A group of Hindu nationalists gave the principal of the Christ Jyoti Secondary School “15 days to install the statue” of the goddess Saraswati. For Archbishop Machado, secretary general of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, the “constitutional guarantees” of minorities “should not be called into question”.
New Delhi (AsiaNews) – Hindu nationalist activists yesterday targeted the Christ Jyoti Senior Secondary School, a Catholic school in Satna, a district in the northern Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, demanding that a statue of Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of knowledge, be placed within the school as soon as possible.
“A group of young people from the Bajrang Dal[*] handed me a memorandum demanding that a statue of the goddess Saraswati be placed inside the school,” principal Father Augustine Chittuparambil told AsiaNews.
“According to the false accusations made against us, we allegedly removed the statue some months ago and now we have to remedy the situation,” Fr Augustine said. “These are absolutely false allegations. This is a Catholic school run by the Diocese of Satna. There have never been any altars or photos of Saraswati here,” he added.
For the clergyman, certain vested political interests are behind the story. He noted that “They gave me 15 days to install the statue. After that, they threatened to cause unrest and strikes.”
Fr Augustine explained that the school has always served the community without caste or creed discrimination. “Over 3,000 students are enrolled, most of them majority Hindu; only about 50 children are Christian,” he said.
The Indian Catholic Church is standing by the school principal, and the principle of religious freedom in the school.
“This type of action is aimed at intimidating minorities and putting political pressure,” said Mgr Leo Cornelio, S.V.D., Archbishop emeritus of Bhopal. “We must take a clear position and appeal to the country's authorities to respect the constitutional rights of minorities.”
Archbishop Felix Machado of Vasai agrees. “The image of our country must not be tarnished on the global stage by religious claims of this type,” said the prelate, speaking to AsiaNews.
“We live in the third millennium and there are constitutional guarantees that should not be called into question,” added the prelate who is also general secretary of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI).
“The Catholic Church is providing exemplary service in the field of education and healthcare, serving the community, regardless of caste or creed,” he said.
As a scholar of Hinduism, the prelate has “deep respect for this religion.” For this reason, he is “saddened by the behaviour of certain militants who are misguided about their religion.”
“This is a time to talk and to listen to each other; dialogue is the only way to go forward.”
[*] Hindu nationalist organisation.