01/20/2023, 11.13
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Hindu nationalists attack a priest and teachers in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra

by Nirmala Carvalho

A group of tribals from a Jesuit school were attacked at night by a gang armed with sticks while travelling on a train. A priest targeted after celebrating customary Mass in a village. In both cases false accusations of conversions. Card. Gracias: "Christians of all confessions took to the streets to defend Fr Joseph, a visible witness of ecumenism in this Octave of Prayer for Unity".

Mumbai (AsiaNews) - Two new serious acts of religious intolerance by Hindu fundamentalist groups have targeted Catholic clergy and institutions in India in recent hours.

On 18th January in the diocese of Jhabua, in the State of Madhya Pradesh, Unnai parish priest Fr Joseph Amuthkani was attacked on the basis of a false accusation of having fraudulently carried out conversions.

Fr Amuthakani had gone to the village of Bhavudi for Mass, together with a nun and a catechist, as usual. As they were preparing to return home after the celebration, some Hindu fundamentalists gathered around them, snatched the missal and rosary and started shouting slogans.

The Thandla city police intervened and took Fr Amuthakani into custody, while the Hindu extremists pressed for a complaint under the anti-conversion law. When the news spread, Christians of all denominations rallied to the priest's defence.

"I was detained for about seven hours," Fr Joseph told AsiaNews, "Thousands of Christians gathered outside the police station, demanding my release, against about 25 members of the nationalist right.  I prayed all the time for peace, so that they would not fight each other, because God's people were distressed that I had been taken to the police station and pressured to release me. The police took me into custody to protect me. I experienced God's protection and the love of my people."

Two days earlier, another serious incident had taken place in the state of Maharashtra. At night, a group of tribal teachers of the Vishwa Mandal Sevashram, an educational institution that has been active for more than thirty years in Shirpur in the Dhule district, was beaten up by a gang of Hindu extremists while on a train at the Sangli railway station.

The fundamentalists claimed that a Catholic priest was taking them to Goa for a religious conversion. Armed with sticks, they did not hesitate to even target a disabled teacher. The train then continued its journey to Belgavi, where the tribal teachers were headed and were escorted by the police to the local St. Paul College, before continuing on to Goa.  

Fr. Consti Constancio Rodrigues, head of the Jesuit mission in Shirpur, tells AsiaNews: 'Seven members of my male staff were beaten up in a planned attack. Every four years we go on this trip to Goa. We serve the local community, for its betterment, development and empowerment. This was a very unfortunate incident, but our mission will continue.

"In these two cases, the police did a good job in maintaining public order and the safety of our people," Card. Oswald Gracias, Archbishop of Mumbai - "But these are the dangers that any anti-conversion law brings. The Catholic Church is absolutely against forced conversions, our philosophy is clear: we want to witness to Christ and we will never put pressure on anyone. In Jhabua I am very happy that Christians of all denominations helped each other and stood in solidarity with Fr Joseph. In this octave of prayer for Christian unity, it is a visible testimony of how Jesus' disciples stand together".

"We need to be vigilant on both sides: to protect our religious personnel and our people and at the same time not offend the sensitivities of others," Cardinal Gracias added. Gracias - On 26 January, India celebrates Republic Day and we, the Indian Catholic Church, are committed to working for the Constitution, promoting national integration and love for the country. We work to promote solidarity and respect for all in our country: all Indians are our brothers and sisters'.

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