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Indian Catholic school seeks protection from hostile Hindu groups

Church-run schools in northeastern Assam state are being threatened to remove all religious symbols from their premises
A supporter of India's pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party wears a mask of Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a political rally in northeast Assam state on March 30, 2019. Christian leaders say threats to Church-run institutions in the state are growing with Hindu groups pushing their brand of cultural nationalism.

A supporter of India's pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party wears a mask of Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a political rally in northeast Assam state on March 30, 2019. Christian leaders say threats to Church-run institutions in the state are growing with Hindu groups pushing their brand of cultural nationalism. (Photo: AFP)

Published: February 19, 2024 10:40 AM GMT
Updated: February 19, 2024 12:55 PM GMT

A Catholic school in a northeast Indian state has sought police protection after a threatening poster was found pasted on its wall, nearly two weeks after Christian schools were told to remove religious symbols from their premises. 

The poster, which was discovered by the staff at Carmel School in Jorhat, Assam state, on Feb. 16, has set a deadline of one week for the school to comply with their demand to remove all Christian symbols.

The poster “has created a sense of panic in the school campus,” Sister Rose Fatima, principal of the school said in her complaint on Feb. 17.

The school run by Apostolic Carmel nuns began six decades ago.

"We have always strived to create an atmosphere of peace," Fatima said in the complaint.

Church-run institutions continue to impart education, especially in Assam’s remote areas where poor tribal people live.

Christian leaders said the threats against the community are on the rise in the entire northeast region comprising seven states.

Hardline Hindu groups aligned with India's ruling pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party have been pushing Hindu-centric cultural nationalism, they added.

On Feb. 7, Satya Ranjan Borah, president of the Kutumba Surakshya Parishad (family protection council) held a press conference in Guwahati city along with leaders of other Hindu groups. They threatened Christian schools with dire consequences if they failed to remove religious symbols such as photographs, portraits, or statues of Jesus and Mary from school premises within 15 days.

The Hindu groups also asked Catholic priests, nuns and religious brothers not to wear cassocks and habits in schools.

According to Hindu groups, their move was necessary to prevent religious conversions of members of tribal and other vulnerable groups.

Following the threat, many Christians lodged complaints with the Assam government.

“We have advised our schools to lodge complaints,” Archbishop John Moolachira of Guwahati told UCA News on Feb. 19.

The Assam Christian Forum (ACF), an inter-denominational Christian body, said Christians are disturbed by “the demand to remove Christian symbols by the fringe elements.”

Some of them are asking Christians to arrange Hindu worship in our schools. “We reject these demands,” the ACF said in a statement.

“The government should act and take action against those openly threatening Christians,” said ACF spokesperson Allen Brooks on Feb. 19.

A senior police official who did not want to be named downplayed the threat, saying those who issued the threat were "fringe elements."

He, however, refused to divulge details of any action taken against them.

Christians make up 3.74 percent of Assam’s 31 million people, higher than the national average of 2.3 percent.

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