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Attacked Jesuit mission seeks action in eastern India

State governor asked to intervene after armed mob attacks students, police and property

ucanews.com reporter, Bhopal

ucanews.com reporter, Bhopal

Published: September 11, 2019 10:02 AM GMT

Updated: September 11, 2019 10:40 AM GMT

Attacked Jesuit mission seeks action in eastern India

The scene after some 500 suspected Hindu hardliners vandalized a Jesuit college and students' hostel in a mission area in eastern Jharkhand. (Photo supplied)

A week after a mob of some 500 suspected Hindu hardliners vandalized a Jesuit mission in the eastern state of Jharkhand, church leaders have appealed to the governor to intervene and ensure police act against those responsible. 

The Sept. 11 appeal to Governor Draupadi Murmu followed an attack on St. John Berchmans Inter College and an attached hostel for tribal students in the Mundli area of Sahibganj district eight days earlier. 

Some 500 people, suspected members of Hindu groups, raided the college campus armed “with wooden sticks, iron rods, pipes, knives, pistols, bricks and stones,” said Father Thomas Kuzhively, secretary of the college.

They then selectively beat up tribal students, injuring two of them seriously, with one attacker even blocking an ambulance. Police had to use force to take the injured to the hospital, the priest’s letter to the governor said.

The hostel is home to nearly 300 students, mostly tribal.

The attackers also vandalized the college, breaking furniture and house fittings.

“There were also attempts to molest the college girls and women staff,” the letter said. 

The intruders also smashed four motorbikes and a jeep, as well as vandalizing college offices, destroying electronic equipment and files.

Some police officers, including an inspector, were injured when bricks were thrown at them.

“But the police have not initiated any action against anyone involved in the vandalism,” the priest’s letter said.

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He said they have identified and named 26 students who led the vandals into the campus, the priest said.

The reason for the attack was said to be a fight between a tribal student and group of non-tribal students two days earlier.

“Obviously, some people were bent on attacking our institutions, exploiting even a minor incident,” the priest said.

Tribal students the real target

Prabhakar Tirkey, the national president of the Rashtriya Isai Mahasangh (National Federation of Christians) based in the state capital Ranchi, said it would be a “mistake to see this as clash of students.”

“It was a planned conspiracy to target the mission which was educating illiterate tribal students,” he told ucanews.com. He said higher-caste Hindus were against the education of tribal people, and Christian missionaries were actively engaged in such activities.

Christians, particularly Jesuits who pioneered modern education in the state in the late 19th century, have long been active in the tribal areas of the state. 

The community has experienced hostility ever since the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power locally and nationally in 2014.

“Christian schools and other mission institutions are often attacked and the government fails to nail those involved in such criminal acts,” said Father Anand David Xalxo, a spokesperson for Ranchi Archdiocese.

“This kind of vandalism is not good for any civilized society. It will only defeat the rule of law and encourage anarchy in society,” he said.

Church leaders say government officials tacitly approve the violence against Christians by groups that follow the BJP’s political ideology of Hindu nationhood for India.

Father Kuzhively’s letter to the governor, sent through the district officials of Sahibganj, appealed for the government to arrest those behind the vandalism and send “a strong message no one will be allowed to mess with the rule of law in the state.”

Tribal people constitute 16 percent of the 32 million people in Jharkhand. The state has about 1.5 million Christians or 4.3 percent of the population, almost double the 2.3 percent figure for India as a whole.

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