For parents in Humla, a remote district in mid-western Nepal, Dala Bahadur Phadera was something of an angel. Worried about their children’s future during the civil war, they found Phadera’s proposal to send them to Kathmandu for safety and a good education a blessing in difficult times.
Hundreds of parents paid him to take away their boys and girls lest the Maoists enlist them. But Phadera dumped most boys in rundown orphanages in Nepal and sent the girls to Tamil Nadu.
These girls were taken to the Michael Job Centre in Coimbatore, run by PP Job, an evangelist from Kerala.
In a September 7 operation, the Esther Benjamins Trust (EBT), a UK-registered children’s charity, rescued 23 Nepali girls from the centre. Forty-six Indian girls, mostly from North India and Orissa, have also been rescued since then.
These girls were allegedly given Christian names and presented as “Christian orphans” to attract financial sponsors from around the world.
“They were certainly not Christian and for the most part their parents were alive and well,” said Philip Holmes of EBT, who was involved in the rescue.
Following the raid, the TN government has cancelled the orphanage’s licence. However, Job, the head of the centre, is unavailable for comment.
D Rajan, chairman, child welfare committee, Coimbatore and Nilgiris district, said Job had already explained in writing that the “girls were accepted by him into the orphanage without verifying the antecedents”.
Job, who lives in New Delhi, has also reportedly admitted that they were not orphans.
Most of the girls have been reunited with their families, while some remain under the care of EBT and other organisations. “Phadera told our parents that we were being taken to Kathmandu, but he took us to Coimbatore instead. We had no idea where we were going,” said one of the Nepali girls rescued from the centre.
Surprisingly, Nepal has not initiated any action against those involved in sending the girls to Coimbatore. In addition, a section of the Nepalese media has blamed EBT for curtailing the girls’ education.
Parents of some rescued girls have also asked Nepal’s ministry of women, children and social welfare to investigate the rescue operation. The whereabouts of Phadera, who brought the girls to India, are unknown.