HYDERABAD, India, August 11, 2023 (Morning Star News) – Police in central India on July 26 beat a Christian educator and filed baseless charges against him of human trafficking and fraudulent conversion of eight Christian students he was escorting to a Bible institute, sources said.
After arresting Liju Kuriakose off of a bus in Manikpur, Chhattisgarh state, police officers told the students, including five minors, to give false statements that they were being trafficked, said one of the youths, a 17-year-old identified only as Govardhan.
“We all had vehemently refused and told the police that we have been Christians for a while and are not new converts,” Govardhan told Morning Star News. “We cannot tell lies about the brother who came all the way from Kerala to help us. When their attempts failed, police sent us to the Child Welfare Committee’s home.”
Kuriakose had come from Kerala state to ensure the safe travel of the students, ages 15 to 22 and all from tribal Christian families. They had boarded the bus in Manikpur bound for a railway station in Bilaspur, where they were to take a train to the Bible institute in Kochi, Kerala state, Govardhan said.
“All eight of us had secured admission in a Bible institute in Kochi, Kerala, and brother Liju came to take us for our own safety,” Govardhan told Morning Star News. “At around 10:30 a.m., after we boarded the bus, one man appearing to be a passenger caught hold of brother Liju and commanded the bus driver to stop the bus at Manikpur police station.”
Kuriakose said police were “very violent” as they questioned him until late at night, leaving him tired, sweating and light-headed.
“I told them that I was having memory loss and feeling difficulty to breathe, and that I needed to be allowed to sit for some time,” Kuriakose told Morning Star News. “But they made me sit on the floor and continued questioning as they beat me up in turns.”
Officers denied him water, he said.
“They treated me as though I am a human trafficker,” Kuriakose said. “They confiscated my mobile phone, my ID proofs and checked my bank transactions; they could find no evidence. But as they continued investigating, I was put through severe mental torture. I was not allowed to call my wife. Nobody knew that I was in police custody.”
It was about 3 a.m. before parents of the students learned they had been sent to the Child Welfare Committee home and became aware of Kuriakose’s arrest, he said. After spending the night at the house of a friend, interrogation continued the next day when officers summoned him to the police station at 11 a.m., where he remained in custody until 5 p.m.
“The deputy superintendent of police and many higher police officers took turns to question me,” he said. “It was a traumatic experience.”
Manikpur police were unavailable for comment.
Police filed a First Information Report charging him with human trafficking and luring children to convert by offering them money, Kuriakose said, adding that the students refused to make any statement against him, and he was released on bail.
Kuriakose is scheduled to appear before the Judicial Magistrate of First Class in Ambikapur on Aug. 18.
“I have been receiving calls from the kids asking me to pardon them – they have been very disturbed by what happened,” he said. “I have told them that they are like my own kids. I am trying to make some arrangements such that they can study within Chhattisgarh state, and that they don’t have to travel out of the state.”
Pastor Chander Paul said three of the eight students traveling with Kuriakose belong to his church in Kanakpur, Surajpur District, Chhattisgarh state.
“The parents consented to the admission of children in the Bible institute in Kochi,” Pastor Paul told Morning Star News. “The kids were very happy and were very much looking forward to the courses. They didn’t understand what was happening. They have been very upset since then.”
The parents had to submit affidavits to the Child Welfare Committee to get them released from the home, he said.
“It took around five or six days for all the children to go to their homes with their parents,” the pastor said.
The students’ education had stopped for various reasons, and the Bible institute offers bridge courses along with Bible studies to help them return to regular studies, he said.
“They are taught English, morals and other subjects for one year,” Pastor Paul said. “The batch of children who joined the course last year went back and sat for their ninth-grade finals and 10th-grade boards.”
The hostile tone of the National Democratic Alliance government, led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, against non-Hindus, has emboldened Hindu extremists in several parts of the country to attack Christians since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took power in May 2014, religious rights advocates say.
India ranked 11th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2023 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. The country was 31st in 2013, but its position worsened after Modi came to power.
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Article originally published by Morning Star News. Used with permission.
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