Indian pastor arrested for alleged human trafficking

Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News) [Hong Kong]

July 29, 2022

By UCA News Reporter

Rescued minor girls have been handed over to the care of the district child welfare committee in Kozhikode, Kerala state

A protestant pastor and his two associates were arrested by police in the southern Indian state of Kerala on suspicion of being involved in the trafficking of minor girls.

Police said they have rescued 12 girls, aged between nine and 12, traveling with the three men who were arrested and remanded to judicial custody on July 28.

The rescued girls are now undergoing counseling and would be handed over to their parents, said officials of the district child welfare committee.

Jacob Varghese, the arrested pastor, runs an orphanage, Karuna Charitable Trust in Perumbavur on the outskirts of the city Kochi, offering boarding and educational facilities for children from poor families.

An alert against him and his associates was sounded by passengers on board Okha- Ernakulam Express who suspected something was wrong in the manner the three men were escorting the minor girls.

The Railway Protection Force (RPF) swung into action and nabbed the suspects along with the girls as soon as the train reached Kozhikode railway station on July 27 night.

The RPF personnel questioned the pastor and his associates as also the girls, none of whom could give satisfactory explanations. They also could not produce the girls’ legal identification proofs.

“Among the minor girls 11 are from the western Indian state of Rajasthan while one is from Madhya Pradesh in central India,” district child welfare committee chairman P Abdul Nasar told media people.

Nasar said the girls were sent for medical examination and were being counseled while the police contacted their parents. Some of the parents said that the girls were indeed sent to Kochi for pursuing education. But only further investigations will reveal the truth, he said.

It is not the first time that human trafficking charges were being leveled against Christians in the country.

A Catholic nun traveling with four girls on a train was detained in Madhya Pradesh in June 2017 following allegations of human trafficking by Hindu nationalists.

That same year, seven children on their way to Maharashtra to attend a religious convention organized by a Pentecostal group were de-boarded from a train in Madhya Pradesh, again at the instance of Hindu activists.

It was alleged that the children were being trafficked for converting them to Christianity, though their identity proofs confirmed they were Christians.

In the latest case, there was no response to queries from the arrested pastor or his organization, which, the police said did not have a valid license.

The pastor’s cell phone was switched off.