Catholic school in India attacked by Hindu mob
By Vatican News
A Catholic school in central India’s Madhya Pradesh state was vandalized by a mob of some 500 Hindu extremists, despite school authorities requesting police protection prior to the attack.
The incident occurred at around midday at St. Joseph’s School at Ganj Basoda, some 120 kilometers northeast of the state capital Bhopal. The attack took place while Class 12 students were sitting for the Central Board of Secondary Examination (CBSE). School principal Brother Anthony Pynumkal told The Indian Express that the mob was armed with iron rods and stones, and chanted ‘Jai Shri Ram’ while damaging school property.
Fake religious conversion case
The Malabar Missionary Brothers (MMB), a religious congregation, established St. Joseph’s School in 2008 which today has 1,500 students, of whom less than 1 percent are Christians. It comes under the jurisdiction of Sagar Diocese of the Syro-Malabar-rite Catholic Church, which together with the Syro-Malankara-rite and the Latin-rite Churches form the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), the apex body of the Catholic Church in India.
The December 6 attack was triggered by a YouTube channel that accused the local St. Joseph’s parish of converting Hindu students. The YouTube channel “Aayudh” cited an Oct. 31 photo of 8 Catholic children receiving First Communion and Confirmation from the bishop at St. Joseph’s parish church as a conversion ceremony of Hindu students at the school, which is located some 3 kilometers away.
“We requested the police for protection, and they assured us that the mob would only shout a few slogans and disperse peacefully and even then, they would give protection but the police failed to show up… They only came after the goons had already left” Brother Pynumkal told The Indian Express. “As stones fell into the examination hall, we rushed the students and teachers to other safe classrooms and allowed them to complete their examination,” he said.
The principal said he requested urgent protection from the local police, the superintendent of police and the district collector the previous day after a right-wing Hindu group openly threatened to attack the school for the alleged conversions.
The police did not take them seriously and the vandals had a free run in the school premises for over an hour before the police intervened, Brother Pynumkal told UCA News. “It was a pre-planned targeted attack. They wanted to destroy our property on the pretext of a fake case and they did it,” he added.
The principal of St. Joseph’s School also pointed out that the police did not include crucial information he provided in the first information report (FIR). He reported damages of over $26,000 but the police put it down as only as $10,500. He reported some 400-500 vandals but they wrote only 100.
Church condemns attack
It is “part of a conspiracy to target the Christian community and discredit their charitable services including in the field of education”, Father Maria Stephen, the Public Relations Officer for the Catholic Church in Madhya Pradesh told UCA News.
CBCI Secretary-General, Archbishop Felix Machado of Vasai Diocese expressed saddened at the attack. “It pains my heart. I am not even asking which religion we belong to. But are we human beings? Where are we as Indian citizens, are we living in the 21st century?” Machado told Crux. He said anybody could have been injured in the violence. “Is there law and order in this beloved country of mine? I am not debating about religion here; every life is precious,” he said.
In Madhya Pradesh, Christians make up less than 1 percent of a population of over 70 million, with Hindus accounting for more than 80 percent. It is among 8 states in India where a law prohibiting religious conversion through allurement and coercion can jail a person for up to 10 years for violating it.
Madhya Pradesh is among many Indian states where Christians have accused right-wing Hindu groups, such as Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), Bajarang Dal and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), of instigating anti-Christian violence. The state is ruled by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Since 2014, India has been ruled by a coalition government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose BJP party has the support of the three groups that want to turn the nation into a Hindu theocratic state.