Delhi-based journalist Neha Dixitâs five-part investigation 'Operation #BabyLift" on the alleged trafficking of 31 young tribal girls by the Sangh Parivar from Assam to other states in violation of the law has created a buzz.
In its latest issue published last week, Outlook carried a 11,350-word story by Neha along with several official relevant documents.
Members of the Congress raised the issue in Parliament. While the story has been widely read, RSS supporters has rubbished the piece calling it baseless.
On August 1, Supreme Court advocate Monika Arora who has often been associated with the RSS wrote a response to Nehaâs story on her blog. The Vishwa Samvada Kendra, the official media centre of the RSS, published the same post on its website.
RSS affiliate Rashtra Sevika Samiti, which has been accused of carrying out the trafficking by the Assam Commission for the Protection of Child Rights, has âcondemnedâ the report, and demanded an âunconditional apologyâ from the Congress, and also Neha, failing which it would carry out legal action.
In an interview with The News Minute, Neha responds to some of the criticisms directed against her story, and poses them some counter questions of her own:
RSS supporters say your report is baseless.
Who are these supporters? Anonymous Twitter handles that indulge in trollery on a daily basis? Who have indulged in online misogynist abuse? Anyone who has bothered to read the full report would attempt to counter me on the facts that are presented in the Outlook report. Not throw empty rhetoric and generic accusations calling it baseless without any specific objections. The report has a detailed outline of how the laws were flouted.
Here is a timeline.
Theyâre quoting international definitions of trafficking back to you. How do you respond to this?
Firstly, I am not the one who called it 'trafficking'. It is the Assam State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (who called it trafficking) in a letter dated 16 June, 2015, which was sent to the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights.
Secondly, they are quoting from Wikipedia.
Thirdly, here is the UNODC definition which clearly explains' Article 3, paragraph (a) of the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons. It defines Trafficking in Persons as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability'
The crux of the argument that RSS supporters have made in its defence is: âWe are striving very hard to provide education to girls from backward communities. Whatâs the harm in that? What's your problem?â
(Firstly) What kind of education system disallows parents to not stay in touch with their children for years?
Two, why don't the parents have any document, any report card, anything to prove that their children are even enrolled in any school.
Third, 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 Child Welfare Committees in Kokrajhar and Patiala?
Why flout the Juvenile Justice Act 2000. Why make them stay in substandard children's homes which are not even registered under the JJ Act. Registration is mandatory by law and this has been pointed out by the Childline, Patiala, and the Child Welfare Committee Patiala reports.
Why were the girls represented as 'orphans from Assam floods' in Saraswati Shishu Mandir in Gujarat, both by the institute and the Gujarat Ministry of Women and Child Development when the affidavits from parents say they are 'riot-affected'. Why so many discrepancies? Are any noble intentions above Indian laws and the Constitution? They should state the reason for circumventing all of this for their noble agenda.
People have pointed out that Christian and Muslim religious organizations also traffic children. How do you respond to that?
I have extensively reported on child trafficking in Madrassas for Tehelka in 2010 and use of child soldiers by Naxals for Headlines Today (now renamed India Today) in 2011. The current story too mentions the SC order of 2010 in connection with trafficking of children from the North East to Tamil Nadu by missionaries. Questioning my intention is a useless exercise in defending themselves. Why not rebut the facts in the Report instead?
They say the 2010 SC order that youâve quoted does not apply to them.
This is the order: 'On September 1, 2010, the Supreme Court of India, dealing with the âExploitation of Children in Orphanages, State of Tamil Nadu vs UoI and Othersâ case, concerning large-scale transportation of children from one state to another, said: âThe State 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 untÂil further orders.â
This came after a probe into the trafficking of 76 children from Assam and Manipur, most of them minor girls, to âhomesâ run by Christian missionaries in Tamil Nadu.'
How can they decide whether this does not apply to them? They should challenge the Supreme Court not the Report for this.
There are multiple references to how you do not understand âserviceâ, âselflessnessâ, âvirtueâ, ânationalismâ and how its work with the girls contributes to ânation-buildingâ. Would you like to respond to this?
Again, whether I understand their nationalism or not, is immaterial. I have referred to the Indian Constitution, its laws and the UN convention on Child Rights guidelines ratified by India in 1992, to report this story. If their brand of 'nationalism' does not believe in these laws, they should openly state that instead of getting into this convenient rhetoric.
Theyâve demanded an unconditional apology, and threatened legal action.
It is a toothless letter with a single line dismissing the report. If they really had a problem and thought the report is false, they would have countered the facts with facts instead of calling it baseless. The law will follow its course.