Christian leader faces wrongful arrest for alleged trafficking

(Photo: Unsplash/Marco Chilese)

Police in Chhattisgarh assaulted and detained a Christian educator on July 26, 2023, based on claims of human trafficking and the false conversion of eight children.

Liju Kuriakose, a Christian leader from Kerala, was apprehended by authorities in Manikpur, Chhattisgarh state, as he accompanied eight Christian students, aged 15 to 22, to a Bible institute in Kerala reported Morning Star News.

The students, hailing from tribal Christian families, were falsely coerced by police to provide statements supporting the trafficking narrative.

Despite the students' resistance and assertions that they were not new converts, the police's attempts to fabricate a case failed. Subsequently, the students were sent to a Child Welfare Committee home.

Kuriakose had undertaken the journey to ensure the safety of these young learners, but instead, he was subjected to intense questioning and physical abuse by the police. He described the ordeal as traumatic, enduring both mental torture and physical violence.

Kuriakose's arrest and mistreatment extended through the night, unbeknownst to the students' parents. Only after a night of uncertainty did parents discover their children's placement in the Child Welfare Committee home and learn about Kuriakose's arrest. His interrogation persisted into the next day, where high-ranking police officers further questioned him.

The police unjustly filed a First Information Report (FIR) accusing Kuriakose of human trafficking and inducing children to convert in exchange for money.

The targeted students, however, steadfastly refused to provide any testimony against Kuriakose. Eventually, he was released on bail pending an appearance before the Judicial Magistrate of First Class in Ambikapur on August 18.

Kuriakose's concerns extended beyond his own predicament. He received distressed calls from the affected students, who were deeply disturbed by the events. Kuriakose reassured them, promising to explore alternative education opportunities within Chhattisgarh, eliminating the need for them to travel out of the state.

Three of the students travelling with Kuriakose were affiliated with Pastor Chander Paul's church in Surajpur District, Chhattisgarh state. Despite parental consent for their admission to the Bible institute in Kochi, the students were caught in a distressing situation that disrupted their education. The students and their parents had to submit affidavits to the Child Welfare Committee for their release from the home, a process that took several days.

The Bible institute's curriculum aimed to bridge educational gaps and facilitate a return to formal studies. Subjects included English, morals, and various other courses, helping students reintegrate into the academic system.

Past instances of Hindu nationalist sentiments within the government have emboldened extremists, leading to targeted attacks on religious minorities, including Christians.

Like Kuriakose, several Christians are being targeted every day in different parts of the country, highlighting a distressing violation of human rights and religious freedom in India. The incident sheds light on the hostile environment faced by religious minorities and raises concerns about the erosion of religious liberties in the country.