School in Madhya Pradesh was damaged despite police being warned about an open threat by Hindu activists
St. Joseph School suffered damage estimated at 2 million rupees. (Photo: St. Joseph School)
Hindu activists vandalized a Catholic school in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh despite the school warning the police about a possible attack.
A crowd of close to 500 Hindus armed with stones and iron rods forced open the main gate of St. Joseph School in Ganj Basoda town in Sagar diocese, on Dec. 6 and threw stones at the elevated glass in front of the school.
As they entered the premises, they raised their hands and shouted slogans such as “Jai Shree Ram” (Hail Lord Ram) and moved close to the 11-year-old school building where the Central Board of Secondary Examination (CBSE) exam was being held.
The school is run by the Malabar Missionary Brothers and has 1,500 students.
“As stones fell into the examination hall, we rushed the students and teachers to other safe classrooms and allowed them to complete their examination,” said Brother Antony Pynumkal, principal of the school.
The school suffered losses of close to 2 million rupees (US$26,500) in the attack.
None of the officials took us seriously and the vandals had free run of our campus for over an hour before they were removed by the police
“The attack could have been avoided had the police and the district administration taken our complaint seriously,” Brother Pynumkal told UCA News on Dec. 7.
The school management on Dec. 5 informed the local police, the superintendent of police and the district collector that they urgently needed police protection after a right-wing Hindu group openly stated that it would target the school the next day at noon.
The Hindu group also accused the school of converting eight students to Christianity.
“None of the officials took us seriously and the vandals had free run of our campus for over an hour before they were removed by the police,” Brother Pynumkal said.
“As I had seen their allegation [about the conversions], I told the police this wasn’t true and no such students studied in our school. I also asked them produce evidence to prove the allegation, but to no avail.”
Father Sabu Puthenpurackal, diocesan public relations officer, said the Hindu group misrepresented the Holy Communion given to Catholic children on Oct. 31 at St. Joseph Church — at least three kilometers from the school — as a conversion activity as an excuse to attack the school.
Madhya Pradesh is among eight states in India where religious conversion through allurement and coercion is prohibited. The anti-conversion law has provisions for up to 10 years in jail for those violating it.
“It was a pre-planned targeted attack. They wanted to destroy our property on the pretext of a fake case and they did it,” said Brother Pynumkal.
The first information report (FIR) did not include crucial information the school principal had given to police.
“I had told the police that 400-500 vandals entered the campus, but they wrote only 100. I told them that the school was a CBSE center where an examination was going on, but they did not note it down. I said the school incurred a loss of close to 2 million rupees, but they put only 800,000 rupees in the FIR, apparently trying to help the vandals,” Brother Pynumkal added.
The police claimed to have arrested four individuals in connection with the attack, but their details are not available.
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, public relations officer of the Catholic Church in Madhya Pradesh, condemned the attack.
“It is part of a conspiracy to target the Christian community and discredit their charitable services including in the field of education,” Father Stephen told UCA News on Dec. 7.
The priest appealed to the government to hold an impartial investigation and bring the culprits to book if the government is serious about containing such attacks.
Madhya Pradesh is among many states where Christians have accused right-wing Hindu groups, especially Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajarang Dal, of instigating anti-Christian violence.
The state is ruled by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Jananta Party that wants to turn India a Hindu theocratic state.
Christians make up less than one percent of the 71 million population in the state where Hindus account for more than 80 percent.
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