Jasidih, June 11: Under the cloud of child trafficking that has left Jharkhand and Kerala with a lot of explaining to do, 119 children, 75 of them girls, stepped out of Ernakulam-Patna Express at Jasidih station, Deoghar, at 6.15pm today, most smiling at the unaccustomed comfort of air-conditioned travel.
Counted at Jasidih station and escorted in two buses standing outside, they were taken to Panchayat Training Institute (PTI) in Jasidih, 3km from the station, for the night.
Tomorrow, they will be shifted to DAV School, Mehagama, in Godda, the start of a long process of rehabilitation for Godda administration as well as the state.
According to officials from Jharkhand, as many as 35 boys and 68 girls are from Mehagama; eight boys and five girls from Basantrai and one boy and two girls from Pathargama.
“A team of six officials and two doctors have been sent along with police to Deoghar to bring the children to Godda, plus two child welfare committee (CWC) members,” said Arun Kumar Ratan, deputy development commissioner, Godda.
“The children will be initially kept at DAV School in Mehagama and handed over to their parents in presence of CWC members of both Jharkhand and Kerala,” he added.
Child welfare officials Pradeep Kumar Singh and Nussarath Ziya Fana said they would hand over the children to their parents in presence of Kerala officials and conduct a proper inquiry into why people sent their children to the orphanages.
“Children were voluntarily sent, but there are many unanswered questions. Why were children sent to orphanages when they have parents, why those orphanages selected children from Godda and who are the brains behind this,” said one of the officers.
“It is neither trafficking nor migration. It is a consensual plan,” said another official.
Officials from the Kerala contingent, who did not want to be named, said they had listed 262 children from Jharkhand.
“Children who had identification cards of orphanages where they were studying were allowed to go to those institutions. Those found without documents have been brought back. Around 30 children whose parents had reached Palakkad last week took charge of their children personally,” an official said.
Jharkhand labour commissioner Manish Ranjan, who headed the rescue mission, told The Telegraph there could have been no better gift to Jharkhand on the eve of International Child Labour Prohibition Day than this.
“The children of Godda are back home from Kerala. Now, it remains for us to give the children the best of opportunities, staring with education,” he said.
But most children did not seem to understand the magnitude of events. The AC coaches had already made light of their 44-hour travel from Palakkad district in Kerala to Jasidih.
The 119 children only seemed to know they were detained at Palakkad station on May 24 for travelling without tickets because their alleged agent (Shakeel) had skimped the money.
As a boy shouted, “Hamanka Shakeel ke khoje te marel lagte” (If we get Shakeel we will beat him up), a better-informed one prompted him with, “Shakeel jail gelo (Shakeel is in jail)”, referring to the alleged middleman’s arrest in Kerala.
But the mood was largely upbeat. “Bhitar mein jad lagaicheÖ theek laglo bhitaran (Inside it was cool. Felt nice),” said seven-year old Sania (names of all children have been changed to protect their identities) in Khortha, a language widely spoken in Mehagama block Godda from where she hails. Behind her stood her 10-year-old sister Hussaina, nodding.
Besides the AC of the train, eight-year-old Md Majid seemed to like the media attention.
“We will be in papers and on TV,” he told his friend, Md Tahsin (8).
The children smiled and giggled as they boarded buses, waving and talking to a curious group of onlookers, mediapersons and officials.
The only time sisters Sania and Hussaina stopped smiling was when they spoke of their brother. “He’s already studying in an orphanage in Manopurram in Kerala,” the older girl said.
As officials in Jharkhand have maintained from the onset, this particular homecoming is only the tip of the iceberg.