This week, the Ranchi Police arrested several workers and sisters at Missionaries of Charity-run centres in Ranchi. These arrests followed raids at three of 13 centres for unwed mothers the charity runs in Jharkhand for pregnant unmarried women and their babies. Baidyanath, a child rights activist in Ranchi, played a key role in the ongoing raids and arrests. Outlook’s Pragya Singh speaks to him.
When and how did you suspect shady dealings at the Ranchi centre for Missionaries of Charity?
I knew in 2014 that something was very wrong with the centre for unwed mothers run at Ranchi, and I had informed the state CID. In 2016, again, I had told the Special Branch of police that things did not seem to add up at these centres.
How did you gather enough evidence to file an FIR?
I came across a person from Uttar Pradesh who claimed he had paid Rs 1.2 lakh to buy a baby from this centre. I took him to the Child Welfare Committee and the centre was then raided. We found 13 pregnant girls, who were also underage, and we found around 40 young children and babies there. On that basis the police filed an FIR.
The Missionaries of Charity would argue that there would be children and pregnant girls or women at such a centre...
Yes, but the problem is that I already knew for many years that all was not as it seems. Before I became an activist I used to serve tea to people in a college located right in front of the Missionaries of Charity unwed mother centre in Ranchi. Then, one man gave me a job to make food at the college. When I did this job, from the roof of the college, I could see many women and children in the centre, but I didn't really understand, being very young, that what was going on there. So I struck up conversations with many of the women who used to stay at the centre and they told me that they come there for the medicines and other services given to women at this centre.
Yet, that should not arouse suspicion either. What was it that made you think something was not right?
Yes, when I became an NGO worker then I tried to go inside this centre but I was not allowed to. So, I did some more research and found out that they allow outsiders to go inside the centre in order to provide them with free meals as a form of charity. So, several years ago, I pretended as if I am keen to donate a free meal and serve the women and children myself. Under the ruse of performing charity for the last rites of a deceased family member, I got inside the centre. The sisters and workers told me to give them the supplies for the meals, that they would prepare the food and then I could come with the sweets and serve them.
I took this opportunity to find out more about the women who are inside the centre. Some of them confessed to me that they had been made to sign papers that they would give up their babies after birth. They told me that in exchange for caring for them the centre would keep their children forever. I also met women who told me that they want their child back from the center but they were not being given their children.
What happened thereafter?
After I met many such women with several complaints, both inside and outside the centre, I went to the CWC again. The CWC organised a visit and in the first visit itself they found 14 children who were all sent to the government recognised shelter homes. Even from there, four children went missing. This is the sad state of affairs in Jharkhand when it comes to children and their protection. The powerful are able to do anything while the victims are the innocent children. This was all happening in 2013. I even have complaints filed by the then chairman of the CWC and a member of the CWC who said that they were removed from their positions for having conducted these raids. Nevertheless, nothing could move on with this case.
Now an FIR has been registered. Why do you think this time action was taken?
With an FIR being registered the entire matter will be come to the forefront. In fact, in 2011, even in Colombo a similar case came to light from the Missionaries of Charity's hostel for young unwed mothers. I feel that until Mother Teresa was alive the Missionaries of Charity were doing honest work but ever since she died there is a rot setting into their system.
What is the next step in this case?
The case will go on with the police and in the Courts. My demand is that based on the three centres that have been raided so far, all other centres, and there are 13 of them in Jharkhand, should be raided.
So far, what have you found about the modus operandi of this alleged racket?
The family from UP whom I met has said that they paid Rs 1.2 lakh for a baby.
How old was this baby?
This is a male child, only ten days old. But there are three other cases that have come to light at the same time, all three are female babies. For the girls, the two families that have (allegedly) bought children, Rs 50,000 each were paid. The third family claims that they did not pay anything to get their girl child but I suspect that even in this case some payment was made.
These could have been just donations or charity.... Why suspect it as a sale?
In the first case, of the male child, the workers at the centre took the child back from the UP-based family. They told the family that they would return the child after a few hours, after doing some necessary paperwork. However, the mother of this baby and the UP-based family came across each other at the centre. There, the mother complained that she only got Rs 20000 for her baby. This is why the entire affair unravelled. The Indian government has made the entire process of adoption online. It is the online system that matches babies up for adoption with families keen to adopt them. When the online system of adoption was introduced then the Missionaries of Charity decided in protest that they would no longer participate in the adoption system and they shut down that part of their operations. This is one reason why there was no longer any transparency in the system at the Missionaries of Charity centers. Nobody knew how many women and babies or children are here or what happens with them. Because the UP-based family and the mother of the ten day old boy came across each other, and a dispute arose, and they approached me, then the FIR could finally be filed and people got arrested including the buyer and the mother who put up the child for sale.