By ICC’s India Correspondent
08/29/2017 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – “This is an answer to prayer and my heart is filled with gratitude to God and to Christians everywhere,” Pastor Hate Singh Gundiya told International Christian Concern (ICC) last week as six Christian prisoners in India’s Madhya Pradesh State were granted bail by the Indore High Court. Although this news brought great relief to Christians of the Jhabua region, many still fear further outbreaks of intolerance led by Hindu hardline groups seeking to put pressure on Christians.
The trouble began on May 21 when nine Christians, accompanying 70 children, were arrested in Ratlam by railway police after being falsely accused of attempting to forcefully convert the children they were traveling with to a children’s camp in Nagpur. The children were taken to a government child protection center for two days and then sent to their respective homes. The nine Christian adults were booked under charges of child abduction, human trafficking, and forced conversion under the state’s draconian anti-conversion law. These charges were accepted by police despite affidavits filed by the parents of children attesting that they are both Christians and that the children were traveling with the nine Christians with their consent.
The Christians’ applications for bail were rejected four times in lower courts due to the influence of local Hindu radical groups. While in the lower court, three Christians were released on bail, but six remained in prison until the Indore High Court accepted the plea for bail for the remaining Christians last Thursday, August 24.
Pastor Gundiya, who has been monitoring the bail proceedings of the jailed Christians, spoke with ICC just after he received news that the Christians’ bail plea was accepted. “It’s like [a] new day dawning for Christians in Jhabua, particularly for those families whose husbands spent more than three months of rigorous punishment in the jail just because they were going to attend a Christian children’s camp.”
“Our lives have been devastated and the survival of me and my children was an everyday challenge,” Sama Babore, wife of one of the six imprisoned Christians, told ICC. “I was cornered by my own extended family for going to church and also for the present crisis of my husband’s imprisonment. I was all alone and we didn’t have sufficient food to eat during the past three months.”
“I cannot travel in the public mode of transportation as people recognize me as person who converts people into Christianity and they ridicule me [and] even abuse me,” Savita, a 24-year-old Christian, told ICC. Savita spent nearly a month in jail in Ratlam along with the others who were arrested on May 21. Although she is out on bail, she has to attend all court scheduled proceedings. This has forced Savita to travel nearly 125 miles once a week, sometimes more, to attend the case. Sharing her experience from the jail, Savita told ICC, “We did not get sufficient food in the jail and the reason they gave was that we are Christians and we do conversions.”
Moudi, a village located 10 miles away from Jhabua, is home to 25 Christian families. According to local church leadership, all of the 25 families have stopped attending church. According to a local pastor, who wished to remain anonymous, “These Christians stopped going to church after the village head (mukyu) convened a meeting for the villagers and told the Christians to stop going to church and leave the Christians faith.” This pronouncement by the village head came right after rallies were held by Hindu hardline groups following the arrest of the nine Christians on May 21.
In Dhar, another nearby village, more than 25 people used to attend worship prior to the Ratlam incident. Two children from Dhar were among the 70 who were traveling to Nagpur on May 21. According to Pastor Gundiya, some Christians in Dhar village have practiced Christianity for five years, but they are now being pressured to give up their faith.
The arrest of the nine Christians accompanying the 70 children in Ratlam has created a very critical situation for Christians across the Jhabua Region as it has been used by Hindu hardline groups to inflame religious tensions. Pressure from village leaders and Hindu hardline groups continues to affect the daily lives of the Christians trying to exercise the religious freedom rights given to them by India’s constitution. Although the bail granted to the remaining six prisoners is a positive development, more must be done to ensure justice for the Christians of this region.