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‘Disappearance’ of Children Alleged at EMI Orphanage

Compass Direct News (1/16/07) – After Rajasthan state officials turned away hundreds of children returning to an orphanage run by Emmanuel Mission International (EMI) last year, the state Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government has formed a committee to investigate EMI for the alleged “disappearance” of children.

EMI attorney Mohammad Akram said the state Social Welfare Department first served notice to EMI on December 5, saying a committee had been formed to look into the disappearance of children at the orphanage after the number of residents fell from more than 1,700 to only 435.

Akram explained that most of the children had left for summer vacation in their villages in March 2006. Only 435 children stayed at the orphanage.

“When the other children returned, the department officials refused to accept them back,” Akram explained.

District authorities told the children they needed government permission to stay at the orphanage.

“Since they were all from poor backgrounds, they did not dare to approach the authorities and consequently went back to their villages,” Akram said. “In fact, some of them who had nowhere to go have now become rag-pickers.”

The BJP helped launched a campaign against EMI in January 2006. On Wednesday (January 10), the state Social Welfare Department served notice to EMI for the third time in a month, asking it to promptly furnish details about the children at its Hope Center Orphanage in Raipura, Kota district.

The department asked for EMI’s registration number, the names of its members and a list of the children registered at the orphanage, along with names, addresses and contact information. It gave EMI less than 24 hours to comply.

The notice also sought an explanation as to why a large number of children had left the orphanage and where they had gone, even asking which airlines they had used were they to have left the country.

“EMI replied to the notice on December 5, saying it needed at least 20 days to provide the details,” Akram told Compass.

The department sent another notice on December 22, 2006, saying the details must be submitted by December 25.

“However, by this time we had realized that some documents, seemingly taken away by department officials who were deployed at the orphanage last year, were missing,” said Akram.

EMI wrote to the department on December 26, 2006, asking it to return the missing documents so that the requested paperwork could be completed. The department, however, denied taking any documents from the orphanage.

Lengthy Smear Campaign

The department sent officials to the orphanage after the state High Court dismissed five petitions filed by EMI on June 13, 2006.

EMI filed the petitions after the Kota Registrar of Societies revoked the registration of five EMI institutions on February 20, 2006 and froze their bank accounts, claiming infringements of society regulations.

Social Welfare officials remained at the orphanage until the high court ordered them to leave on August 8, 2006. (See Compass Direct News, “Court Restores EMI Registration, Bank Accounts,” August 8, 2006.)

EMI operates the Emmanuel Bible Institute Samiti, Emmanuel Anath Ashram (Orphanage), Emmanuel School Society, Emmanuel Chikitsalaya (Hospital) Samiti, and Emmanuel Believers Fellowship. The organization leads a native church movement and serves over 10,000 children through humanitarian and educational work.

Akram said it was “extremely unfortunate” that the department had targeted the Rev. Dr. Samuel Thomas, president of EMI and the son of Archbishop M.A. Thomas, EMI’s founder, who “are selflessly serving the poor and the downtrodden.”

“As a result, many destitute children are suffering,” he said.

Tensions in Kota began on January 25, 2006 when Archbishop Thomas and his son received anonymous death threats warning them not to hold an annual graduation ceremony for hundreds of orphans and Dalit Christian students, scheduled for February 25.

The Rajasthan state police then arrested Thomas junior on March 16, 2006 for allegedly distributing the book Haqeekat (The Truth), which supposedly denigrated the Hindu faith. The police had earlier arrested several other EMI leaders in connection with the book.

In March 2006, a delegation from the All India Christian Council submitted a report to the Indian prime minister concluding that the ruling BJP party had encouraged state authorities to harass Christians, including EMI staff. The report named Social Welfare Minister Madan Dilawar as a key figure in the campaign against EMI.

Thomas was released on bail on May 2, 2006, while Thomas senior remained underground until the state High Court granted anticipatory bail for him on August 7, 2006.