Abandoned, children of cult face dark days

Prameya News 7, India/June 7, 2016

Agra/Firozabad: As Mathura slowly goes back to life without the presence of the Subhash Bose cult members, 27 of whom have been killed, hundreds of others detained and dozens forced to flee, another tragedy is unfolding on the sidelines over the fate of the children of the group's members, now either orphaned or abandoned by their parents in the melee.

At present, 23 children found within the sprawling park have been housed in a shelter at Firozabad, their fates to be decided by the Child Welfare Society. While the administration's gears grind on, the children are left to themselves to come to terms with the horror they witnessed, their future uncertain, their parents either dead or untraceable.

Of the 23, nine are from Lakhimpur-Kheri, two each from Chandauli and Rewa (Madhya Pradesh), and one each from Shahjahanpur, Hardoi, Bareilly, Bahraich, Siddharthnagar, Auraiya, Sitapur, and Sidhi (Madhya Pradesh). They are between 10 and 16 years of age.

Their eyes wide in horror, they said their parents were convinced to come to Jawahar Bagh by aides of Ram Vriksha Yadav, the cult's leader, with promises of free food and good jobs. The children themselves had been trained to call Yadav 'bade pitaji' (elder father).

"They are still in shock and it will take a long time for them to normalise. We are trying to contact their relatives and have succeeded in five cases so far. Two families have called us back. After proper verification, the administration and police will hand over the children to them," said CWS Firozabad chairman BB Mohan Kulshrestha.

"My father, Shyamlal, was a follower of 'bade pitaji' and for the last three months had been living at Jawahar Bagh," said one of the children. "He worked as a guard in the camp. In the violence, I got separated from him. As the park trembled with explosions and gunfire, he ran for cover." His father is still missing.

Another boy, 13, from Rewa district in Madhya Pradesh, said that he had been living with his parents and three siblings at the camp. His elder brothers and father worked as tailors there. A class IV student, he regularly attended classes at the camp school, which were held between 6am and 11am. "My mother and siblings are in jail but I don't know where my father, Jagdish, is," said the boy, whose father used to call Ram Vriksha 'netaji'.

The other children have similar stories-sons and daughters of gardeners, guards and others who helped run the camp or were lay members. There were, they said, "about 500" children in total just in the camp's school. Not all have been accounted for.

"We were afraid of 'bade pitaji', who used to call himself a king and said he would soon make silver coins the currency of his kingdom," they said. Now however, the kingdom is gone and all they want is to go home.

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