Parents of Christian Colony here whose children were allegedly illegally confined after a protest by the Hindu Jagran Manch (HJM), claiming forcible conversion, are not returning to their homes out of fear.
Dennis Joseph Michael, whose three children were among the seven — between the ages of 6 and 17 — taken away from the Indore railway station and kept at a shelter home for a week, is now at an undisclosed location. “All these days I was moving around dazed looking for my children. Now that we have got their custody, we are too scared to return,” says Michael.
On October 30, the Madhya Pradesh High Court handed over the children to their parents, following a habeas corpus petition. As the court pronounced its order, the parents broke out into applause. The judges let them be.
On November 3, two adults accompanying the children who had been arrested were released on bail. The incident was a repeat of the Ratlam case of May 21, when 60 children were taken off a train at Ratlam Railway Station and sent to a shelter home following a similar protest by right-wing activists.
Michael, who is into fabrication of aluminum doors and windows, says he was beaten up by HJM men when he rushed to the station after hearing about the detention of his sons Priyal, (17), and Harsh (13), and daughter Anushka (12).
Recalling how he kept breaking down after getting them back, the 44-year-old says, “I had never experienced something like this. Only a father whose three children are taken away and kept at a secret location would cry that way.” His children wore the same clothes as they were wearing a week earlier, he recalls. Parents of other children who refused to be identified expressed anger at the “humiliation” meted out to them, first at the railway station and later, they claim, inside the railway police station in the presence of policemen.
The seven children had left home on October 23 to go to Mumbai with Anita Joseph, also a resident of Christian Colony like them, for Bible Shiksha. The small Christian Colony is named thus as nearly 80 per cent of its residents are Christians.
HJM activists, accompanied by some advocates, had entered the station, made the children come out of Avantika Express for which they had reservation, and called the railway police, alleging the journey was meant to facilitate the conversion of the children to Christianity. The HJM men claimed their parents had been given money, and were not Christians themselves. The children were later taken away by Childline NGO to a shelter, without their luggage, including clothes.
In-charge of GRP Station, Indore, M L Varkade claims nobody was beaten up at the railway station or inside the police station. He says investigation is on to find out where the children were being taken to. Michael and wife Sangeeta, 43, a diabetic, say they had sent their children for Bible reading in the past too, and this was the first time there was such an incident. “They started beating me up the moment they learnt my Christian name (at the station),” Michael says. The couple live in a modest flat with their children and Michael’s parents. The children study in a government school.
Besides Joseph, Amrit Kumar Matera, who had come to drop his 19-year-old daughter who was to accompany Joseph to Mumbai, were arrested following the HJM protest. “Anita and Amrit were accused of kidnapping and forcible conversion even though all children are Christians. A day later Amrit was also booked under POCSO,” says their lawyer K P Gangore.
Michael says the high court judges asked the children if they were going willingly, and if they recognised the people they were travelling with. When the children replied yes, and accused police of beating them up, the judges ruled that they be immediately restored to their parents.
Advocate Devendra Pendse, who often represents HJM men and those of the Bajrang Dal and VHP, says that at least one man, Kailash Mahajan, whose children Simon and Veronica were being taken to Mumbai, had given an affidavit saying he had not consented to it. The court refused to consider Pendse’s petition in this regard. Pendse now claims Mahajan has gone missing and was probably in “illegal confinement of the Christian community”.
The spokesman of United Christian Forum, Suresh Carleton, says the charges against Joseph and Matera are baseless, and adds that there was nothing secret about where the children were being taken. About the charge regarding Kailash Mahajan, he says while Mahajan had got baptised in childhood but now followed Hinduism, his wife was a Christian.