Indian Extremists Beat Christian Parents, Force Children to Hail Hindu Gods

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(Photo: AP / Gurinder Osan)Supporters of All India Christian Council pray during a rally in New Delhi, India, Tuesday, May 29, 2007. The activists demanded protection from violence by right-wing Hindu organizations and safeguarding of their religious rights.

Christian parents and their children have reportedly been beaten by Hindu extremists in India, who then forced police to charge two believers with kidnapping and forcible conversion for taking the youths to a Bible conference.

"I am shocked at the way the Hindu extremists take law into their hands with impunity knowing that the government is theirs," Amrit Kumar Matera, one of the Christians who was arrested, told Morning Star News.

A group of nationalists from Hindu Jagran Manch, an affiliate of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, apparently confronted Christians Anita Francis and her daughter, 19-year-old Sophia Francis, on Oct. 23.

The women had boarded a train from a railway station in Indore, Madhya Pradesh, and were taking seven children, with the permission of the Christian parents, to a youth Bible study program in Mumbai.

The Hindu extremists accused the two women of receiving money to convert the children to Christianity, and forced them off the train.

Matera and his 19-year-old son, Alex, Francis' nephew, who were traveling with the group, were also targeted by the nationalists.

"They interrogated us as if they were from the Crime Branch and recorded the entire episode on their mobile phones," Matera said.

"They gathered the children from where they were seated and collected them all at one place, interrogating and intimidating Anita without even giving her the chance to reply. The children were pushed and pulled in the most ruthless manner."

He explained that the extremists refused to hear that the the children were baptized Christians, and kept accusing the adults of forcibly converting them.

"Three men caught me from behind and started to hit me with their legs and boots," he said of the assault. "I could not even see who was holding me and what they were beating me with. They beat me all the way through, while they dragged me to the GRP (Government Railway Police) police station from the platform."

Some of the children were also beaten in the incident, the Christians said. Local media were called by the extremists to document the alleged "kidnapping" of the children.

"There was a mob waiting at the platform with media persons clicking pictures, recording videos and asking all kinds of questions," Matera said. "The presence of the media and the crowd was evidence enough that the Christians were ambushed with a well-planned strategy."

The beatings escalated on the train station platform, with Francis and Matera dragged toward the railway police office.

"They tried to force us to hail Hindu gods, and when we did not, they beat us," Matera continued.

"They intimidated the children to repeat the slogans or else face the beating. The 5-year-old boy and girl were made to chant the slogan, 'Hail lord Ram' repeatedly. We felt so helpless as they intimidated the little children before our eyes, and we could do nothing to help them."

The parents of the Christian children, who were called earlier on the phone by Francis, were also beaten as the they arrived at the station and tried to retrieve their children.

Christian witnesses said that the believers were assaulted in front of police officers, who "stood there as mere spectators."

Police then arrested Matera and Francis, charging them with kidnapping and forcible conversion, along with a number of other crimes that could lead to heavy fines and several years in prison.

The parents were, meanwhile, not allowed to meet or even see their children, who were taken by police for medical examination, before being transferred to locations not shared with the parents.

After a week of being detained, the children were finally handed back to their parents, while Francis and Matera were released on bail on Nov. 3.

Christians, who are a minority in the country, have been accused and charged with kidnapping and forcible conversions of children on a number of occasions this past year.

Six believers were arrested in May for taking 72 children to a Vacation Bible School camp in Madhya Pradesh, with authorities refusing to recognize the children as Christians, and insisting on treating them as Hindus.

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