incident in the long history of the school, as the inquiry team constituted by the Bishop of Jabalpur found.

A hostel run by the church at Ghoreghat in Mandla district had the same kind of experience when a group of 15 people led by Dr Sharma descended on the hostel. It was accompanied by gun-wielding police. There were 31 boys and girls. It is a hostel for which the state does not provide any financial assistance.

The raiding party left only after making allegations of forcible conversion, child labour and violation of Scheduled Tribe protection law. A case has been registered against Kuer Singh, who actually serves as a servant. Here, too, cheques of Rs 10,000 were brandished to wean some hostellers to build a foolproof case against the church.

Mr. Kanoonsingh who remembers all auspicious days and posts about them on his Facebook Timeline has no such thoughts when it comes to a Christian organisation. Prem Samachar is one such body. Every year it conducts a month-long residential music training programme.

It is not free. Students have to pay fees. Actually, it is a six-year programme. After two years, the students get a junior diploma certificate and after four years, a senior diploma certificate. In the sixth year when they complete the course, they will get the Sangeet Prabhakar certificate.

The certificate is issued by the Prayag Sangeet Samiti in UP. They learn tabla, Bharat Natyam, use of synthesiser and vocal, depending upon their taste. The certificate helps them get jobs in schools. This year’s course was to begin on May 7 at 6.30 pm with a gala inaugural function where the bishop was to be the chief guest.

Alas, Mr Kanoongo, Ms Nivedita Sharma and their subordinates, accompanied by the police, arrived there and upset the inaugural programme. They barged into Director Fr Bipin Kishore Kiro’s office and asked for documents. Nobody knows on what basis they asked for the documents. They interrogated the students, many of whom were Christians.

When I met them nearly a month after the incident, they were yet to recover from the shock. They are given practical and theory classes, all taken by professional musicians who are paid for their services. They took away three Bibles, some Aadhar cards of the students and a diary. I would have loved to ask the chairman when it became a crime to keep the Bible.

There were only 35 students on the day the “raid” happened. When I went there, the number had increased to 83. The organisation does not have the capacity to increase the intake. Otherwise, many more would have taken admission.

Mr. Kanoongo is also interested in addressing the Press and feeding journalists insinuations in the garb of news. Some of them, especially drawn from the same group, use their imagination to paint the Christians as out to convert every single Hindu. 

Yet, the truth remains that out of Madhya Pradesh’s total population of 7.26 crores, as per the 2011 census, Christians constitute only 0.29 percent. That does not prevent Mr Kanoongo and his ilk from spreading calumny against the community. I know why. They should refrain from educating the poor and the marginalised so that they remain doing menial jobs of the twice-born privileged classes, as used to happen for millennia.

ajphilip@gmail.com

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