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Compass – A Christian worker is in jail in Indore , in the north-central state of Madhya Pradesh, after authorities arrested him on October 7 for “converting young children from poor Hindu families to Christianity.”

Indore police arrested Sunny John under the state anti-conversion law after members of the Dharma Raksha Samiti (DRS or Religious Protection Committee), a Hindu extremist group, surrounded the Heera Nagar police station protesting “conversions” on October 7, reported the Pioneer, a national daily.

John, an independent worker, runs three schools for children. He was accused of converting 11 children between the ages of 5 and 10 who were residing in his school-cum-children’s home at Sunder Nagar Extension in Indore .

“The complainants, Mr. Mansingh Patil and others, have alleged that John was converting children to Christianity,” D.P.S. Pariyar, police inspector of the Heera Nagar Police Station, told Compass. “John’s bank account also shows that he received foreign money.”

Indira Iyengar, member of the State Minorities Commission questioned the arrest, noting that none of the children had converted to Christianity or complained of attempted conversion.

“It means that anyone from the Hindu extremist groups can easily make allegations and pressure the police to arrest a member of the Christian minority community,” she said. “The administration is cheating the Christian community.”

John was simply providing food and education to children from low-income families, Iyengar said. “This is a case of social policing, which is disturbing,” she added.

The police registered the case under Sections 3, 4 and 5 of the Dharma Swatantraya Adhiniyam (Freedom of Religion Act) of 1968.

Section 3 of the Freedom of Religion Act states, “No person shall convert or attempt to convert, either directly or otherwise, any person from one religious faith to another by the use of force or by allurement or by any fraudulent means nor shall any person abet such conversion.”

Section 4 says that thus attempting to convert a minor can be punished with up to two years in prison and a fine of up to 10,000 rupees (approximately $235).

Section 5 requires a “religious priest” who takes part in a “ceremony necessary for conversion” to send word of the conversion to the district administration. If religious officials fail to do so, they can be imprisoned up to one year and/or fined up to 1,000 rupees (about $25).

According to Section 3 (1) of the Dharma Swatantraya rules of 1969, a “conversion” is to be reported to the administration “within seven days.”

The 11 children who were studying in John’s school told the Hindustan Times newspaper that John had been teaching them and providing them food daily. They denied that any foreigner visited them.

The newspaper also said that all the children had been taught prayers about Lord Jesus and were shown Christian cassettes. “However, none of them wore any cross or had any other overt signs of being Christians,” it reported.

John denied to the newspaper that he had converted any of the children. He said that he and his family ran three schools under the names of Rewa Mission School at Sunder Nagar Extension, Ghata Billod and Vishwas Nagar in Pithampur.

The newspaper quoted members of the DRS as saying that John was not a man of good character. They also accused him of having an affair with the wife of another man and for killing him.

Police, however, told the newspaper that such allegations were “unsubstantiated.”

A Christian couple, Jagdish and Grace Nayak, had earlier been arrested on charges of attempted forced conversion leveled by members of the DRS in Indore in July. (See Compass Direct, “Indian Couple Arrested for Attempted Forced Conversion,” August 4.)

On August 21, the Nayaks, including their 2-year-old child, were attacked by a mob of Hindu extremists. (See Compass Direct, “Mob Attacks Prayer Meeting in Madhya Pradesh, India ,” August 29.)