Archbishop Anthony Chirayath complains about the climate of hostility towards Christians in his diocese. Extremists are backed by the nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. They want to “unify the entire population under a Hindu flag." Accusations of forced conversions are made to create fear and isolate Christians. The goal is political, ahead of the 2018 elections.
Sagar (AsiaNews) – Hindu radicals "are trying to eliminate Christians," said Mgr Anthony Chirayath, bishop of Sagar (Madhya Pradesh). Hindu fanatics have accused Christians in his diocese of forced conversions, he told AsiaNews, but "This is totally false".
Nationalists are "creating an atmosphere of hostility against us, spreading fake news through newspapers, television channels, brainwashing. Their goal is to create fear among Christians and above all among the people around us, who attend church, and have relations with priests, so as to prevent evangelisation by whatever means."
For this reason, he is relying on AsiaNews to make a plea. "We are afraid; we can be attacked at any time. Our schools, institutions and orphanages can be harmed. Help us!"
"Everything started with the closure of Mohanpur's Catholic college,” the bishop said. “Then Hindu radicals staged a protest in Sagar. It is a tactic. Who knows which other mission they will attack."
He said that he "asked for help from civil authorities. We called for protection and security for our men and women religious and institutions. "
Owned by the Church, the Mohanpur College was inaugurated in 1997 and provided free food and board to tribal children. It was shut down by order of the authorities of Guna District at the end of September, "because local radicals complained about forced conversions of minors.”
“The radicals arrived in the middle of the night with four trucks, threatened the children and the priest and cleared the area. But there was no provocation on our part," the prelate explained.
Some 225 tribal families live in the village of Mohanpur, five of them Catholic.
"The college has worked for years to serve the poor. At present, it is still closed. The accusation radicals made against us is that we converted 200 people in the village, but the police carried out their investigation and confirmed that there were no conversions.”
“We are waiting for a court ruling. We have also called for protection for Christian families, who receive threats and are told to leave."
After this incident, another event has alarmed local Christians: a torch-lit march by a thousand Hindu radicals on 10 November in the city of Sagar.
“Less than a thousand Catholics live in the city out of a total population of 300,000,” said the bishop. “In addition, no Catholics live in the area where the march took place. This is the paradox. In view of these small numbers, what’s happened is absurd."
"Now we are afraid. We are afraid of being attacked in the evening when we go to recite the Rosary in Catholic homes, not among Hindus or believers of other religions,” he said. “We are falsely accused. They are creating an atmosphere of hostility against us."
For Mgr Chirayath, "the reason for all these manifestations of intolerance is an attempt to turn us into the common enemy and unify the entire population under a Hindu flag. The goal is only political, not religious, in view of the upcoming elections in 2018. Behind these moves is the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh,” a nationalist paramilitary group.
"The local Christian community has been present for 150 years,” said Mgr Chirayath. Our (Syro-Malabar) diocese was created 49 years ago. At that time, there were only three churches; today there are 56 missions.”
“At the time of the foundation, 600 Catholics lived in the diocese, now there are 4,000. Still, there are not many of us. We have about 60 diocesan priests and 260 sisters in 23 congregations. All Indians."
Men and women religious "work in villages, and engage in charity activities in schools, dispensaries, for human development and advancement,” he noted. “They help women and children." In essence, "they are present where the state does not work or does not exist".
Through them, "we carry on the work of evangelisation, but there are no forced conversions. We preach the Gospel through our charitable works."