‘How can we convert those who already follow our faith?’

Accused of proselytisation, 3 men and a minor languish in an MP jail; parents of the children they were escorting to a camp wonder why.

Written by Milind Ghatwai | Published:June 11, 2017 2:09 am
religion conversion, madhya pradesh conversion, jhabua conversion, proselytisation, proselytisation madhya pradesh, indian express news, india news Shyama with her sons. Her husband, Lalu Bhabor, was with them when he was arrested.  Source: Milind Ghatwai

FOR THE 60 children from the impoverished tribal district of Jhabua in Madhya Pradesh, the five-day summer camp in Nagpur was over even before it had begun. For those who accompanied them, the ordeal is far from over. Dogged by charges of attempts to proselytise, four of them, including a minor, are still lodged in prison.

The group, on its way to Nagpur, had set off on a local train from Meghnagar in western Madhya Pradesh on May 21. They were to reach Ratlam, some 90 km away, on the same day, from where they were to take a bus to the Maharashtra town.

Ratlam is as far as they got, as the police, with right-wing activists in tow, rounded up the children and those accompanying them at the town’s railway station.

In the hours of confusion that followed, aggravated by pressure from the activists, police concluded that the 60 were being “kidnapped for religious conversion,” and detained six people in the group, including two women and the minor, on suspicion of facilitating the kidnapping.

While the children were then shuttled between shelter homes over the next two days before being reunited with their parents, those detained were charged under sections 363 (kidnapping) and 34 (criminal act committed by several people) of the IPC, sections 3 and 4 of the MP Freedom of Religion Act, 1968, and the non-bailable Section 84 of the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015.

In the three weeks that have followed, the two women have secured bail, while the three men and the minor, are still in jail in Ratlam, 294 km from capital Bhopal.

Parents have been left wondering why those they had entrusted their children with are continuing to be punished.

Police have refused to drop the charges even after the father of Nilesh Damor, 14, on whose complaint they lodged the FIR on the grounds that “he was not aware of where he was being taken,” claimed that his son may have been coerced into giving such a statement. Much like the other parents, Damor’s father, Nana, says he clearly told police that he knew where his son and daughter Jyoti were going.

Sharmila Damor was arrested, but later granted bail. Source: Milind Ghatwai

When The Sunday Express travelled to several villages near Jhabua and spoke to the families of over 20 of the children, it found that not only had the parents given their consent for the jaunt, but some of those arrested were in fact accompanying their own relatives. All of them are members of churches belonging to various Protestant denominations.

Lalu Bhabor was with his sons and young sister-in-law, Kamla, 15, when police picked him up. While the children — Abhishek, 6, and Shyam, 5 — and Kamla have returned home, he continues to remain in jail. His wife, Shyama, insists that all those with her husband on the day were Christians. “How can we convert those who already follow our faith? My children were to attend the event that included playing and reading. We are all believers. We all keep and read the Bible and believe in Jesus Christ,” says Shyama, adding that the children keep asking for their father. Shyama though has visited him just once since he was jailed as Ratlam is over 100 km from the family’s home at Amli Falia village in Jhabua, and she can’t afford the trip. “I have no idea how long he’ll be in jail,” she adds.

Pastor Hatesingh Gundia is still in Ratlam, hoping to secure the release of his minor son, who was with his younger sister, Sharon, 12, when he was arrested. “How can a child be accused of religious conversion? He was produced before a juvenile court because they claimed he was one of those taking the children. He was crying when my husband met him. If we had taken Hindu children, would we have been accused of anything?” asks his mother Dali. She adds that when police visited them at their home in Jhabua, the family pointed to the fact that Gundia was himself a pastor, to emphasise that they were indeed Christian, and had permitted the children to go on the excursion. “One policeman instead accused us of selling our children,’’ she alleges.

