Six Christians who were arrested in May for taking 72 children to a Vacation Bible School camp in Madhya Pradesh state, India, have reportedly been charged with kidnapping and forcible conversions as police refuse to recognize the children as Christians.
Sources told Morning Star News in a report published June 23 that along with the six Christians, a 15-year-old boy was also held in a juvenile detention center for nearly a month, before finally being released last week.
"I missed my home so much — I cried every day, and prayed and prayed," Akash Gundia said. "Finally, the Lord heard me. I am happy to be back home."
Gundia was reportedly one of the 72 children detained by Ratlam Railway Police on May 21 as they traveled to the VBS camp in Nagpur. Eight supervisors were also arrested, and despite explanations that all the children had Christian parents, they were accused of trying to convert the children.
Authorities claimed at the time that the parents hadn't followed the proper procedures in converting to Christianity, and insisted that the children will be treated as Hindus under the law.
"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," police superintendent Krishnaveni Desavatu said at the time.
"This is why the children and their parents will be officially treated as Hindu tribals and not Christians," he added.
Morning Star News noted that the children had permission from their Christian parents to go to the Bible camp program, however.
"I told the police I am a Christian by birth, and we are going to attend the VBS, but they did not listen to me and took us to the police station," the 15-year-old boy said.
"Children as young as 6 were also in police custody, but when their parents came, the police handed them over to the parents. I was produced in court a day later, and from there was sent to a juvenile detention home," he added.
Hartesh Singh Gundia, the boy's father, insisted that Hindu extremist groups put pressure on officials to punish Christians, and blamed them for his son having to spend 25 days in judicial custody
Attorney Anand Nagarkar added: "The charges were framed based on malice and suspicion, and on this basis there can be no conviction, but the police have been taking it slow to file the challan [charge sheet]. They are under pressure by the Bajrang Dal and RSS activists."
Nagarkar noted that that parents of the 72 children have submitted an affidavit before the court declaring that all the children were born to Christian parents, and that the volunteers came from the Sunday schools of their respective churches.
Christians, who are a growing minority in India, have found themselves attacked by Hindu radicals but also persecuted by authorities antagonistic to their faith, watchdog groups like International Christian Concern have warned.
ICC reported in February that a Christian evangelist fell into a coma following heavy harassment by a group of Hindu radicals in Hyderabad, who were angry at him for distributing copies of the New Testament.
Ronald John, state president of Telangana Christian Joint Action Committee, said at the time that such treatment of Christians is "unacceptable."
"Even the responsible, so-called law protectors don't go by the constitution that guarantees religious freedom. This shows how minorities are being treated in this nation," John said.