NEW DELHI, INDIA (BosNewsLife)– Tensions are rising in northern India where Indian authorities have stopped buses carrying more than 70 Christian children and prevented them from proceeding to a Bible summer camp in Madhya Pradesh state, rights activists and officials said.
Local authorities also detained 10 adult Christian chaperones of the children saying they violated India’s conversion legislation by attempting to convert Hindu youth to Christianity forcibly, Indian media reported.
“For changing to another religion, one needs to submit a written application to the district collector,” said Krishnaveni Desavatu, the police superintendent, in published remarks. “Only after the stipulated process, a person can change religious identity, which didn’t happen in the case of any of the parents claiming to be Christians,” the official added.
“This is why, the children and their parents will be officially treated as Hindu tribals and not Christians,” he was quoted in Indian media as saying.
Christianity has been spreading among poor Dalits, long regarded as the ‘lowest caste’ or ‘untouchables’ in India’s ancient system of Hinduism.
Rights activists condemned the reported crackdown on Christian converts, who abandoned Hinduism. “The traumatization of these tribal and Dalit children from the villages of western Madhya Pradesh is symptomatic of the paranoia and targeted hate that is currently sweeping across North India,” said John Dayal, spokesman for the United Christian Forum advocacy group.
The 10 chaperones face charges of trying to “forcibly convert” the children. If convicted, they could face up to three years imprisonment and a fine of up to 25,000 Indian rupees ($388).
Officials said they “rescued” the 71 children and placed them in “welfare homes” until they could question them. Authorities pledged that would return the children to their families, but concerns remained about the youngsters’ future.
The incidents come amid wider concerns about Hindu nationalism and violence against Christians. Rights activists say police and the judiciary have been heavily infiltrated and radicalized under almost 15 years of Bharatiya Janata Party rule in Madhya Pradesh.
Earlier this year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party shut down a Christian charity called Compassion
International, claiming the organization was involved in “conversions.”
Indian authorities also raided villages and compelled Christians into “reconversion,” which includes forcing them to conduct Hindu rituals, church sources say.
Dayal urged the influential Roman Catholic Church to pressure the government to issue “a categorical assurance, in clear language, that targeting of Christians of all denominations will stop forthwith and district police and administrative heads will be held personally responsible.”
Christians are a tiny minority in India, comprising only 1 percent in the Madhya Pradesh state, where the latest incidents occurred. More than 90 percent of the state’s residents are Hindu. (With additional reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos).