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By ICC’s India Correspondent

07/13/2017 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern)We are troubled in every way,” remarked Pastor Haatey Singh from Jhabua, after his son spent a month in jail. Mrs. Sandhu echoed Pastor Singh’s sentiment, saying, “Hindu radicals are blackmailing me. They say that if we convert back to Hinduism, they would release my husband.” Pastor Singh’s son and Mrs. Sandhu’s husband are among the nine adults detained and later arrested under the anti-conversion laws in India’s Madhya Pradesh state in May.

Madhya Pradesh is one of the six states in India where religious conversions are regulated by the state and forced conversions are criminalized. Hindu radicals often misuse these laws as a tool to carry out an aggressive hate campaign against Christians creating a climate of fear among the region’s Christian community.

On May 21,2017, Indian police detained over 70 children and their nine adult caretakers on their way to a children’s Christian camp. The children and adults had met at the Ratlam train station before departing for Nagpur, Maharashtra. As they were waiting, police arrested them on the platform.

The police questioned the children and sent them to a government Child Protection Center (CPC) in Ratlam while the adults were charged with kidnapping and forced conversion of the children. Children, like 10-year-old Nilesh and seven-year-old Jyothi, waited at the CPC until their parents came for them. Now, the children have been released, but, “out of nine [caretakers], three are out on bail, and the remaining six continue to suffer under difficult circumstances. They are beaten up by police for no reason, not given sufficient food, and are being harassed by co-prisoners because of their Christian identity.”

For kidnapping and the forced conversion charges to be true, however, the children would have to be from non-Christian families and be on the trip without the parents’ permission. Nana Singh, Nilesh and Jyothi’s father, told International Christian Concern (ICC), “We [have been] practicing Christians for the last five years. With our own will we sent our children to the camp, [but] in spite of our statements to the police, they didn’t let our children go.” He added, “I don’t think [there is] any reason for those nine Christians to be in jail. This is purely to pressure Christians and intimidate them to go back to the Hindu religion.”

One of the chaperone’s wives, Sandhu Vasuniya told ICC, “My husband accompanied my children to take them to the camp [because] we have practiced the Christian faith for years. In spite of the fact that we accompanied our children and we practice Christianity, he was still arrested and sent to jail under forced conversion charges.

How could we be forcefully converted when we are already Christians, and how can we kidnap our own children?” Vasuniya continued.

The chaperones’ imprisonment is taking a toll on their families as well. These falsely accused men are their family’s only breadwinners and their only means of survival. The cost they have paid for practicing their Christian faith is tremendous.

Unfortunately, this type of persecution is common. In another case, a Catholic nun was taken into custody by the railway police in Satna, Madhya Pradesh on June 15 because she was accompanying a minor. Due to pressure from local Hindu radicals, the police have charged the nun with kidnapping the minor, despite the fact that the minor’s family gave permission for the minor to travel with the nun.

According to local sources, the Hindu radicals’ reign of terror has left the local Christian community paralyzed. Christians from the region have stopped going to church on Sundays in fear of being attacked by Hindu radicals and, in some cases, pastors are afraid to lead the Sunday worship altogether.

Although India is a secular democratic nation, where religious freedom is guaranteed in the constitution, Christians in India face imprisonment, hunger, physical torture, and threats. Let’s pray that there are still officials willing to uphold the constitution and end the unjust treatment and discrimination that Christians are facing, starting with the imprisonment of these Christians.