The fact about 25 Naga Children from Manipur

K. Ela

On 15th June, at around 4:30 pm, I received a phone call from a reliable source that about 25 children from Manipur being taken to Andhra Pradesh were waiting for a train at the Dimapur railway station. A phone number and name was passed to me of the person (and I found out that this person is a pastor I have known for more than twenty years) taking the children. I called him over the phone and went to the station to check out the situation.

Incidentally that day was the last day of an HRLN law convention at NEZCC. Doma Bhutia, who had come as resource person from Sikkim was with me. I had known her through working together on common issues of child trafficking in the North East and working as partners with Impulse NGO, Shillong on issues of child trafficking. Since this was her first visit to Nagaland, after the workshop got over, we were to go to market and have dinner together. And since we happened to be together when I got the information, we went together to the train station. I spoke to A. Athikho, Daniel, and Loli (the three men who have been accused) about the recent incidents (particularly about the most recent case of Peren children in Andhra) where children from the north east are being trafficked to other states. I shared my concern and asked him to give the details of the person in Andhra and I was given the name (Dr. D. Yobu) and phone no. and nearby town Tadepalligudem in Andhra Pradesh. Besides that, He didn’t have any other details but assured that the person is also a pastor whom he has known now for quite many years and who had also visited Manipur and Nagaland as well. He also told me that I can call him up and asked him about his details.  Respecting A. Athikho’s assurance and trust in him as a pastor, I left the station with Doma and went off for dinner together. While in the hotel waiting for dinner to be served, I called up Dr. Yobu and inquired about him, his organization, detail address etc. He also told me the same thing as A. Athikho. Dr. Yobu, over the phone, gave me the name of a school which sounded like “Jesus Residential School” West Godavari District, (other details I couldn’t get clearly due to poor network and accent problem). I then contacted a lady in Andhra Pradesh (with the help of Doma, she being her colleague) and asked that lady to kindly do some verification about this person and other details. On coming home after dropping Doma at her hotel, I received a call from the lady in AP saying that Dr. Yobu and the address as given could not be traced and was doubtful. I became quite alarmed and called up the lady who had first told me about the children. We decided to meet at the station and try to convince them not to go. By the time I reached, Doma, along with two of her colleagues were already there (I hadn’t asked them to come to the station.).The other lady also reached and we then asked A. Athikho not to take the children (not that we don’t trust him but our apprehension about the person in Andhra). But A. Athikho again gave assurance that Dr. Yobu is very well known to him, an old friend and that he owned full responsibility of the children being taken there for education. He expressed appreciation for our concern and stated that he will take full responsibility for the welfare of the children even after reaching there. He even stated that if he feels that he is not satisfied with the arrangement there for their education, he will bring them back. We also advised him to take proper written agreements from his friend to make sure that nothing goes wrong later. So on that understanding, trust and goodwill, we departed from the station.

Somehow I was still disturbed and concerned (after that call from Andhra) and thought of doing some further verification as too often our ignorant and naïve people are fooled and exploited by outsiders. I wanted to make sure that the person in Andhra is a genuine person. I needed some written document from him.  So, on the 16th morning I called up Dr. Yobu again and asked him to fax his address and other details as I could not get all the names of places he gave over the phone the previous night. But since he didn’t have access to a fax at that moment, he gave me his email id and asked me to write the queries and that he would reply back as soon as he got access to the mail. On 17th he replied to my mail. Simultaneously I had also contacted a reliable Telegu person working in Dimapur (who at that time was on holiday in Andhra) to do some verification of the details that I got from the email. He informed me that the person is genuine, spiritual and well known pastor in the locality. I had also contacted a Naga missionary working in Andhra to verify. He also gave me the same information.

On 16th early morning, I received a call from an NGO friend in Dimapur saying that he received a call from Impulse NGO about the children and that Impulse was asking him to file an FIR against the persons taking the children to AP. He said that he would do so only after confirming the facts with me since he came to learn that I was there at the station with them. I then narrated the fact to him, he didn’t finding any basis to file FIR . On the 17th Morning, I received a call from Hasina Kharbih (who never contacted me to verify what had actually happened, inspite of knowing the fact that I was there at the station), informing me that the three persons taking the children were detained in police custody in Kolkatta. I was shocked. I then asked her on what basis/proof were the persons detained. She said that she was told about it by Doma. The Telegraph (Kolkata and Ghty) and some local dailies in Nagaland reported on the 18th June that three persons were held in Kokatta for human trafficking of 25 children and that the authenticity of A. Athikho being a pastor is under scanner. The grounds for charge as reported are, he did not possess any written documents.

The concern before us:
•    The evidence is there for all of us to see what actually happened.  

•    It was sheer ignorance that he did not posses any consent document from the CWC. How could he seek a clearance from the CWC when he does not even know its existence? Ask any one in the entire district about CWC, perhaps no one may know except only the Social Welfare Deptt and some NGOs workers working on issues of children. I (who have been working on issues of child rights) also came to know about this requirement only after this matter came up.   

•    A. Athikho did not have any document proof that he is a pastor. In the villages of Manipur and Nagaland there will be hardly any pastor with any ID card as a pastor. Any one can go to the villages and verify.    

•    Our tribal tradition and practices of trust by dealing mostly with verbal commitments, understanding and trust is still very strong in the Naga society. As such the lack of documents from parents. This is not a defense but a statement of fact of common practice in the tribal Naga villages. The parents trusted him enough to send their children with him.

The children are being held up in Kolkata since 17th June. Today is the 7th day since they have been detained there for no fault of theirs. Is this the right way to deal with innocent children in such kind of situation? How long will the innocent children suffer?