The cover story in the latest issue of Outlook - titled Operation Baby Lift: How the parivar flouted every law on children to traffic 31 young tribal girls from Assam to Punjab and Gujarat to ‘Hinduise’ them - has hit the RSS hard.

The critics of the Hindutva-organisation promptly latched on to the title and the strapline, declaring that the RSS has touched new depths by beginning to bring women in the sex trade!

But when one goes on to read the entire 11,000-word story, it turns out to be an investigative piece on how the RSS has violated norms to send 31 little girls in Assam to the organisation's residential schools in Punjab and Gujarat for an education that instills 'Hinduism'.

The report details the correspondent's visit to one such school noting how "the assembly hall had pictures of Hindu gods and goddesses, along with Gandhi, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Hedgewar, Savarkar, Shivaji, Jijabai and Bharat mata with a saffron flag all over the walls". 

Scary? Menacing? We'll leave it to the larger debate on secularism.

For representation / PTI
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The organisation has raised strong objection to the use of the term "trafficking" which, as Rakesh Sinha of India Policy Foundation rightly points out, is a term institutionalised for illegal trade of women for sex. Given the reactions, Sinha, who is often the RSS's face on television debates, isn't wrong.

The title is certainly mischievous if not a downright, deliberate attempt to defame the RSS. 

Having that got out of the way, we'll move to a bigger issue here: that the story touches just the tip of the iceberg.

The rot in Assam's 'child trafficking' phenomenon runs much deeper and wider. Statistics present a chilling account: between 2012 and 2015, 5,000 children in Assam went missing, as per a CID report quoted by Outlook. What's scarier is that this is despite a Supreme Court directive in 2010 barring minor children in Assam to go out of the state to study.

The 31 children "trafficked" by the RSS in 2015 are among 800 who reportedly left Assam that year. 

The RSS stands exposed on how it violated a Supreme Court directive and orders by bodies such as Assam State Commission for the Protection of Child Rights and Child Welfare Committee that asked the girls to be returned to Assam. The organisation also seems to have indulged in unethical ways such as making parents, who can't read and write sign affidavits that they are willingly sending their children to study. 

But it can't be overlooked that the RSS figure is but a tiny part of a much bigger menace even as it doesn't absolve the organisation of the charges of violation of norms in any way.

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The bigger picture

The report notes that Assam's tribal belts have a long-standing dubious tradition of children being taken out of state due to "high penetration of Christian Missionaries". In fact, a probe was carried out on 76 children "trafficked" by Christian Missionaries some years ago that eventually led the SC to issue the above-mentioned directive.

A passage from the report reads: "In the last two decades, the Bodoland territory has seen high penetration by Christian missionaries. The SC order men­tioned earlier in this report was an ind­icator of  such involvement and trafficking of children."

So where are these missing children landing up? Activists told Outlook that they are usually taken away on the pretext of education and employment and whereabouts of not all are known. Perhaps not investigated into. In the RSS's case, the report confirms the children are safely lodged in residential schools but rues that they seldom get access to talk to their own parents.

If anything, all this lays bare the grim truth that children in Assam are being used as pawns by many organisations to further their agenda.

Fore representation / Twitter
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The RSS hasn't denied the allegations of indulging in illegal activities. In fact, a former RSS pracharak in the belt tried to defended the organisation by arguing that "it might be illegal, but is it immoral?

Weak defense, but a further point made in the blog on how the story keeps mute on similar wrong-doings by other organisations merits a thought.