Children brought to a mutt in Uttar Pradesh from Mizoram and Tripura on the pretext of providing them gurukul education were rescued after an anonymous call to Child Helpline 1098 claimed these children were sexually abused and were being held hostage. Offenders are now in jail.
Kids rescued from Gaudiya Mutt Ashram in Uttar Pradesh's Muzaffarnagar
On July 7, someone called the Child Helpline 1098 and claimed the children were being held hostage at the ashram. That evening, the Child Helpline team and the police administration teamed up to rescue the children from the Gaudiya Mutt Ashram in Uttar Pradesh’s Muzaffarnagar. The children were made to stay at the mutt under the pretext of providing them gurukul education.
The rescued children are now at Kasturba Gandhi Vidyalaya, being counselled there. Their statements were recorded, and medical reports confirmed sexual exploitation of at least four children. The main accused, mutt’s mahant Bhakti Bhushan Govind was booked under Sections 377, 323, 504 and POCSO Act of IPC and was sent to jail along with his disciple Akhilesh Das.
Rohit (name changed), 10, one of the rescued children, and originally from Mizoram, shared his ordeal with Gaon Connection over the phone. “Guru Ji used to make us drink alcohol and beat us for the slightest of mistakes. We were kept awake at night, made to massage him, and do dirty work (undergo sexual exploitation) with him at night.” Rohit belongs to a poor farming household. He has an elder sister and a younger brother.
“My parents have told me to remain here till the time they have enough money to come and take me back,” Rohit said when asked if he has been able to contact his parents.
Rohit had a plea to make too. “Didi (sister), will you please ensure that he (the offender) gets hanged for his doings?”
About 35 kilometres away from Muzaffarnagar district headquarters is Shukratal, a place with mythological significance and a pilgrim site. Gaudiya Mutt, the large three-storey ashram built spending crores of rupees, is located here on Firozpur Road. It is locally known to be a registered educational institution based on gurukul system of education.
According to some media reports, the mutt is operated under the aegis of Akhil Bhartiya Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu Charitable Trust. Prem Prakash Chopra, an NRI settled in England, donated a lot of money towards the mutt’s construction.
The pujari (priest) of the monastery brought six children from Mizoram and four from Tripura saying he’d provide them gurukul education. These children are between eight years to 13 years of age. One of them is 18. Rohit was brought to the monastery in March 2019. His medical reports confirmed he was sexually abused (raped).
Rohit’s testimony is proof enough for the inhumane treatment the poor kids suffered at the hands of the mahant.
Atul (name changed), 13, another inmate, underwent a similar ordeal. He had the responsibility of cooking for 10-15 people daily and was thrashed with rods at the slightest mistake besides being sexually exploited, Atul informed Gaon Connection. “He (the mahant) used to beat me up so bad my nose used to bleed,” he said.
Atul came to study in this ashram three years ago from Tripura. He has a sister and three brothers and is the eldest. His father is a daily-wage labourer and his mother stitches clothes. His parents sent him with a priest of the monastery, who everyone calls chacha (uncle), to study at the ashram. Four children from Atul’s village joined the ashram to study. “I had attended school only for two months. Then, I was made to cook,” Atul complained.
Amit (name changed), just eight years old, from Mizoram, is the youngest child at the mutt. The youngest of two sisters and three brothers, Amit joined the place after Holi in the month of March. The nationwide lockdown was imposed the same month. Amit’s medical report also confirmed rape.
Amit told Gaon Connection he came by train from his hometown and that his chacha (uncle, the pujari or priest of the mutt) accompanied him. When asked whether the pujari was related to him he simply said, “No, he is everyone’s chacha here.”
The person whom Amit was referring to as ‘chacha’ is actually the pujari of the same mutt and is said to be a resident of Mizoram. The children rescued from the mutt were all brought by this pujari from Tripura and Mizoram.
Little Amit also admitted to being subjected to pornography, intoxication and sexual exploitation. So did Nitin, 11, of Mizoram. “I was made to drink alcohol and smoke beedi. He used to make us do dirty work (sexual exploitation) and beat us. I came here before the lockdown and had been living like this since then,” Nitin told Gaon Connection. Nitin has a brother and a sister and his parents are farmers.
Kamlesh Verma, district president of Muzaffarnagar Child Welfare Committee, spilled beans on the mutt. “The institution works to educate children on gurukul system. In such institutions, children are mostly brought from north-eastern states,” he told Gaon Connection. “The spirit of Hindutva is instilled in these kids so that they propagate it when they return to their native places,” he added.
“All the children have complained they were forced to consume alcohol, shown dirty videos, and were sexually exploited. They were also made to do a lot of work and were beaten up frequently,” Verma said. “The children were rescued the day we got the call. The medical report confirmed sexual exploitation of four children. The accused has been sent to jail,” Verma concluded.
“Baba (Bhakti Bhushan Govind) and disciple (Akhilesh Das) have been jailed,” Bhopa police station in-charge Sanjeev Kumar told Gaon Connection. “That they were exploiting and torturing the children was reported by someone on 1098, the team went and rescued the children.”
“Child Welfare Committee could not contact kids’ family members yet. These children will be tested for COVID-19 and taken to their homes after getting the results. Meanwhile, during the course of investigation in the mutt, various affidavits from the children’s parents stating that they have sent their children to study there, have been recovered,” Kumar said.
“These children told us that the priest brought them to the mutt by promising their parents their kids will get superior education,” said Poonam Sharma, district in-charge of Child Helpline 1098, who is also counseling the rescued children. “Families sent them along only then. Some children came just before the lockdown, while some had been living there for two to three years. But the mutt did not provide them any opportunity of education,” she said.
“They were subjected to a lot of physical labour. If a child went out to fetch grass for the cow and brought any lesser amount than required of him, he would not be given food and would also be thrashed,” she added.
“The mahant used to make them consume alcohol in the evening, show them pornographic videos, and then rape them. The children were intoxicated so that they would cooperate with him,” she said.
“With all the children seated around him, he used to make them caress him. When they wanted to sleep, he used to beat them up instead. They were never given adequate food,” Sharma told Gaon Connection. Poonam Sharma shared the experience of the time when the children were first fed after the rescue. “All the children seemed so delighted as if they were having food after years. One child said to us, — It has been a year surviving on onions and roti”. It filled my heart,” she said.