Sharmila Damor, 24, who was travelling with two of her nieces, is among the two women to get bail. She says some of the passengers’ attention was drawn to the Om tattoo on her right hand, which she got when she was in Class 3. “They thought I was being taken against my wishes but when I asserted that I was among the caretakers, I was made an accused,” alleges Sharmila, adding that she was accused of being part of a kidney smuggling racket and of exploiting children. She says the trouble began when a passenger began shooting a video. “Àfter one man made a video, they all began making videos. No one was ready to listen to us. I told the police not to add the anti-conversion charges but they did not listen. I was finally out of jail on May 30,’’ she says.

“A man sporting a tilak, some media people and police officers kept questioning us. I told them we were going on a picnic and that our parents knew about it,” says Shalomi, 12, who was on the train with her sister Beula, 10. Their father, Pastor Dhoomsingh Bariya, 37, of the local parish in Jhabua, says he rushed to Ratlam at 1 am on May 22. “I told the police that they were my daughters. The charges of kidnapping and forced conversion are plain lies. Did any parent lodge a missing complaint? No one did, because all the parents knew where their children were headed,” Bariya says.

Like Bariya, Kamlesh Bamniya of Umariya village says he too was surprised when he learnt that his three children were with police. “I called late into the night to know how their journey was progressing and was shocked to learn that police had detained them. We told them we are Christian but they did not budge,’’ says Kamlesh, whose family owns over 25 bigha of land and a jeep he drives as a taxi. He adds that his three children — Ajay, 11, Payal, 9, and Shiva, 8 — have attended similar camps in Ujjain and Indore.

Pastor Bariya says he had handed over consent letters for his children, but police and right-wing activists dispute the claim, saying that when they intervened at Ratlam, the caretakers were neither carrying a list nor had consent letters from the parents.

Investigating officer, Inspector Abhishek Gautam of the Ratlam police station, says not all parents knew where their children were being taken. “Some parents may have been aware of the camp but there were some who were not,” he says, adding that the accused were booked under the stringent provisions, to ensure that they were not released on bail. Pointing to the fact that the district court had rejected the bail pleas of four of the accused, Gautam says that this is proof enough that the charges had not been falsely levelled.

Police also insist that none of the families provided proof that they had converted to Christianity. If they still write tribal names, how can they be Christians, said one official.

Ratlam-based RSS leader Dr Ratnadeep Nigam says the action was a result of “increased awareness on the conversion being carried out by missionaries” as the BJP was in power both at the Centre and in several states. “They would earlier get away with it, not anymore,’’ he says.

