02/03/2012, 00.00
INDIA

Nun may be arrested for "desecrating" Hindu objects

Nirmala Carvalho
Sr. Ajaya Mary, dean of the Nirmala Covent School institute, did not allow a student to perform a ritual dedicated to the goddess Saraswati. Hindu activists accuse the nun of "having wounded the religious sentiments of the community." The nun speaks of a "false and malicious campaign" against a school that "for 42 years has served society."
Korba (AsiaNews) - This morning Hindu activists of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABV) organized a sit-in in front of the Nirmala Covent School in Korba (Chattisgarh) to request the arrest of Sr. Mary Ajaya, dean of the institute. The protesters - mostly young men - accuse the religious of having "desecrated" Hindu sacred objects, belonging to a student. For Sr. Ajaya, of the Franciscans of the Immaculate Conception, it is "a gross violation of the rights of our Christian minority institution and of the dignity of a woman and intimidation and harassment of a woman religious and a threat to the very secular and democratic fabric of Indian society, creating communal disharmony and a law and order situation."

The ABV is a student organization affiliated with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a Hindu ultra-nationalist party that has lead the country since 2008. The BJP supports groups belonging to the extremist Hindu movement of the Sangh Parivar, like Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) or the Bajrang Dal, often responsible for violence against Dalits and Christians.

The protest arose out of an incident which occurred on 28 January. "During recess", Sr. Ajaya told AsiaNews, "a male student organized a 'Saraswati Pooja' [a Hindu ritual dedicated to Saraswati, goddess of knowledge, ed], in class, without any prior permission. He collected money from the students and arranged a framed image of Sarawati, along with plates containing flowers, fruit, incense, and prayer beads." After summoning the boy's father and telling him what had happened, the dean sent the boy home, giving him and his father all the ritual objects, which as customary, would be immersed in a nearby stream.

A few hours later, a crowd gathered outside the school, accusing the nun of having "desecrated" religious artifacts, injuring the sentiments of the Hindu community. With them, many local TV stations rushed to the spot, reporting the news that the principal had "offended" Hinduism "throwing objects in the trash."

And it didn't end there. On 30 January, an official of the district asked Sr. Ajaya to allow Hindu students to practice the ritual. The nun refused, at which point, AVP activists broke into the school, carrying a picture of Saraswati. "Given the pressures of the collector and the protesters", explained the dean, "I asked some Hindu teachers to celebrate the ritual".

"The accusations against me", explains Sr. Alaya, "are completely baseless. When I conducted an inquiry in my office, five teachers were present, along with the students, who held each and every item of the ritual. This fabricated, false and malicious campaign against our Christian Education has caused us deep anguish, because we have given the majority community our dedicated service, and made a significant contribution towards nation building through educational service. Thousands of students of all faiths, castes and classes have enjoyed our service."
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