Police detained seven children for a week and two adults for ten days when Hindu extremists attacked a group of Christians who were travelling to a youth Bible conference by train.
On 23 October, fifty years old woman Anita Francis and her nineteen years daughter Sophia Francis went to Indore Railway Station to take the Avantika Express for Mumbai with seven children. The children include four boys and three girls. They were relatives of Anita Francis who living in the same colony. In that colony 80 % Christians were resided. She took permission from their parents to take them to the annual Bible study conference which was for young people from all over India.
They all boarded the Avantika Express train when a horde of extremists Hindu Jagran Manch from the Hindu nationalist organization entered their compartment and forced them to board off. The organisation is attached to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) or National Volunteers’ Organisation. RSS is tightly linked with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Anita Francis’ nephew Alex came to see them off at the station explained that all the passengers were baptised Christians going to a Bible study conference as they do every year. The Hindu extremists called the media to witness the alleged kidnapping of the children.
The extremists abused Anita Francis, beat Amrit Kumar Matera (Anita’s brother), Alex and the three older boys. The extremists dragged all the Christians to the Government Railway Police station. While Anita is a well respected retired teacher, and her brother Amrit has taught at St Arnold School, Vijay Nagar, Indore in India for twenty one years.
Anita had telephoned the children’s parents, who hurried to the railway police station, where the extremists assaulted them in front of the police. The police released Sophie and Alex but kept Anita and Amrit in custody, charged them with serious crimes including kidnapping, forcible conversion and trafficking. Then they sent them to Indore’s Musa Khedi Jail.
Later the parents arrived at the police station were not allowed to see their children. The Christian girls were taken to a shelter near the station and the boys to a children’s home on the outskirts of the city. The parents of the children were not told where their children had been taken and were not allowed to see or speak with them in the following week.
Dennis Michael (the father of three children) filed for habeas corpus on behalf of all the parents at the Indore bench of the Madhya Pradesh High Court. The petition claimed the attack was politically motivated. At the habeas corpus petition hearing on 30 October, 2017 the court ordered to return children to their parents immediately, and asked the home secretary and the officer in charge of Indore Government Railway Police station to file a report.
On 3 November, Anita and Amrit were released on bail after their lawyer submitted the high court’s habeas corpus. On 17 November, Madhya Pradesh High Court ordered an investigation into the case against Anita and Amrit and into the allegations that the children were assaulted by Hindu Jagran Manch activists. The allegations were made by the parents in the writ petition and by the children in open court. The court rebuked the railway police and asked the SHO to hand over case records.
The Indore case echoes an incident of May 2017 in Madhya Pradesh, when the authorities detained 72 children on their way to a Bible camp. Police took the children off a train at Ratlam railway station and sent them to a shelter home. The children were alienated of forcible conversion.
Madhya Pradesh is one of eight Indian states that have passed anti-conversion laws. Officially called Freedom of Religion laws, they are intended to stop Hindus converting to other religions but extremists use them as an excuse to accuse Christians of forcible conversion of Hindus.
The police charged Amrit Kumar Matera and Anita Francis with kidnapping, forcible conversion, trafficking of minors, crime with common intention such as insulting the religion of any class, obscene acts or songs, voluntarily causing grievous hurt, mischief by destroying or moving a landmark fixed by public authority and sexual harassment. Later, Amrit Kumar Matera was also charged under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses Act.
“We have become stronger in faith. It’s a battle, and in the end Jesus Christ will come out victorious. Whatever has happened to us is for the glory of God. We want Him to be glorified”, said Amrit Kumar