The response to last week’s cover story, Operation Babylift, was expectedly fast and furious. While Opposition MPs raised it in Parliament, the Rashtra Sevika Samiti issued a statement condemning the “baseless, untrue and irresponsible” report designed, it claimed, to malign the RSS affiliate. It said apologise or face legal action. Rakesh Sinha of the RSS tweeted that the report was an attack on “female dignity and tribal empowerment”. He demanded an investigation into the “money and the mind” behind the investigation. Former Panchajanya editor and columnist Tarun Vijay fell back on a blog written by a student from Meghalaya (the report, of course, was about 31 underage children from Assam) who claimed, among other things, that RSS affiliate Vidya Bharati had done a lot and more for the upliftment of tribals in the Northeast. And, finally, BJP general secretary Ram Madhav approvingly retweeted a blog by Supreme Court lawyer and Rashtra Sevika Samiti member Monika Arora, which, he felt, was a befitting reply to Outlook. Arora found the report the result of a “depraved mind” that cannot comprehend how “RSS pracharikas slog 24x7, 365 days a year in these areas to spread the gift of education.”
There was no dearth of RSS and BJP ‘spokespersons’ taking to Twitter to dismiss the report, with one or the other questionable reason. All of them seemed to believe the report was politically motivated. Among those who questioned the motive behind the story was Rakesh Sinha, RSS ideologue and author of RSS founder K.B. Hedgewar’s biography.
Typically, none of them chose to contradict the facts in the over 11,000-word investigation that covered three states and took three months. They did not question the documents and correspondence Outlook reproduced. They did not explain why the RSS affiliate did not obtain ‘No Objection Certificates’ from the Child Welfare Committee in Assam, as mandated by the law.
In her blog, Arora did not contradict the fact that the 31 children were ‘rescued, not by Outlook, but by the central zone of Childline at the New Delhi Railway Station. Nor did she explain why the children were not produced before the Child Welfare Committee, Mayur Vihar, again mandated by the law.
On August 3, five days after Outlook broke the story Operation Babylift, exposing how three RSS outfits trafficked 31 tribal girls from Assam to Punjab and Gujarat, CPI(M) MP from Tripura, Jharna Das Baidya said in the Rajya Sabha, “This violates the national and international laws of child trafficking.” Horrified by the incident, CPI(M) politburo member Brinda Karat demanded that both Gujarat and Punjab, with BJP and ally SAD-led governments, respectively, should “immediately arrest those involved in the racket.”
The Congress was not to be left behind. There was ridicule for the Modi regime, the jibes rubbing it in with ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’. “Is this the BJP and RSS’s idea of education and protecting children? Would the BJP ensure the 31 girls return home to their families, which, in fact, have been denied access to their children?” asked AICC spokesperson Priyanka Chaturvedi at a press conference in Delhi.
Annie Raja of the CPI-affiliated National Federation of Indian Women told Outlook, “We hear about ISIS recruiting people in their way and, in India, the RSS is also doing it silently.”
Soon after, Runumi Gogoi, chairperson of the Assam State Commission for Protection of Child Rights, turned out to be the first victim. She had issued various requests and orders to the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), and child welfare commitees in Kokrajhar, Gujarat and Punjab to restore the girls as “it was child trafficking and in violation of the Juvenile Justice Act”. The national-level body asked her to change her report filed on July 15 asking for immediate restoration of the girls.
The next day, Rashtra Sevika Samiti held a press meet in Guwahati, dismissing the report as false. A news blog reported: “Although Basumatary, one of the handlers who was present at the meet, did not deny sending children out of the state for education, she disagreed that the girls were taken away from the parents without following the due process. ‘We took written permission from the parents and the gaon burha (the village headman) to take away the girls,’ she told the local reporters.
The outfits also produced some of the parents of the girls at the meet. Adha Hasda, father of one of the girls quoted in the Outlook report, was also there but he failed to read out to the reporters the content of his consent letter, written in English, signed in presence of a notary public, based on which his daughter Srimukti was taken to Gujarat.”
This reporter has earlier clarified on social media that it is the Assam State Commission for Protection of Child Rights that called it child trafficking in a letter dated June 16, 2015, which was sent to the NCPCR, not the reporter. What kind of education system wouldn’t allow parents to stay in touch with their children for years? And why don’t the parents have any document, any report card, anything to prove that their children are even enrolled in any school?
And, then, if providing education is the noble purpose here, why so many violations of laws, refusals to comply with the orders of Assam State Commission for Protection of Child Rights, State Protection of Child Rights Society, Assam, and the child welfare committees in Kokrajhar and Patiala? Why flout the Juvenile Justice Act, 2000?
Monika Arora writes in her rebuttal, “The Supreme Court order of 2010 was in connection with orphanages and transportation of 76 Christian girls by the missionaries, which is also not applicable in this case.” Since she did not bother to quote the Supreme Court order, it would be pertinent to point out what the apex court ordered on September 1, 2010, in the State of Tamil Nadu vs UoI and Others case concerning large-scale transportation of children from one state to another. It said: “The States of Manipur and Assam are directed to ensure that no child below the age of 12 years or those at primary school level are sent outside for pursuing education to other states until further orders.”
This came after a probe into the trafficking of 76 children from Assam and Manipur, most of them minor girls, to “homes” run by Christian missionaries in Tamil Nadu. It is not clear how Arora jumped to the conclusion that this order does not apply to the RSS or the Rashtra Sevika Samiti that took the children away.
They also made multiple references to how the reporter and the magazine do not understand “service”, “selflessness”, “virtue”, “nationalism” and how its work with the girls contributes to “nation-building”. The Outlook cover story made extensive references to the Constitution of India, the laws on statute books and the UN convention on child rights guidelines ratified by India in 1992. The RSS and the BJP spokespersons mercifully have not disowned these laws of the land. At least not yet.
When this reporter requested both Ram Madhav and Tarun Vijay to counter facts with facts, without induging in rhetoric, there was silence.