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Parent: we last met our daughter five months ago

Parent: we last met our daughter five months ago

Author: Amit Singh
Publication: Mid-Day
Date: December 7 2009
URL: http://mid-day.com/news/2009/dec/071209-children-christian-conversion-unaware-parents.htm

Introduction: Trust caretaker claims the parents signed a 20-year contract promising not tointerfere in the children's lives; parents say they are unaware of any contract

Eight-year-old Anila Paswan has a new name, Mary. So does 10-year-old Shivani, who is now known as Damaris. So, where's the problem? Well, their parents don't know.

The parents say the girls, along with 13 others, have been converted to Christianity by a charitable trust in Faridabad where they have been residing.

The parents allege they haven't seen their children for five months and the organisation, Comademat Charitable Trust, managed by a couple from Brazil - Aldemir De Souza and his wife Darlene - has been avoiding their attempts to contact the girls.

The trust's official documents say Aldemir (37) is a nurse by profession and his wife Darlene (28) is a specialist in child education, childcare and welfare.

What's in name?

The two girls were handed over to the trust by their poor families about two years ago. In return, the parents were assured the girls would be provided good education, free food and accommodation. The change of name came as a shock.

The change of names was confirmed when MiD DAY reached Northland Internat-ional School, Faridabad, where the girls had been studying till October last year.

The principal of Northland International School, Vikash Sharma, said the trust had enrolled 12 girls in the school but they were pulled out in October last year.

"The trust submitted an affidavit saying all expenses towards fees, books and stationery of the girls would be borne by the trust," said Sharma. A copy of the affidavit, which MiD DAY has, lists 12 girls with 'Christian' names.

"I didn't know my daughter's name had been changed or that she had been converted to Christianity. I don't even know when the conversion took place. I called up the trust to speak to her and was asked by them to address her as Mary," said Suresh Paswan, a labourer in a farmhouse near Gurgaon.

Paswan contacted MiD DAY on Friday evening reporting that his daughter had gone missing.

Pitambar, a taxi driver who had handed over his 10-year-old daughter, Shivani, to the trust, said, "They changed my daughter's name without asking me. When I asked for a reason, they said, it was difficult to pronounce. I didn't object because she was happy."

'Kids untraceable'

The parents say they haven't met the girls for a long time.

"We last met our daughter five months ago. In fact, we were rebuked by the caretaker there for visiting her so often. We were asked to come after six months. But for the past one month, there has been no word. We called up the trust's number but no one answered," said Paswan.

When this reporter visited the rented residence of the trust at B-1083, Greenfield Apartments, Faridabad, he found the girls had been shifted out a month ago. There was no forwarding address with the neighbours.

"The trust never informed us the girls were being taken to another residence. As parents, don't we have the right?" asked a harried Paswan, when MiD DAY informed him about the change of address.

'Girls in church'

MiD DAY finally traced the trust to its new address at 134, Sector-21/D, Faridabad. The flat was locked from inside. A girl, who introduced herself as the caretaker of the trust's flat, said the children had been taken to a church and would return shortly.

She said Darlene and her husband had gone abroad and would only return on January 10. Another caretaker, who identified himself as Mishra, said, "The parents were informed about the new address. Maybe we missed informing some of them."

However, Mishra avoided queries about the girls' change of names. "The parents have signed a 20-year-contract with the trust, which says none of them will interfere with the way the children are being brought up. The trust will take care of the children in return," said Mishra.

However, the parents claim they are unaware of any contract. "To my knowledge I have not signed any paper. The only thing that they [the trust] asked me to get was a certificate from the school where she was studying earlier. It's still with me," said Paswan.

Neighbours speak

Meanwhile, neighbours at the trust's earlier address said many parents had come looking for their daughters.

Kusum Dhoundiyal, a neighbour, said, "Everyday someone or the other comes asking about the children. The children had been staying here for three years. But a month ago we saw them shifting out around 7 or 8 in the evening."

Another neighbour, Dr G K Wadhwa, said, "Many foreigners used to visit this house regularly. We were under the impression that it was an NGO working for poor and orphaned children. A foreigner who used to take care of the kids used to visit this place often."

The law says...

The anti-conversion law is in force in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat. Officially termed the Freedom of Religion Act, the law restricts conversions by use of force, deceit or allurement. The punishment for anyone convicted of the offence differs from state to state.

Controversial conversions

* On the night of January 22, 1999, Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two minor sons were burnt alive while they were sleeping in Manoharpur village of Orissa's Keonjhar district. There was a perception that he converted many tribals to Christianity.

* In July 2002, a mass religious conversion took place in Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh. Seventy Dalits were converted to Christianity, leading to an uproar.

* On August 25, 2008, more than 25,000 Christians were forced to flee their homes by rampaging mobs, who held them responsible for the murder of VHP leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati in Kandhamal, Orissa. It triggered large-scale violence in the area. Saraswati was reportedly reconverting tribals from Christianity to Hinduism.

The Other Side

Darlene and Aldemir said they were out of India. In an email, Darlene De Souza said, "I want to inform you that we are out of India for a surgery. We have all the documents and the parents know everything. We are only in India to help those needy children."

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