Two more Christian women have been arrested in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh on false charges of forced conversion of children and could face up to seven years in prison.
According to the Asia-based Catholic news website ucanews.com, Anita Joseph and Amrit Kumar were arrested last Tuesday in the Madhya Pradesh state, which has been governed by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party for the last 14 years. The women were charged with violating a state law barring religious conversions done through force, allurement, appeasement or fraud.
The women were arrested after the Hindu activist group Hindu Jagran Manch complained to police about children being taken to Mumbai by train.
The activist organization reportedly accused the women of trying to take the kids to be forcibly converted. Along with being charged with violating the state's anti-conversion law, the women were also charged with kidnapping.
Kunwarlal Warkade, a local police official, told ucanews.com that the two women were charged with kidnapping four girls and six boys under the age of 14. Warkade also stated that it has been alleged that the women lured the children with the promise of education and toys.
According to ucanews.com, both Joseph and Kumar appeared before the Indore district magistrate in Madhya Pradesh state last Wednesday and were ordered to be held in judicial custody until authorities can investigate the claims.
Bishop Chacko Thottumarickal of Indore argued that the arrests of Joseph and Kumar should be seen as an attempt from Hindu radicals to intimidate Christian missionaries.
"We are always on their radar and it is quite scary," Thottumarickal told ucanews.com.
This is not the first time this year that Christians in the state have been arrested for trying to transport children.
In June, a Catholic nun named Sister Beena Joseph of the Carmelite Sisters of St. Teresa congregation was arrested while traveling with four schoolgirls by train to a church-operated school in Bhopal. Joseph's arrest came after a complaint was received by authorities from another Hindu activist group.
Joseph's arrest marked the third time within a month that Christians were detained on charges of false conversions.
Joseph's arrest followed the detainment of 11 Christian chaperones in two separate incidents in late May in Madhya Pradesh. The 11 chaperones were transporting over 71 Christian children to a Bible camp in Madhya Pradesh.
Although several of the parents rejected the idea that their children were kidnapped, the government maintained that the chaperones were still guilty of trying to convert the children because the kids' parents did not go through the legal process to change their official religion to Christianity. Even though the children grew up as Christians, they were seen as Hindus in the eyes of the government.
"For changing to another religion, one needs to submit a written application to the district collector and 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," a police superintendent told The New Indian Express. "This is why, the children and their parents will be officially treated as Hindu tribals and not Christians."
Sister Anastasia Gill, who is a member of the Delhi Minority Commission, told ucanews.com that the recent arrest of the two Christian women is part of the "conspiracy" by Hindu groups to make the public believe that Christians are engaged in illicit conversions.
Although Hindu radicals have made false claims, Gill stressed that Christian leaders have failed to keep adequate records that could easily be used to refute such claims.
Bishop Thottumarickal told ucanews.com that church leadership has to do a better job of keeping up with documentation.
"We have to be extra cautious in managing our homes for children, women and aged people as even a minor mistake can cause big problems for us," the bishop said.
India ranks as the 15th-worst nation in the world when it comes to Christian persecution, according to Open Doors USA's 2017 World Watch List.