Women and children ‘trapped’ in Gloriavale’s Indian community without access to passports

Women and children ‘trapped’ in Gloriavale’s Indian community without access to passports

New Zealand women are “trapped” in Gloriavale’s community in India without access to passports – and many of their children have no birth certificates.

Police are looking into concerns about the welfare of women born in Gloriavale who now live in the community set up in India in about 2009 by Hopeful Christian, founder of the West Coast Christian sect.

A disturbing first look at the community has been aired in a new docu-series aired on TVNZ, Escaping Utopia.

It follows former Gloriavale members Theophila Pratt and Rosanna Overcomer as they visited Pratt’s sister, Precious, last year, after she moved to India seven years ago.

In an alarming revelation, the community’s leader has a disturbing view on sexual abuse. “What is rape? … Indian men are very forceful around women,” he says in the documentary.

In the third episode of the series, which was shown on Tuesday night, Pratt said that Precious had offered to go to India after the Gloriavale leaders asked girls to go and marry Indian men.

Police investigating historic abuse at Gloriavale have found more than 100 potential victims of crimes dating back as far as the early 1980s.

Overcomer explained that in the past an Indian boy, Faithful Stronghold, came to New Zealand when he was about 10 or 11 years old and was mentored by Hopeful Christian.

The idea was for Stronghold to set up the community in India and for women to go there, as there were more girls than boys in the West Coast community.

For the documentary, Pratt and Overcomer travelled with two crew members and hidden cameras to a rural area in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, where the community had bought farmland.

They found the conditions in the gated community run down, with no doors on bathrooms and bedrooms.

Precious, who has six children, says her passport is being kept by Stronghold in an office.

“It’s a tricky situation with the birth certificates here. It’s a struggle to get them. We’ve had like six babies [in] the last year and none of them, they haven’t given them to them yet,” she said.

Stronghold tells the women that 32 children have been born in the Indian community in seven families, including to five women were born in Gloriavale in New Zealand.

When he asks them why they are in India, Pratt tells him she wants to make sure her sister, nieces and nephews are not being sexually abused.

His response is chilling.

“What is rape? Raping is, it happens from one side. Indian men are very forceful around women, it’s part of the culture, and a lot of Indian men will force themselves onto a lot of women because of the shortage of ladies in India.

“There are times these ladies have struggled because of India, culture, Indian men. So ladies’ life is much harder than men’s life. It always was it always will be.”

Pratt asks Stronghold what would happen if Precious wanted to go back to New Zealand.

“The thought was never to go back to New Zealand. They’ve come to build the community here in India. That was the first commitment.

“So the intention was never to go to India, stay there for a while, and then come back to New Zealand. She was explained, you go to India for the rest of your life to build a church.”

Pratt said her nieces and nephews in India could not read or write, and her sister was a different woman to the person she remembered.

“She looked lifeless like she was just surviving,” she says.

Overcomer talks of how difficult it would be for the women to leave the community in India.

“I guess it could be like a prison for them because, I mean, they are stuck there and they barely go out … There’s a real feeling of sadness and I can’t shake this still. I felt guilty walking away. They’re my friends and it was really hard for me to see them in that position,” she says.

On their return to New Zealand, Pratt and Overcomer showed the footage to human rights lawyer Deborah Manning.

“Very searching questions need to be asked. Can you consent when you’re born into Gloriavale?” Manning says.

“We’ve got people who have been moved out of New Zealand and you have welfare concerns, and so we need to set about thinking about what is the solution to that problem. It’s a very unique situation.”

A police spokesperson said inquiries into offending at Gloriavale began more than eight years ago, with a number of people coming forward to discuss their experiences in the community.

They said police maintained open lines of communication with the Gloriavale community.

“We cannot at this point comment further as the investigations are active, that includes any overseas connections,” they said.

“Police have become aware of a connection in India and recently received a formal letter that will be assessed in conjunction with other agencies.”

Gloriavale Leavers’ Support Trust manager Liz Gregory said it was a very concerning situation.

“The footage from India was helpful to bring the reality of their lives closer to home. These women have family who love them … surely there are diplomatic solutions?”