In two separate cases in Madhya Pradesh police detained 71 Christian children and nine carers including a pastor travelling with the children (21 May 2017) to a Christian summer camp organised at Nagpur, Maharashtra.
Police detained 59 children and five Sunday school supervisors along with three Christian leaders in Ratlam and in a further incident 140 kilometres away in Indore detained two Christian leaders along with 12 children.
Based on the suspicion of ‘conversions’ the 71 children are still being held and questioned at police stations three days later.
“The children were going for a Vacation Bible School (VBS) Summer Camp and these camps are held every year in summer for Christian children by various churches,” reported Dhoom Singh Bariya, the Pastor of an independent Church in Jhabua to Global Christian News.
Dhoom Singh Bariya was also one of those parents whose statements were recorded by the police as his daughters were among the group of children going for the camp.
“The police admitted that the conversion charge was not established,” reported the national news channel NDTV.
The parents of most of the children had arrived at the respective police stations on 22 May itself, but none of the children have been allowed to go home with their parents.
There is strong global reaction on social media describing the reaction of the police as causing harassment to the children, their parents and the minority Christian community.
The big question being raised on social media and on the website of news agency NDTV is: ‘Is taking Christian children out for excursions or Summer Camps, considered a crime now in India?’
The Ratlam Case:
Twenty-seven boys and 32 girls – all from the district Jhabua, boarded the train from Meghnagar to Ratlam along with their supervisors and travelled by bus from Ratlam to Nagpur. If a media report is to be believed, some passengers travelling in the train informed the Child Helpline of the Childline India Foundation (a nonprofit non-government organization) about the children in the train.
The Railway Police Force (RPF) was informed accordingly and a team of RPF had boarded the train somewhere in the mid-journey after Meghnagar and located the children inside the train, travelling for the children camp. When the train arrived at the Ratlam station around 7 in the evening, all the children were pulled out of the train and collected on the railway station platform and taken to the area police station for questioning. There were three Sunday School male-teachers only identified as Akash, Vainu and Vijay taking care of the boys and two female-teachers, Sharmila and Savita taking care of the girls. Two senior Christians Pangu Singh Vasuiya and Lallu Bhabhore accompanied the children as their guardians. A pastor named Amiya Jal, came to receive the children at the Ratlam station to accompany them to Nagpur. The RPF arrested Pastor Amiya as well and took him into police custody.
A source who does not want to be named told Global Christian News that, “Those detained in Ratlam told the police that these children were all Christians and were taken for the Christian Children Camp organised in Nagpur and that 12 more children are supposed to join this group from Indore and together they will all go for the camp.”
According to eye witness reports, the children were investigated by the police, media, and a mob of Hindu extremists, and subjected to questioning late into the night.
Hindu extremists demanded that the Christians must be booked on charges of ‘kidnapping’ and ‘forceful conversion’ were putting a lot of pressure on the police.
“The Hindu mob used vulgar language and claimed this as a ‘Jihad of the Christians’, wherein the children are sent to study bible at this young age’,” reported the eye-witness in an interview with Global Christian News.
“A mob of about 400 Hindu extremists and activists from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Bajrang Dal camped in and around the police station demanding that the charges of forceful conversion be filed against the Christian care-takers and the pastor”, claimed a source.
The Christians and Pastor who were detained, completely denied the allegations of the Hindu mob and the media.
The boys and girls were dispersed to different locations to retire for the night, “The girls were sent to spend the night at the Railway Station Waiting Room and the boys were sent to the Children Home in Ratlam for the first night and for the second night they were kept in the Ratlam Christian Hostel,” informed Hemendra Walter, the owner and Principal of the Ratlam Christian Hostel to Global Christian News.
The Indore Case:
At the Sarwate bus-stand, Chhoti Gwaltoli in Indore, 12 children comprising of 4 girls and 8 boys, along with 2 Christians were arrested by the Indore police while they were about to board a bus for Nagpur after mid-night of 21 May.
According to the information provided by the Ratlam RPF, the local Indore police reached the spot and detained the 12 children along with two Christians – Alkesh Ganawa and Harun Dawar.
They are detained in the police custody along with the 12 children.
Charges have been filed against Alkesh Ganwa and Harun Dawar under sections 363 (related to kidnapping) of the Indian Penal Code and under sections 3 and 4 of the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act.
According to media reports, police teams have been dispatched to Jhabua and Nagpur to further investigate the matter.