False charges of forced conversions over Christmas carols in Madhya Pradesh
The rector of St Ephrem's Theological College of Satna speaks out against the attack against 30 seminarians and two priests, held hostage for several hours by young Hindu militants. The man who accused a priest of giving him money to embrace Christianity appears to have retracted his original claim.
Satna (AsiaNews) – Fr Joseph Ottapurackal, rector of St. Ephrem's Theological College in Satna, has spoken out against the arrest of 30 seminarians and two priests from his seminary. Before their taken into custody, they were held hostage by radical Hindu nationalists on Thursday of last week.
"We strongly condemn the atrocities against the Christian missionaries and intimidation of religious minorities. We demand immediate action from the civil authorities against those involved in the incident,” he writes.
The priest told AsiaNews that the mob that stopped the group of Christians that had travelled to the remote village of Bhumkahar to sing Christmas carols were activists with the Bajrang Dal, the militant youth wing of the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHH), an extremist right-wing Hindu organisation.
The rector of the seminar said that the allegations of forced conversion made against one of the priests were false. The latter was accused of offering 5,000 rupees (US$ 78) to convince a Hindu man to convert.
Evidence that the accusations against Christians were unfounded came when Dharmendra Dohar, the man who accused Fr George Mangalappilly of offering him money to renounce his religion, apparently retracted his original claim.
When asked by a reporter if he had really converted, he preferred not to answer. When another journalist asked whether he was afraid of the Bajrang Dal or the police, he only said: "I am worried about my family. Now they are in trouble because of me . . . We have been told not to allow Christians to enter our homes and socialise with us."
A group of 32 seminarians and two priests from St Ephrem’s Theological College, Satna, in the central Indian State of Madhya Pradesh, went to a village to celebrate the love and joy of Christmas with the villagers at 6.00 p.m. on 14 December.
Every year the seminarians present a programme in the nearby villages to convey the message of love and peace during the Christmas season.
Several social welfare activities are also carried out in the villages by the Church. Led by a co-ordinator, villagers organise activities in which village children as well as seminarians present songs and skits on various themes.
Towards the end of a day of activities in a village called Bhumkahar, a group of Bajrang Dal activists disrupted the event asking them to offer pooja to Bajrang Bali and harassed the seminarians mentally and physically.
Shortly afterwards, the police arrived at the location and took the seminarians and priests to Satna Civil Lines Police Station. A large number of Bajrang Dal activists were present at the station.
Meanwhile, five priests came to the police station to enquire about the incident and meet the priests and seminarians. Unfortunately, they were badly beaten up and then detained at the police station.
The Claritian Fathers also came to visit them. Their car, which was parked outside the police station, was set on fire by the Hindu right wing group. The Bajrang Dal activists started shouting slogans against Christians using abusive language. They made allegations about conversion.
A villager also made a false allegation that he was offered five thousand rupees by one of the priests to convert to Christian faith. The mob remained at the police station till 2.00 a.m.
After the latter left, the priests and seminarians were allowed to leave at 3.00 a.m. on the condition that they would appear in the office of the Superintendent of Police at 7.00 a.m.
Accordingly, they went to the office in the morning to give their statement and at the end a case was registered against Fr George Mangalappilly on the baseless allegation of forced conversion by one of the villagers.
He was brought before the district court in the afternoon and granted bail. Thus, all the detained persons were finally released.
We strongly condemn the atrocities against the Christian missionaries and intimidation of religious minorities. We demand immediate action from the civil authorities against those involved in the incident.
*rector of St Ephrem’s Theological College in Satna
Mgr Joseph Kodakallil, bishop of Satna, and Fr Kuriakose Kachappilly, in charge of public relations for the diocese, contributed to the article.