The children brought from northeastern states, particularly Tripura and Assam, for a special training to a monastery in Bihar’s Bodh Gaya were allegedly engaged as sex workers and even sent outside the state, particularly to Kolkata, to potential clients, police have found.
A member of the special investigation team (SIT) said if the children at Prajna Jyoti Novice School and Meditation Centre, run by arrested Bangladeshi Buddhist monk Bhante Sanghpriye Sujoy, refused to toe the line of their guru they were subjected to brutal physical punishment.
The children sometimes closed in a room and kept without food and water. They were also forced to join a nude dance with the head monk at night, the officer added.
The team was constituted by Gaya’s senior superintendent of police (SSP) Rajeev Mishra on Thursday to probe the alleged physical and sexual abuse of 15 children at the centre. It is headed by Bodh Gaya’s deputy superintendent of police Raman Kumar Chaudhary and monitored by city superintendent of police Anil Kumar.
Sujoy, the head monk of the centre, was arrested on Wednesday on charges of sexually abusing more than a dozen boys and produced the next day in a local court in Gaya. The court remanded him to a 14-day judicial custody and sent him to the Gaya central jail.
The children were taken to Anugrah Narayan Magadh Medical College and Hospital (ANMMCH) in Gaya for their medical examination. Four of them were later taken to the judicial magistrate in a court to record their statements.
The victims’ parents, most of whom are poor farmers, told reporters that each of them was paid Rs 1,000 for sending their children for schooling at the Bodh Gaya monastery. Police are looking for one Arun Kumar of Bodh Gaya, who was instrumental in bringing the children from Assam to the pilgrim town.
“We are probing the case from all angles. The children after medical examination and recording of their statement under Section 164 would be allowed to go home with their parents,” city SP Kumar said.
The International Buddhist Council (IBC) held an emergency meeting on Thursday in Bodh Gaya and passed a resolution condemning the “heinous crime against the children in the name of religious teaching”.
The council resolved to extend its cooperation to the investigating team to bring out the truth. The council members also decided to keep an eye on the activities of all monasteries in the international pilgrim town and resolved to debar those involved in ‘dirty activities from its membership.
The council’s secretary Pragya Bhante said while talking to reporters that there are more than 160 Buddhist monasteries across Bodh Gaya of which only 55 are registered either with the council or with Bodh Gaya Temple Management Committee (BTMC).
“The district administration should initiate steps to ensure the registration of the remaining monasteries to keep a vigil on their functioning,” the secretary said.