Mendhar (AsiaNews) - A mob of Muslim radicals have tried to burn a school with a Christian name (St. Francis School), unaware that it is governed by Muslim and Christian in name only. The police managed to stop the arsonists, but fired into the crowd, killing four people and wounding 19. Christian leaders say "these people are being manipulated.
The protest against the "Burn the Koran" campaign is spreading in several areas of Kashmir and has already left 22 dead and hundreds injured. The events used the announced (but subsequently cancelled) desecration of the Koran in the United States, to increase the tension against the Indian government, which refuses to grant autonomy to the region, also disputed by Pakistan.
After three days of demonstrations and violence, protests erupted yesterday in Mendhar, about 60 km from Poonch near the border with Pakistan. From 10 am at least 3,000 people gathered also from nearby villages, marching towards the school of St Francis and the residences of teachers.
The crowd were stopped by the police who used firearms, batons and tear gas grenades. In the clashes four demonstrators were killed and 19 wounded. The mob destroyed dozens of government offices, the police station and burned at least eight cars.
The irony is that the school targeted is Christian in name only and is owned by local Muslims, even if the teaching staff is made up of Christians from Kerala.
Mgr. Peter Celestine, bishop of Srinagar tells AsiaNews: "The so-called St Francis School has nothing to do with Catholic Protestant or evangelical institutions. They only use the Christian name to attract students. This shows that even for the local Muslims, Christian educational institutions have a very high standard”.
"These people - he added –are rounded up from nearby villages and incited to attack, inflamed by religious zeal."
In recent days, however, some Catholic schools were affected. Among them the Good Shepherd's School of missionary Jim Borst, in Pulwama. The mob burned the main building and two other buildings were looted. Witnesses said the protesters were from villages under the influence of "Allahwales" and Devbandis "fundamentalist groups close to the Wahhabis.
Local people, Muslim, expressed solidarity with the missionary and say they are ready to help re-start the school. Fr. Jim, for his part, sent a letter to the families linked to the school, promising to reopen immediately as soon as the curfew ends. Meanwhile the priest is under police protection to prevent attacks against him.
On 14 September another school risked being burnt: it is the Christ School in Poonch. Only police intervention stopped the mob just 500 meters from the building.
Fr. Matthew, the principal told AsiaNews: "We have 1522 students and only 40 are Christians, 40% of the students are Muslims, then there are Hindus and Sikhs. We have always enjoyed a deep respect from the locals. Many Islamic authorities have expressed their displeasure at the attempt to burn the school and condemned the attack. But people are manipulated and have been driven to a frenzy by false news reports".