Bhopal: The Bajrang Dal (BD) and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) vandalised the Christian Missionary-run St Joseph School in Ganj Basoda town of Vidisha district, Madhya Pradesh, when students were taking the 10th board examinations on Monday afternoon.
Alleging conversion of eight students following the surfacing of a video on social media that showed a prayer meeting at the school, the right-wing groups barged into the school and pelted the building with stones while chanting “Jai Shree Ram”.
“VHP and Bajrang Dal members had announced that a protest against the alleged conversion of eight children at St Joseph School would be held. A mob pelted the school building with stones. No causality was reported,” Ganj Basoda SDM Roshan Rai told the media.
The police registered a case against four identified VHP men and 50 unidentified Bajrang Dal members under Sections 147 (rioting), 148 (rioting armed with a deadly weapon) and 427 (causing damage to the amount above Rs 50) but none of the accused have been arrested.
The school denied the allegation of conversion with principal Brother Antony telling reporters that it was “fake news spread on YouTube alleging conversion of eight Hindu children who are Catholic students being taught religious rituals”.
“We had demanded protection from the police and the district administration over the looming threat of an attack by right-wing men but they paid no heed to it,” a school employee said.
The state has reported more than eight cases in the last two months in which right-wing groups either targeted missionary schools and churches or lodged FIRs against Christians.
In Jhabua, right-wing men threatened to demolish a century-old Catholic church and inspect churches on Sunday. In Satna and Mandla districts, protests were held demanding installation of goddess Saraswati’s idol inside Missionary schools. And in Jhabua and Satna, FIRs have been lodged against Christians on charges of alleged conversion.
The most blatant attack on the Christian community was seen in Jhabua. The tribal-dominated district has a sizable population of tribals with more than 35,000 Catholic and Protestant voters. There are more than 24 churches with most constructed before the Independence and 20 schools run by missionaries.
Since the last couple of weeks, the community is feeling threatened after the district administration refused to renew the licences of seven missionary schools where more than 10,000 students are enrolled. In September, the district administration issued an order asking the churches to submit their details and their conversion certificates to ensure legal conversion.
“We are feeling threatened as a community,” Maria Stephen, a community leader from Bhopal, told Newsclick.
Azad Prem Singh Damore, convener, Adivasi Samaj Sudharak Sangh, which is associated with VHP, and his men tried to demolish the century-old Catholic Church on September 26.
“The demolition was prevented only after community leaders complained to the district administration and also dashed off a letter to the President demanding protection. Now, they are again threatening to demolish it on Christmas,” said Father Rocky Shah, PRO of the community in Jhabua. “We lodged several complaints against Prem Singh for threatening a community and hatemongering on social media. But instead of taking action, the police protect their rallies,” he alleged.
Father Inabanathan of Jhabua Catholic community alleged that even the “district administration is harassing the Christian community” here. “The administration is seeking details of churches and its Fathers with certificates. The licences of seven schools were not renewed,” he told Newsclick.
On December 5, six tribals of the Christian community were arrested after an FIR under Sections 3 and 5 of the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2021, was lodged against them at Ranapur Police Station for allegedly converting tribals.
“VHP and the Bajrang Dal men are now raiding our churches on Sundays on suspicion of conversion and falsely implicating members of the Christian community. The FIR registered against the six tribals on Sunday is one such incident,” Father Inabanathan alleged.
In Satna, VHP and BD men barged into a Church of God, located in Siddharth Nagar, during the Sunday prayers on November 1 alleging conversion. When the police refused to register an FIR against the alleged conversion, the men blocked the national highway crossing Satna. The police had to resort to lathi charge which injured half-a-dozen BD men.
Soon after the incident, the police registered two FIRs against Father Biju Thomas, Santosh Thomas and three others under the same Sections of the Act at Kolgaon Police Station, and the Satna superintendent of police (SP) took action against four cops for using force against the BD members.
On October 24, more than 30 VHP and Bajrang Dal members wrote a letter to Christ Jyoti School demanding the installation of a Saraswati idol. The members warned the school that they would come in 15 days if the demand was not met. “We wrote to the district administration seeking protection from the right-wing men. As a result, they did not show up,” said Father Augustine.
On October 10, the police booked 10 Christians, including five women, and arrested eight after right-wing members spotted them distributing religious books outside a missionary school.
A group of 10 people, including five women, were distributing religious books near Holy Cross School on Sunday, when members of Hindu outfits objected to it and alerted the police, a police officer said.
“We have registered a case under Section 505(2) of the Indian Penal Code (statements creating or promoting enmity, hatred, or ill-will between classes) against 10 persons, two of whom are unidentified,” Kotwali Police Station-in-charge Ravindra Sharma said. “Acting on a tip-off, Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad activists brought them here alleging that the books were on religious conversion. We are probing the matter.”
Similarly, in tribal-dominated Mandla district, alleged Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad members entered Bharat Jyoti Uchchatar Middle School on October 27 accusing its administration of conversion. A week later, in Nayanpur tehsil of the district, VHP members demanded the installation of a Saraswati idol inside a school. “We reported the incidents to the district collector and the SP,” Father Sebi of Catholic Church told Newsclick.