Extremists intercepted a bus carrying tribal children to a Christian conference in Madhya Pradesh state, India, claiming that the event was being organised to convert attendees by force.
Members of a radical political group refused to allow the bus to proceed to the event in Khandwa on 3 October until the police responded to their summons.
Church leaders said that the children were from a Christian community, and police found no evidence of any attempt by church leaders to convert children.
The police took statements from all 200 children attending the three-day event as well as from the organisers and teachers. The disruption forced the cancellation of the conference, scheduled to run until 5 October.
The extremists alleged that the organisers were contravening a state law that prohibits religious conversion by force, fraud or allurement. Madhya Pradesh is one of eleven Indian states to have enacted such anti-conversion legislation.
However, police found no evidence of any attempt to convert children to Christianity. Khandwa Superintendent of Police Vivek Singh stated, “There is no case of conversion. These tribal kids are brought to the school every year for career guidance and counselling.”
Church leaders emphasised that the children due to attend the conference were already Christians.
“There is absolutely no conversion activities going on,” asserted Alangaram Arokia Sebastian Durairaj, a senior church leader in Madhya Pradesh. “Their forefathers were Christians.”
“It is very unfortunate that our programmes to prepare our children are being misinterpreted – each faith has the freedom to teach their own youth,” he added. “We were doing nothing illegal nor criminal.”
A Barnabas Aid contact confirmed that the conference is an annual event that had received prior permission from the authorities. She explained that extremist groups always try to create a link between the event and religious conversion.
In November 2021 pastors in Madhya Pradesh reported that they were forced to start documenting the names of Christians attending church services in order to protect themselves against false allegations of illegal religious conversions.
From Barnabas Aid contacts and other sources