EIGHT CHRISTIANS accused of the forced conversion and abduction of 60 children from Jhabua district of Madhya Pradesh have been acquitted by a sessions court in Ratlam as none of the parents and children supported the prosecution story that they were being forcibly taken to a camp near Nagpur in May 2017.
The children, most of them under 14, had boarded a train from Meghnagar in Jhabua district along with eight elders. Their journey ended abruptly at Ratlam station when the police, tipped off by Hindutva outfits, rounded up the elders and booked them under the Freedom of Religion Act and IPC sections related to kidnapping and “criminal act done by several people”.
The children included 28 girls who had to spend the night at a waiting room at the station while the boys were shifted to a shelter home in Ratlam. The girls were later shifted to a shelter home in Jaora. The police had claimed that the elders did not have any documents and could not explain why the children were being taken to the camp near Nagpur.
The police claimed it could be a case of human trafficking, forced child labour or even child theft. They refused to drop charges even after the father of a 14-year-old, on whose statement the FIR was registered, said that he knew where his teenaged son was being taken. The children shuttled between shelter homes over the next two days before being reunited with their parents.
The Indian Express had travelled to several villages in Jhabua district and spoken to the families of more than 20 children. The parents said they knew where the children were being taken to and had given their consent. Some of those arrested were relatives of the children. Those arrested were members of different Protestant churches.
Sharmila Damor, one of those arrested, was travelling with her two nieces on the train. She had told The Indian Express that during the train journey, some passengers started recording videos on their phones. The 24-year-old said someone spotted an ‘Om’ tattoo on her right hand. She said they thought she was being taken against her wish and were not convinced when she said she was among the caretakers.
Additional District and Sessions Judge Vivek Kumar Shrivastava acquitted the eight after none of the 20 witnesses, including parents, supported the prosecution story. Additional Public Prosecutor Vinod Jain said no witness supported the prosecution case and no accusation was proved. He said the court did not consider the police statements and that a decision on whether to challenge the judgment would only be taken after getting a certified copy.
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