Christian children in central India were prevented from attending Vacation Bible School (VBS) because their parents had allegedly failed to convert to Christianity "legally", according to disturbing new reports.
In two separate incidents, both of which took place in Madhya Pradesh state, which is over 90 percent Hindu and less than 1 percent Christian, groups of believers were taken into custody and charged with trying to convert Hindus to Christianity.
According to Crux, the first incident took place on May 21, when dozens of children between the ages of 13 and 15 were traveling to VBS, a Christian summer camp in Nagpur, accompanied by nine chaperones.
Police detained the children, and charged the men with "attempted conversion," despite the fact the children came from Christian families. Eventually, the children were released to their parents.
The second incident took place on May 22, when two men were arrested on similar charges for trying to take 11 children to the same camp.
Authorities claimed their parents had not followed proper procedures in order to convert to Christianity, and therefore the children were to be considered Hindus under the law.
"For changing to another religion, one needs to submit a written application to the district collector and only after the stipulated process, a person can change religious identity, which didn't happen in the case of any of the parents claiming to be Christians," said Krishnaveni Desavatu, the police superintendent.
"This is why, the children and their parents will be officially treated as Hindu tribals and not Christians," he said, quoted in The Indian Express.
According to eyewitness reports, the children were investigated by the police, media, and a mob of Hindu extremists, and subjected to questioning late into the night. Hindu extremists urged police to charge the Christians with "kidnapping" and "forceful conversion."
"The Hindu mob used vulgar language and claimed this as a 'Jihad of the Christians', wherein the children are sent to study bible at this young age'," reported the eye-witness in an interview with Global Christian News.
A recent All India Christian Council report exposed that violent attacks on the Christian minority in India are mounting at an alarming rate, as members of groups close to the governing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party seek to create a "Hindu nation." The report stated attacks against Christians increased by about 20 percent in 2016, and physical violence against Christians was up by as much as 40 percent.
Some cases of violence include church workers being "beaten, threatened and killed," churches and Christian schools being bombed, Bibles being burnt, worship services being disrupted and Christians being forced to renounce their faith, Release International said.
Dr. John Dayal, spokesperson of the United Christian Forum and past president of the All India Catholic Union, told Crux that the persecution the Christian children experienced is "symptomatic of the paranoia and targeted hate that is currently sweeping across north India."
"No laws were broken by anyone in this instance, as indeed in incidents of anti-Christian violence in recent weeks," he said. "These are Christian children going to a summer camp in Nagpur. The involvement of the police and local civil authorities needs closer study."