10 Christian adults have been charged by Indian officials with violating the predominantly Hindu country’s strict conversion laws, Fox News reports. Their crime? Transporting children to a summer Bible camp — with their parents’ approval.
India’s 1968 Madhya Pradesh Religious Freedom Act prohibits Hindu individuals from converting to another religion without undergoing a lengthy process that involves submitting required paperwork to the government for approval.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Police Superintendent Krishnaveni Desavatu said that the 10 Christians attempted to bypass the law and forcibly convert Hindu children. Though the children were reportedly already Christians, their parents had not submitted the proper paperwork needed to “legitimately” convert to Christianity. Because of this, the children are legally considered Hindu, according to Crux.
“This is why the children and their parents will be officially treated as Hindu tribals and not Christians,” Desavatu told The Indian Express.
Last week, Madya Pradesh police stopped a bus carrying 60 children and nine chaperones as they were en route to the summer camp in Nagpur. The next day, police stopped another bus with 11 children, plus chaperones, who were also traveling to the camp, according to Fox.
Authorities claim to have “rescued” the 71 children — many of whom have Christian parents — and placed them in “welfare homes” until they could be interrogated by officials. After this, officials said they would release the children to their families.
The fate of the 10 adult chaperones, however, remains uncertain.
According to Fox, the chaperones initially faced charges of illegal conversion and kidnapping, as it was unclear whether the children’s parents were aware of their trip. The kidnapping charge was eventually dropped, but the comparably serious conversion charges remain.
Christian leaders in India have spoken out in defense of the accused, citing the chaperones’ detainment as the latest case among many targeting Indian Christians. To make things worse, the children and their parents are members of the country’s lowest caste, the Dalits, who are sometimes referred to as “untouchables.” Christian Dalits are among the most vulnerable in Indian society.
“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,” John Dayal, spokesperson of the United Christian Forum and former president of the All India Catholic Union, told Crux.
“No laws were broken by anyone in this instance, as indeed in incidents of anti-Christian violence in recent weeks,” he said.