By K Sahadev

The death by suicide of a minor Hindu girl in Tamil Nadu has sparked off widespread outrage across the nation. The girl’s dying declaration as recorded in a video show her alleging pressure on her to convert to Christianity and being forced to do menial tasks at the hostel where she was staying. Upon refusal to convert, she faced discrimination and humiliation. State police officials have denied the conversion to Christianity charges. The matter is currently under investigation. Hindu organisations and political parties have demanded transfer of the case to Central Bureau of Investigation for a free and fair probe.

The practice of targeting tender minds for evangelism and proselytization has been practiced by Christian evangelists since several centuries. In 1849, the American Tract Society published a book “DR. SCUDDER’S TALES FOR LITTLE READERS, ABOUT THE HEATHEN”. This book contains several stories portraying Hindu religion and Hindu social customs in bad light and how the same should be drilled into Hindu children’s minds while positive things should be told about the greatness of Christian religion. A sample text from the book is as follows:

“Their fathers and mothers teach them to pray to gods of gold, or brass, or stone. They take them, while they are very young, to their temples, and teach them to put up their hands before an idol, and say, “Swammie.” Swammie means Lord. As idolatry is the root of all sin, these children, as you may suppose, in early life become very wicked. They disobey their parents, speak ad words, call ill names, swear, steal, and tell lies. They also throw themselves on the ground in anger, and in their rage they tear their hair, or throw dirt over their heads, and do many other wicked things”

 “… By the ceremonies which are performed just before death, this wretched people expect to secure the pardon of all the sins of the deceased. Alas, what a delusion! 0, that Christians had sent the Gospel to this dark land in the days when they sent it to our heathen fathers. Then might the Hindoos now be seeking the expiation of their sins, through the blood of the ever-blessed Redeemer. Of this Redeemer, however, they know nothing”

The above texts show the contempt and disdain with which Hindus were viewed by Christian missionaries in the last 400 years. These attitudes have been drilled into Christian converts in India. Even today, the Christian missionaries evangelists through their sermons, speeches, writings and preaching show exactly the same contempt for Hindus and their religious beliefs, as was displayed by their Christian supremacist European/ American masters.

In the past many instances have been recorded of minors being influenced upon to leave their ancestral faith and convert to Christianity. As far back as 1903, a dalit student Munuswami (later Swami Sahajananda) was asked to convert to Christianity and upon refusal, was forced to pay for his educational fees, boarding and lodging. He joined the American Christian School in Tindivanam in 1901 to pursue higher education. The priests persuaded him to convert to Christianity. He refused to convert to Christianity. The Christian school asked reimbursement from him in 1903 for the education he had, for refusing to convert to Christianity. They also charged his father Rs 60 for the room and food he was staying at the hotel. He was ordained in 1907 at the age of 17 and changed his name from Munusamy to Sahajananda.

In our country, The National Child Rights Protection Commission – NCPCR, has been  entrusted with the task of protecting the rights of children and has been mandated to monitor the implementation of the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015. The Commission has initiated a number of measures to protect vulnerable children. In 2018, it published an exhaustive report on the status of Child Care Homes (CCI) functioning all over the country.  This report gives an insight into composition and background of the children residing in various CCIs. As per this report, bulk of the children did not fit into the definition of orphans. Many had parents or at least one parent/ legal guardian living. Only 56,198 out of a total of 3,77,649 children  living in various categories of Child Care Homes in the entire country were categorised in the registers of CCIs/ Homes as being either orphan or abandoned or surrendered living in CCIs/ Homes including Specialised Adoption Agencies (336 SAAs) across the country.

In October 2019, the NCPCR had written to all the state Chief Secretaries / Principal Secretaries of Women & Child Welfare departments to ensure that the religious rights of vulnerable children are protected and upheld. The commission observed as follows:

On the other hand, it was observed during visits in government as well as NGO- run CCIs that there is another set of Homes where children are placed in CCIs irrespective of their religion, but religious texts pertaining to a specific religion are being taught to all children such as Bible was being taught in some CCIs visited during inspection. Children who are in need of care and protection face multiple deprivations and are vulnerable to get influenced. The United Nations Conventions on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) states that “States Parties undertake to respect the right of the child to preserve his or her identity, including nationality, name and family relations as recognized by law without unlawful interference”.

In September 2020, NCPCR gave directions to CCIs on repatriation of children to respective families keeping in consonance with UN Conventions on the Rights of the Child. In a media interview, the Chairperson of NCPCR, Sri Priyank Kanungo said: “ The principle of the Juvenile Justice Act is to keep children with families, and keeping children in child care homes must be the last resort till all attempts are made to give them an atmosphere of home. It was observed in south India that some CWCs (Child Welfare Committees) are ordering to keep children in children homes due to the poverty of the family. You cannot take away the right to family from a child because of poverty. It is the failure of the state if due to poverty the child is forced to reside in child care homes. It is the duty of the state to strengthen the family so that they could take care of their children.”

However, the directions of NCPCR were challenged in Supreme Court of India by various NGOs running CCIs. Their argument was that NCPCR’s decision could push children back into insecure and abusive environment. The order had to be rescinded and the decision to identify which child is to be repatriated to the family was left to District Child Welfare Committees of respective districts. The court was accordingly informed that restoration/repatriation of children in CCIs would be done only after a thorough scrutiny by Child Welfare Committees (CWCs) about the suitability of children for such repatriation/restoration and the eligibility of the parents to receive them, as provided under Section 40(3) of the Juvenile Justice Act of this decision.

