Madhya Pradesh High Court Hands Over Children to Parents in Alleged 'Forced Conversion' Case

The children were taken into custody by the government railway police on the suspicion that they were being taken to Mumbai for religious conversion.

Madhya Pradesh high court. Credit: PTI

New Delhi: The Madhya Pradesh high court on Monday directed that seven Christian children, who were made to deboard a train in Indore by activists of the Hindu Jagran Manch, be handed over to their parents.

The children, aged between 5-17 years, were taken into custody by the government railway police (GRP) on the suspicion that they were being taken to Mumbai for religious conversion.

The parents had moved the Indore bench of high court with a habeas corpus petition, seeking that the police produce their children before the court.

The parents had contended that the children were going to Mumbai to attend a Bible-reading session with their consent, but were illegally detained and kept at a secret location, reported the Indian Express.

Anita Joseph, a resident of Christian Quarters in Scheme No 78 in Indore, told the Indian Express that she was to board Avantika Express on October 23 with the seven children, who live near her house, and her 19-year-old old daughter to Mumbai. According to the Indian Express report, before the train started, some right-wing activists reached the station and accused her and one Amrit Kumar Matera, who had come to drop off the children, of taking the children forcibly to Mumbai and later to Kerala for conversion, and beat them up.

The court ordered the GRP to produce the children and, after speaking to them, a bench of Justices Alok Varma and S.C. Sharma directed the police to hand over the children to their parents in accordance with their own wish, said advocate K.P. Gangore, the petitioners’ lawyer.

Based on a complaint by the Jagran Manch activists, the GRP booked Joseph and Matera for alleged kidnapping and under the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, and sent the children to a shelter. A day later, Matera was booked under The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO), 2012, allegedly under pressure from the activists.

The parents, in their petition, said that they were concerned about the safety of their wards and that despite requests, the police did not release them. “The constitutional rights of the petitioners have been imperiled by illegal detention of their children without any reason,” the petition said.

According to the Indian Express, Dennis Micheal, who filed the petition on behalf of the parents, said he was severely beaten when he reached the police station after hearing the news. He said the activists beat and abused the children and their relatives but the police did not act against them.

The petition alleged that respondent No 6, Vinod Sharma, a right-wing activist who led the group to the station, was threatening the petitioners. The petition also sought registration of FIR against Mishra and others, reported the Indian Express.

“The court asked the children questions and ordered that they be immediately handed to their parents. The court asked the home secretary and in-charge of Indore GRP station to file a detailed report,” advocate K.P. Gangore, who appeared for the parents, told the Indian Express.

He added that the the girl whose complaint was cited by police to book Amrit under POCSO denied the charge in court.

The matter has been listed for hearing on November 6.

Various Sangh parivar outfits, including the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, have made religious conversion a bone of contention across India. Five states – Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh – have put severe restrictions on the process of conversion, making it virtually impossible for people to convert to a different religion.

In April, the state police arrested three Christians on suspicion of them attempting to convert Hindus. That same month, Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath led the Hindu Yuva Vahini to raid a church. Instead of investigating the attack on the church, Madhya Pradesh police assured an investigation into the allegation of forced conversion.

The recent controversies surrounding inter-faith marriages preceded by conversions in the Hadiya and Shifah (formerly Stanzin Saldon) cases are further pointers to how severely the process of voluntary conversion is under attack.

(With inputs from PTI)