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  1. S
    Sunil
    Jun 12, 2017 at 8:13 am
    Thanks for the actual report. How religious funatisism is perverting the minds of common people. The real terrorism is from these funatics only.
    Reply
    1. B
      bhasmakar
      Jun 11, 2017 at 1:08 pm
      Let me explain what happened in my village. i am from a small village in A.P. When i was a boy, there are only one or two families of Christians and a Church. Otherwise, all were the Hindus. Within 3 decades, the reverse is the case. Only two or three families are Hindus and the remaining all have become Christians. No one has forced them to convert to Christianity. And they themselves have got into it. There are 4 Churches now. This is not a poor village. This is very rich village and people are well educated. No one can stop if one believes in some faith better. they will go there. Police can stop physically and not mentally. Psychologically, they are are converted already.
      Reply
      1. S
        Subspan Raman
        Jun 11, 2017 at 12:26 pm
        If people of India think Muslims are a cause of concern, they are wrong. Most muslims are law-biding citizens who hold India as their motherland. Most Muslims will not even eat beef out of respect for Hindus. That is the kind of people Muslims are. The greatest threat to Hindus is the Christian who quitely converts their kids under the pretext of education, health, etc. Their evanglists are very active, behaving like secret agents, hiding behind freedom of religion, etc. Look at what they do nowadays, they build huge churches in front of ancient Hindu temples. They simply have no respect for other religions. They will lie, cheat and do anything to convert others because it is big money. I will trust my Muslim friends over others any day. They keep their word. Unfortunately Hindus are more interested in helping no one else but themselves. Also Hindus are let down by their own politicians. Now wait for the brickbats and insult from Christian terrorists and their supporters.
        Reply
        1. M
          M. Kapil
          Jun 11, 2017 at 12:03 pm
          Please ask the very sympathetic author to come to the south and see for himself how many churches there and how vigorous conversion is. That is the main reason why the crypto-Christians and their supporters do not want the RSS and BJP to become strong in the south. In Tamil Nadu, the real Christian population figures is way ahead of the official figures, for the converts do not want to lose the governmental benefits that the unconverted get. Ask your anti-Hindu reporter to shed his blinkers and do some serious research. He will then see the reality.
          Reply
          1. V
            Viyan
            Jun 11, 2017 at 8:57 am
            India is becoming great again - by converting our police force into a people-terrorizing force - jai people for taking their own kids out. Some of the idiiot bhakts may be happy about this as it is the other community affected here. But once the discipline of our police is damaged, why will they tomorrow hesitate to do same to bhakts too (to extract some money or for some personal enmity, etc). Bhakts are deliberately damaging this country, either because of blindness or because of their pity political gains. I will not be surprised, if some wikileaks paper, 5 or 10 years from now, reveals that some of key people in the Bhakt community were actually working for the neighbor countries. As all their actions are meant just to damage the country, behind the veil of false-nationalism.
            Reply
            1. A
              Antony
              Jun 11, 2017 at 8:08 am
              It is clear that Christians are cuted in the name of conversation. The Cons ution guarantees freedom of religion in this country and now situation is such that Christians in this country cannot travel also out of fear of sanghi goons and terrorists ! Modi is going aroundthe world and talking about terrorism when his own party men is kil minorities and terrorise people all over the country ! Worst part is that the police and the courts are now completely talibanized by the chaddis so there is no scope of justice for the defenceless people ! There are 140 million Hindus outside India living in Christian and Muslim countries flourishing and building massive temples and hare Krishna movement openly converting thousands in Europe on daily basis without any fear or intimidation! The atrocities committed by sanghi terrorists and govt should be highlighted world over to put pressure on Modi to prevent gross injustice and human rights violation in India.
              Reply
              1. R
                rameshnk
                Jun 11, 2017 at 11:33 am
                Mr.Antony Christians are not all that innocent. Their methods of conversion are very novel, one which could put beat MNC hands down. Remeber how one evangelist was caught red handed near the Hindu Shrine of Tirupati. I have persoanlly seen from close quarters the techniques used by these evangelists. Mr.Antony t go to some Muslim countries and try convesrion there. Se what will happen to you. You will staright away hanged or lynched.Mr.Antony if you feel cuted in India, you are anytime free to go anywhere in the world of your choice. We will be happy for you.
                Reply
                1. A
                  Akhand Bharat Suraksha Sena
                  Jun 18, 2017 at 12:58 am
                  Mr. Anthony if you and your minority kin have not understood it already, its quite sad. Run for your life......Lynching we have already started....anyone who is against us will be lynched. We got all our ppl. in the right places....Media is ours.....Govt. is ours....obviously officials are our slaves....Swach Bharat is our mission .....Sab ko saaf karke rahenge. Abhi tho yeh shuruaat hai. If you have forgotten Akhlaq.....here is our fresh example Zafar Hussein - : hindustantimes /india-news/lynched-rajasthan-man-was-protecting-wife-and-daughter-eyewitnesses-say-govt-official-yelled-kill-him/story-I6FWd0xv3JBZ7ZoeNcEavJ
              2. P
                Prem Nazir
                Jun 11, 2017 at 7:35 am
                Make Law to prevent Christians from converting local population en masse. They do not have the right. There should be no freedom to convert others. Let them mind their own business. They have no business to mind other's affairs. Jail them if they try.
                Reply
                1. V
                  vs
                  Jun 11, 2017 at 7:32 am
                  The govt.should act with an iron hand against these evangalists.They should be slapped with a charge of treason for trying to disrupt the social fabric of our country.Close down all the Christian NGOs.Bring back all those converted to Hindu fold.Do the same to the press udes also who support these people.
                  Reply
                  1. V
                    vijay
                    Jun 11, 2017 at 9:16 am
                    yes first give the dalits their rights. go look at all the matrimonial which speaks of hindu apartheid.
                    Reply
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