12/07/2021, 18.15
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Hindu extremists attack Catholic school in Madhya Pradesh

by Nirmala Carvalho

The incident stems from rumours that baptisms were performed in the school. In reality, only four students out of 1,500 are Christian. For Bishop James Athikalam of Sagar, the attack is part of “a planned strategy” linked to upcoming local elections; “local (nationalist) leaders want to gain prominence by attacking Christian schools.”

Bhopal (AsiaNews) – After churches and other places of prayer, Hindu extremists are now targeting Catholic schools, this in broad daylight.

Yesterday, the latest incident involved St Joseph School in Ganj Basoda, a city in Vidisha district, Madhya Pradesh (central India).

It comes as the state government, which is controlled by the Hindu Nationalist, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), recently hardened its anti-conversion legislation.

"A group of hooligans broke the gate lock,” said Fr Maria Stephen, public relations officer for the dioceses of Madhya Pradesh. They had heard “fake news published by Aayudh, a local YouTube channel.”

“They shouted at the Christians accusing them of conducting baptisms involving the school children. They pelted stones at the building, breaking windows and damaging a vehicle.”

The baptisms story was a fabrication. The local parish of St Joseph is located one kilometre from the school, and performed First Communions for parish children on 31 October.

Aayudh used pictures of children with the bishop published in the Diocese of Sagar newsletter to claim that children were being baptised at the school, which outraged extremists.

St Joseph's principal Brother Antony Pynumkal said he received a report on 30 November about the allegations circulating among Hindu nationalists and immediately informed the police.

Police sent two agents but they proved unable to stop the mob armed with bars and stones.

"The entire attack lasted an hour,” Brother Antony said, causing “damage of nearly 15-20 lakh (1.5-2 million) rupees (US$ 20,000-26,500).”

“Our school has 1,500 students, including four Christians and about 20 Muslims. All the others belong to the majority community.”

For Bishop James Athikalam of Sagar, there is “a planned strategy against us”.

“Recently, we had an incident at a girls' hostel,” he told AsiaNews. Now, “in every Christian educational institution, they are trying to whip up a conspiracy,” he explained.

Why? For the prelate, the reason is that “Local elections are scheduled and local (nationalist) leaders want to gain prominence by attacking Christian schools.”

Fr Babu Joseph, former spokesman for the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India, notes that, “This is happening in a state that has been ranked as one of the poorest in India where one third of the population is in the grip of extreme poverty”.

“We earnestly hope that the administration will rise to the occasion and book the law breakers who could have endangered the precious life of children”.

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