Date: May 31, 2018
Seventy-four children have had to leave their Christian-run hostel in India’s north-western state of Rajasthan, after the high court dismissed a petition challenging the child welfare committee’s seizure of the central office of Emmanuel Mission India.
Emmanuel Mission International (EMI), founded in 1960 by Archbishop M.A. Thomas, is well-known in India and abroad for providing quality education to students from under-resourced backgrounds, regardless of caste or religion. EMI now runs five societies. One, Emmanuel Education Society, runs over 40 schools in Rajasthan state.
Dramatic scenes, captured on video, of parents and guardians trying to restrain police from shifting their children – complete with belongings – to a bus, to take them away, were shared widely over social media. In the video, an EMI staff member says, in Hindi, that the children are being taken away against their will and that of their parents.
The 9 May order by the high court in Jaipur, the Rajasthan state capital, by single-judge Justice Sanjeev Prakash Sharma, quoted Section 2(14) of the Juvenile Justice Act (2015): “Any institutions … having premises where there is a child living in a hostel or where there are children, would fall within the ambit of a child in need of care and protection, and such hostels must be registered with the Child Welfare Commission (CWC) of that particular District.”
An insider at EMI told World Watch Monitor that, after the 2015 Act passed, the society had several times applied for registration, only to be rejected, so that they had “given up”. He said that they had sent away all the children from their orphanage to their guardians and/or relatives. In 2016, they formally alerted the CWC about the closure of the orphanage, and then leased out the building to Jeevan Asha Chhatrawas (‘Hope for Life’ hostel), an entirely separate body that was registered in 2012, to run a hostel in the same building. There is a lease agreement between the two entities.
“The sole purpose of our building was to run a home for children. Since we could no longer use it, we leased [it] out to someone who could use it as a hostel,” the source, who did not wish to be named, added.
But the judge stated: “This court finds that the EMI orphanage society has [kept] children in hostels, without registration … and seems to be still carrying out activities relating to a children’s home, un-authorised, in another name.”
CWC chairman Hari Gurubakshani told media after the hearing in Jaipur: “The [EMI] management, without getting [registered] … had run an orphanage where around 500 to 600 children were reported to be staying. Later, in order to avoid action, the management set up Jeevan Asha hostel, and by fabricating fake identity and other documents, shifted [the children] to the hostel.”
However, a lawyer working for EMI, Vineet Dwivedi from Link Legal Services, refuted this: “The children residing in Jeevan Asha Chhatrawas [housed in the same premises] are not orphaned or abandoned, so do not fall under section 2(14).… Pupils from a poor background were responsibly admitted by their parents and guardians for nominal fees – 1,500 rupees a year – to attend the school run by the society.”
“The Child Welfare Commission has acted in an arbitrary manner, without any regard to due process of law. This has caused the entire operation of Emmanuel Societies to grind to a halt without any basis – or, at best, merely on suspicion and assumption of the applicability of the Act, without any proof.”
The Jeevan Asha Chhatrawas hostel was not mentioned in the court order.
The lawyer added: “After the police picked up the children, Jeevan Asha Society also filed an appeal before the same high court, stating that the children belong to them and not to the Emmanuel Society.”
The Head of the Legal Department for EMI, Sanjay Dubey, told World Watch Monitor: “For every student admitted to the hostel, their parent or guardian had to submit an affidavit of their consent. Besides that, birth certificate, resident certificate, UID [identification number] and every document needed for enrolment is filed with the hostel management. There is no possibility of fabrication at all.”
Lilian Grace, of the Rajasthan Minority Commission, commented to World Watch Monitor: “Emmanuel Society’s schools in Rajasthan are well-known for their quality of education and service. Its founder faced a lot of opposition from key political leaders. And, surprisingly, it has been in continuance for over a decade now. If it’s [due to] personal enmity against the institution’s founder or present management, they must sit and talk. Targeting the institution will be a hindrance to the good work they do.”
Dr Sajan K. George, President of the Global Council of Indian Christians, said many believe that this latest court ruling is part of an ongoing, politically motivated campaign against EMI.
