In a major development in the Mose Ministries case, the CBI secured the custody of its founder A Gideon Jacob on Wednesday.
The CBI will have Jacob’s custody for five days. It has also petitioned in the second additional sub court in Trichy to have the custody extended to seven days.
Mose Ministries first came into limelight in 2015 when two interns from NGO Change India were visiting unregistered children’s home to collect evidence for a High Court petition on illegal children’s homes.
They had spoken to the girls staying at Mose Ministries for three hours and found that all of them believed they had been saved from female infanticide. In a series of events that followed, allegations of brainwashing, emotional abuse and child rights violations at the hands of Jacob, the pastor, and the Mose staff emerged.
Jacob, who has been wanted in the case, had been evading arrest for over a year after the CBI filed a case against him in 2016. He is accused of keeping 89 girls in an unregistered home and trafficking by taking them on unauthorised foreign trips for two decades.
Jacob was arrested and brought to Trichy by a four-member team of CBI’s special crime branch.
The stories of daughters they didn’t know existed
The visit by Change India’s interns in 2015 opened a can of worms for Mose Ministries.
An extensive piece by Rohini Mohan for The Hindu revealed in March this year, the story of the girls living in the home is complex and poignant tale which reeks of the patriarchal bias against girl children, and childhoods groomed by strict conditioning.
Mose Industries was established in 1994 by Pastor A Gideon Jacob and his German-origin wife in Usilampatti in Tamil Nadu. Rampant female infanticide, along with the recently introduced Cradle Baby scheme at the time meant that a number of girl babies ended up abandoned, if not murdered by their families.
The Cradle Baby scheme stipulated that the hospital must inform the police, and if the child remained unclaimed, she was to be placed in the care of a registered adoption home.
But Mose Ministries was not registered. It was allegedly the village nurses, a panchayat president and his daughter, who was a senior nurse at the government hospital, who brought over 125 girls to Mose over the course of four years.
In 1998, the home, along with its girl children moved to a narrow lane in Trichy’s Subramaniapuram, overnight.
Rohini spoke to 20 of the 80 families in six villages in Usilampatti who are now coming to terms with the fact that the daughters they believed dead and lost were, in fact, alive.
Many of these parents, mothers especially, had their daughters taken away from them almost immediately after birth. That most of the girls at Mose Ministries are the third or fourth girl child born to their parents is telling of how their and their sisters’ births were far from a joyous occasion for their families. And for this very reason, they were allegedly abandoned, or given away. In some cases they were taken away without consent of the parents.
When the Mose Ministries case came to light, a social worker with Society for Integrated Rural Development (SIRD), Devendran, began going door to door in Usilampatti. Armed with nothing but a list given by a whistleblower from the home, Devendran was able to trace 61 parents across six villages.
The DNA tests for families willing to take their girls back were underway in 2016. By March 2017, of the 48 families which tested, 34 were confirmed.
Brainwashing and isolation
The girls meanwhile, were found to be brought up in two unkempt dormitories, in an unhygienic and isolated environment. One of the Change India interns, Vikas Christy, observed that they seem to have been brainwashed and forced to participate in prayer and groomed in Evangelist work. They were also allegedly taken on yearly trips abroad, mainly to Poland and Germany, to meet ‘donors’ and perform songs and dances.
The girls were also quite unfamiliar with the outside world, as a school teacher of theirs said. A Madurai Additional District Judge noted in her report to the High Court said that the girls, who were over 17 now, wouldn’t be able to find their way back home if they were stranded. When she asked one of the girls what she would do if she wanted a pencil, the girl simply said that she would pray to Jesus who would send it to her.
“These children were brought up in artificial environment. The children know only three things: Jesus Christ, the Bible and the pastor. For them, pastor is God, they do not even watched television, it is anti-Christ for them,” Change India founder Narayanan had told TNM. Former National Child Rights Committee chairperson Nina Naik suggested to The Hindu that the girls needed long-term counselling in order to be psychologically and emotionally mainstreamed.
The girls were put under the state’s care and by March this year, all but seven girls were still minors. The court ruled in its final verdict in November 2016, that the 82 girls were 18 or above and therefore had “the freedom to decide about their future”. They could choose to remain with Mose or go to their parents. The Trichy Collector was asked to form a committee, with counsellors as well as state officials, to ascertain each girl’s preference.
While many girls wanted to live with their biological parents, they were also afraid of being separated. Having grown up in a limiting environment for most of their lives, the other girls at Mose were the only family they knew.