The question naturally arises as to why organisations running CCIs are very adamant that they will not send back children to their families? Why they want to deprive children of their family environment? Does not the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child say that:

“Convinced that the family, as the fundamental group of society and the natural environment for the growth and well-being of all its members and particularly children, should be afforded the necessary protection and assistance so that it can fully assume its responsibilities within the community,

Recognizing that the child, for the full and harmonious development of his or her personality, should grow up in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding”

The dual standards of NGOs running Child Care Institutions can be gauged from the fact that in countries in South American continent and poorer European countries like Armenia, Romania they allow the poor children to stay with their respective families and then support the family and the child. But in India they want to snatch away children from their parents and keep them in isolation in CCIs. Why not keep the children with the parent or guardian and support them in their natural family environment? In the latest incident of suicide in Tamil Nadu, the argument advanced in Supreme Court – ‘insecure and abusive environment’ was not at the home of the deceased but at the CCI where she was staying and where she was subjected to physical, mental and spiritual humiliation! The girl’s dying declaration talks of abusive environment at the CCI where she was staying!

To understand the obstinate attitude of CCIs in insisting on children staying away from their families, one has to read the following prayer appearing in the news letters of a large Christian NGO running educational institutions/CCIs/ pastor training/ church planting from Andhra Pradesh.

“Please pray for IREF staff and students as they prepare to close the 2019-2020 academic year in March and April. Many of these young people return to idol-worshipping families for the summer holiday and need your prayers as they stand firm for Christ”

This prayer was repeated in most of the newsletters, every time the school close for vacations and re-opened. This is the real reason why the NGOs running CCIs want to isolate the children from their families / guardians. All the Christian brain washing they do day in and day out will not be possible if the children stay with their families. The argument of ‘insecure and abusive environment back home’ advanced in Supreme Court against repatriation of children to their families is just a hogwash. The hatred for the ancestral faith of Hindu children – idol worship and polytheism comes out openly in each and every newsletter of the NGO.

Another newsletter of the same Christian NGO quotes a foreign evangelist team visiting the CCI and participating in evangelism and baptism of children as young as 10 years old. There is no mention of parental/ guardian consent for such baptism:

“I was overcome with emotion as I thought of the cost for these students to become Christians. I have never faced a decision nearly as difficult for my faith, and these students were only 10-21 years old. I know the Lord saw it as a costly offering to Him to choose Him above all else””

Another testimony reported in the newsletters goes as follows:

Haritha arrived at IREF in July 2018 and started her studies. She arrived with no personal faith in Jesus Christ, but after a few months all that changed! She committed her life to Jesus and began to pray for her family’s salvation…..  They prayed together for her mother’s salvation – and last month (January) they received news that her mother had thrown away all her idols and accepted Christ as her saviour! They now look forward to being baptised together – Praise the Lord!!

This is not an isolated instance of FCRA funded NGOs running educational institutions/ CCI indulging in blatant brain washing of children and forcing Christian prayers/ teaching every day on the inmates of the Child care homes. The intentions of Christian Evangelist NGOs running Child Care Homes is very clear – uproot the children from their families, keep them in isolation, brain wash their tender brains day in and day out till they accept Jesus and undergo Baptism, with or without parental/ guardian consent. For this purpose they will go to any extent as conversion of Hindus into Christianity is their raison d’etre. They will approach the highest court in the country, pay huge lawyer fees running into crores of rupees, spin stories, obfuscate facts, and give out evasive replies to enquiring officials. Another Christian NGO from Andhra Pradesh, whose FCRA license was recently cancelled, told blatant lies to NCPCR that they were not running any CCIs and all children go home every day. The fact is that this NGO runs not less than 5-6 CCIs where children stay for weeks on end.

The legal framework for protection of children was strengthened with the amendments made to Juvenile Justice Act in 2021. The amendments have empowered the District Collector/ Magistrates this means that DMs and ADMs will monitor the functioning of various agencies under the JJ Act in every district – this includes the Child Welfare Committees, the Juvenile Justice Boards, the District Child Protection Units and the Special Juvenile Protection Units.

The composition of the District Child Welfare Committees also assumes importance as they are at the forefront of protection of vulnerable children and monitor CCIs on an ongoing basis. It should be ensured that the CWCs are not infiltrated by the strong Child Care Home lobby. In several instances, the cronies of the CCI lobby are members of the District Child Welfare Committees. There is not much public scrutiny on the functioning of CWCs and in quite a few districts, they have come under the complete grip of the CCI lobby.

There are many instances of apathy of district administration in giving evasive or perfunctory replies to directions from NCPCR to conduct enquiry on complaints and send action taken report to the commission. In one case from Bina in Sagar district of MP, despite the children of a CCI giving statements that they were subject to Christian religious preaching, no action was taken. The commission concluded that the Sagar DM had simply failed to provide information which was tantamount to suppressing information. It also observed that the DM had not conducted its inquiry as per the desired protocols. In November 2020, the commission wrote to Iqbal Singh Bains, chief secretary of government of MP, directing him to take action against the DM of Sagar for failing to discharge his duties.

Such unsavoury instances can be avoided if the District administration and district CWCs play a proactive role and recognise that religious indoctrination of minor children is a serious offence no effort should be spared to ensure that the children in CCIs are provided adequate opportunities to profess and practice their ancestral faith. NCPCR has much bigger issues to tackle – child trafficking, child drug abuse etc. It is for the district administration to step in and treat religious indoctrination of children on par with any other crime against children.