Cancellation of EMI’s registration
Another lawyer from Link Legal Services, Alag Inderbir Singh, explained: “Between 2005 and 2006, the Department of Social Welfare, Government of Rajasthan [headed by Department Minister, Madan Dilawar, known to have links with the militant Hindu movement RSS], initiated an action against Emmanuel Societies and, in pursuance of its various allegations of illegality … cancelled its registration. [The unsubstantiated allegations included child trafficking, forced conversion, child abuse and forced labour.]
“However, the High Court of Jaipur stayed the order of cancellation of registration, permitting the societies to continue to operate… That order was subsequently upheld by the Supreme Court. The matter is still pending adjudication, and the societies were operating peacefully under the protection of the High Court of Jaipur until recently, when an enquiry committee was set up by the CWC, for alleged violation of the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015.”
On 15 January, a raid was conducted by CWC on the society’s main premises for 48 hours.
“Gurubakshani sent away our staff and was accessing all the computers, collecting data. They stopped only after higher police officials intervened,” Sanjay Dubey, Head of the Legal Department for EMI, said.
“If you read a book and it is good, you suggest others to read it. Why is it different when it comes to Christianity? What is wrong in telling what we have found and feel to be good? They call it ‘conversion’.”
He said that CWC failed to submit its report within 15 days of the constitution of the enquiry committee, as required by an order dated 11 January. “CWC Chairman Hari Gurubakshani is now in control of the main office of the society,” he added.
A third lawyer representing EMI for Link Legal Services, Dinesh Pardasani, said: “The CWC has acted in an arbitrary … manner, without any regard to due process of law. This has caused the entire operation of Emmanuel Societies to grind to a halt without any basis – or, at best, merely on suspicion and assumption of the applicability of the Act, without any proof.”
EMI’s Sanjay Dubey explained the impact: “The children were taken away without any receipt issued, to either Jeevan Asha Chhatrawas or EMI staff, so we tried to restrain them by closing our gates. But the police and CWC threatened us that we will be booked under section 154 of the Indian Penal Code.”
“We don’t know where the children are kept and under whose custody,” he added, saying they also received a call from the police on 23 May to say that four of the 74 children had gone missing.
Kota district, where the hostel was located, is an educational hub with scores of institutes coaching students for various entrance exams, and there are a number of private hostels and ‘paying guest’ facilities for students attending such institutes.
“However, no action has been taken against various other hostel premises being run in Kota,” said Vineet Dwivedi from Link Legal Services.
EMI’s Sanjay Dubey told World Watch Monitor that he received his education in one of Emmanuel’s schools “but I never converted to Christianity… Students belong to all religions and are taught equality. Allegations of conversions are false”.
Susan Raj, who heads educational projects of both Jeevan Asha Educational Samiti and Emmanuel’s Education Society also refuted the CWC’s allegations: “Such remarks have sparked from the years-long grudge the key BJP politicians, RSS and VHP have against Emmanuel Society.
“EMI is a reputed organisation and is very well known in India and abroad for its good work, and they [fringe groups] are trying to malign its goodwill. CWC is backed by them.”
Raj also told World Watch Monitor that the four missing children were caught by railway police while escaping to Delhi by train on 28 May. They had been missing for six days.
She continued: “If you read a book and it is good, you suggest others to read it. Same with Vivekananda [a Hindu monk] or anybody; they talk about what they think is good. Why is it different when it comes to Christianity? What is wrong in telling what we have found and feel to be good? They call it ‘conversion’.
“Allegations of fabrication of documents are completely false. Simply, their intention is to book us under serious, non-bailable offences – including trafficking and forced conversions – and this will give them mileage to push the government to bring an anti-conversion law. They want to make allegations that affect our reputation and this agenda is clearly supported by Hindutva elements.”
“Even in the past, in 2006, when they first came to power, their first target was Emmanuel Society. Why will they stop now?”
“The kind of love, protection and care the society provides to children is the only reason why parents come here to enrol their children,” she said.
Last year, after 48 years in India, Compassion International had to shut down its 549 centres, which cared for nearly 145,000 children.
In 2001, EMI’s founder, Archbishop M.A. Thomas, was awarded by the Indian government with the Padma Shri, India’s fourth highest civilian award, for his services. He died in 2010, after which his son, Dr. Samuel Thomas, took over running the EMI societies. After threats, he left India for the US.