MUMBAI, India – A Catholic school in India was attacked on Dec. 6 by a group of Hindu nationalists after a YouTube channel accused the institution of baptizing Hindu students.Hindu nationalists attack Catholic school in India | Crux
MUMBAI, India – A Catholic school in India was attacked on Dec. 6 by a group of Hindu nationalists after a YouTube channel accused the institution of baptizing Hindu students.
The incident took place at St. Joseph School in Ganj Basoda in the state of Madhya Pradesh.
The YouTube channel “Aayudh” had used an Oct. 31 photo of the Catholic children at the parish church receiving First Communion from the bishop, misidentifying it as a baptism ceremony at the school, which is located nearly a mile away.
“The hooligans shouted against the Christians as well as school authorities for allegedly conducting baptismal ceremony of the school children. They pelted stones to the front elevation and broke windows and a vehicle,” said Father Maria Stephen, the Public Relations Officer for the Catholic Church in Madhya Pradesh.
The priest told Crust officials from the Diocese of Sagar had informed the police about the issue, who offered assurances that Catholic institutions would be protected.
“However, they could not curtail the attack,” Stephen said.
Brother Antony Pynumkal, of the Malabar Missionary Brothers and the principal of the school, told Crux the allegation of conversion was “fake and baseless.”
He said they had received a statement on Nov. 30 from local Hindu groups alleging the conversion of students, which is when the authorities approached the police.
Pynumkal said the mob caused over $20,000 in damage.
“Our school has 1500 students, of which only 4 are Christian students, around 20 are Muslim students, and the rest belong to the majority [Hindu] community,” he said.
Archbishop Felix Machado, the Secretary General of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI), said he was saddened by 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.
“As I heard, a mob 300 people armed with stones and iron rods forcibly entering a school premises when exams were going on, when students of Class 12 were appearing for a Mathematics exam,” the archbishop said.
“The students and the school staff present during the incident had escape narrowly, anyone 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 told Crux.
Madhya Pradesh is over 90 percent Hindu, and Christians just make up 0.3 percent of the population, compared to 2.3 percent in the nation as a whole. The state recently passed a Religious Freedom Bill, which despite its name is an “anti-conversion” law aimed at keeping Hindus from joining other religions.
Hindu nationalists often accuse Christians of using force and surreptitious tactics in pursuing conversions, often storming into villages and leading “reconversion” ceremonies in which Christians are compelled to perform Hindu rituals.
These pressures on Christians, which also affect Muslims and other religious minorities, are part of what observers describe as a broad program for the “saffronization” of India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, meaning an attempt to impose Hindu values and identity while squeezing out rival faiths.
Modi is a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has ruled India since 2014. The BJP is linked with the the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a Hindu nationalist group.
Madhya Pradesh – which is also ruled by the BJP – is one of several states in India to enact anti-conversion laws, despite the freedom of religion enshrined in India’s constitution.
Under the provisions of the new law, a “forced” religious conversion could lead to a one-to-five-year jail term and a minimum fine of around $350. If the person converted was a minor, the jail term and fine could be doubled.
Our honorable prime minster is very cordial to us, and the honorable prime minister warmly received our delegation and assured us things, but regrettably nothing happens,” Machado said.