Catholic school drops complaint against Hindu radicals in Madhya Pradesh

Young nationalists had attacked the St Mary Post Graduate College in Vidisha. Top public officials came out in favour of constitutional protection for minorities. More than 9,500 students, mostly Hindus, attend the school in question.

Vidisha (AsiaNews) – A Catholic college in Vidisha (Madhya Pradesh) has decided to drop its complaint against its Hindu radicals. For weeks, the latter had harassed the educational facility in order to perform a Hindu ritual on its premises.

Mgr Theodore Mascarenhas, secretary general of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI), thanked State and Union authorities for their protection of the Catholic school at the most intense moments of the controversy.

In the end, common sense prevailed as did respect for the constitutional principles that protect minorities.

In a statement, the prelate said that in the future he hopes that the example set by Madhya Pradesh "will be repeated and followed by all districts and by those States in which Christians are threatened".

In the press release, the CBCI said that it hoped that local authorities "would act in accordance with our Constitution and prevent certain groups from taking the law into their own hands, and cause disharmony in society.”

What is more, “After the protection received, our staff and students feel relieved and wish to continue peacefully with the task of teaching and learning entrusted to them.”

The educational institution in question is St Mary Post Graduate College. The issue affecting it began on 30 December, when some 70 activists from the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (BVP) – the youth wing of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), India’s ruling Hindu nationalist party – showed up demanding the right to perform Bharat Mata Aarti, a ceremony dedicated to Mother India, inside the school.

Faced with the latter’s refusal, a mob of some 700 extremists came back on 4 January but this time found security forces sent by the Home Affairs Ministry. At the same time, Mgr Mascarenhas rushed to mediate between the school and the extremists.

In view of the demand presented, college staff and the more than 9,500 students “unanimously agreed” that the “aarti was neither needed nor permissible on campus.” Equally, they concurred that “Bowing to mobs would endanger the running of institutions and was not good for our democratic way of life”.

Given the tense situation and past police refusal to register complaints, school administrators were "forced to submit a writ petition to the Madhya Pradesh High Court". The latter met on 15 January and issued an order to protect the school, enforced the next day when further nationalist protest was expected. In the course of the standoff, police took 32 potential troublemakers into preventive custody.

Given the support received in this crisis, the school, in a spirit of social reconciliation, decided to drop its legal procedure against the extremists in order to avoid exacerbating tensions. Local Catholics thanked all those who played a part in peacefully resolving the incident.