Authorities allegedly uncovered a forcible conversion centre in Greater Noida and Meerut. The children rescued from the shelter home told counsellors that many of them were ‘bought’ from their parents.
Forcibly converted to Christianity, hung by the wrists from a ceiling fan, starved for days and beaten mercilessly for failing to recite Bible passages — this is what a nine-year-old boy said he had to endure at an illegal shelter.
He was among 30 children, all from poor families, rescued on December 29 after police raided two homes run by the Emmanuel Seva Group in Greater Noida and Meerut. The child, who along with his younger sister and brother had been confined to the home for three years, said their stay was like a “jail term” during which his name was also changed.
“I was allowed to meet my parents once a month for only 15 minutes. The only thing I was taught was the Bible. They forced me to memorise its passages,” the boy told HT on Thursday and added that the children were forced to consume buffalo meat and “paraded” before potential donors.
“They gave us good clothes whenever visitors came. They made us stand in line and recite Bible passages. Faltering meant a beating with sticks and belts later,” he said. “Once the guests left, the shelter in-charge snatched away our clothes, sweets and gifts and we were back in rags again.”
His 11-year-old sister said the children were forced to sleep on a dirty floor that was littered with rodent droppings.
“They never allowed us to step outside. We were not given food for three days at a stretch if we forgot a Bible passage.”
“A case was registered at the Bisrakh police station following the raid. The children complained they were tortured and beaten up for not following the orders of the caretakers. We are investigating whether the organisation had permission to run a shelter home. Three persons, including the caretaker of the shelter home, have been detained and are being questioned. We are investigating the claims of the rescued children,” said Ashwani Kumar, in charge, Bisrakh police station.
Their mother, whose complaint with a children’s helpline led to the raids, said she was approached by one Josua Devraj at a Delhi hospital around three years ago. “He said he will raise my children and make them IAS officers. He forced us to circulate pamphlets and copies of the Bible in public places but never paid us,” she said.
Their ordeal has not ended even after being rescued. The woman said the shelter’s employees came to her house on Tuesday night and threatened to take her three children back. “They pelted stones at our house and beat us up with batons. They fled when the neighbours gathered,” she said.
“The victim’s mother had approached us on December 28. We contacted the police and conducted a raid at Naya Haibatpur village in Bisrakh area. It was found that a shelter home with the name of Emanuel Sewa Group was operating illegally. Seven children were kept there in squalid and untidy condition. The children were also found to be malnourished. A subsequent raid was conducted at the shelter home of the same organisation in Meerut from where 23 children were rescued,” said Satyaprakash, programme manager, FXB Suraksha NGO.
Satyaprakash further said, “The complainant said she was not allowed to meet her children for months and told us that they might have been shifted to some other place. After we conducted a raid, it was found that her children were lodged at an illegal shelter home of the same trust in Dehradun. Following the raid, the children were brought back to Greater Noida.”
He said the children revealed that they were being served cockroach-infested food and were forced to live in a substandard condition.
“Most of them are malnourished and sick. They need proper medication and care. We are in talks with their family members. They will be sent back to their homes soon,” Satyaprakash said.
When contacted, accused Joshua Devraj accepted that a raid was conducted at his shelter homes but refused to comment on the issue.
“Yes, raids were conducted but I cant tell you much about it. I will comment on this issue later,” he said.