10/04/2022, 16.21
INDIA
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Hindu nationalists stop bus carrying Christian children in Madhya Pradesh

by Nirmala Carvalho

In Khandwa, Hindu extremists prevented a meeting promoted by the diocese claiming that tribal children were being taken “for religious conversion”. For the archbishop of Bhopal, “their forefathers were Christians” and “each faith has the freedom to teach to their own youth.”

Khandwa (AsiaNews) – In the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, even children are the target of  Hindu extremists.

A bus carrying tribal boys and girls was intercepted by members of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal, right-wing Hindu nationalist groups, claiming that they were being taken to be converted.

Madhya Pradesh is one of the Indian states ruled by Hindu nationalists with anti-conversion laws.

The children were to take part in a programme organised by the Saint Pius School in the Diocese of Khandwa. According to eyewitnesses, the standoff lasted for a long time until police and district officials reached the area.

Local VHP secretary Animesh Joshi said he had "received information that a group of tribal boys and girls were being brought in for religious conversion."

The police recorded statements of those present, including by school officials and teachers. Fr Jose, the organiser, said that only Christian boys and girls were invited and that attempts to obtain permission for the event from the district administration had not been successful.

In Khandwa, Fr Augustine Madathikunnel, administrator of the Diocese of Khandwa, explained that the youth were supposed to take part in an annual gathering organised by the diocese. The three-day event was scheduled to end tomorrow.

“Unfortunately, yesterday we had unexpected opposition from some elements, in spite of having given written information to government authorities well in advance,” Fr Madathikunnel said.

“Nevertheless, our children and people were stopped on the road, questioned, and harassed,” he added. “Since we had to postpone the event, the children are back home safe.”

“I feel extremely saddened that we are misunderstood,” said Archbishop Alangaram Arokia Sebastian Durairaj of Bhopal, speaking to AsiaNews.

“This was an annual programme for youth” during which they “are given career guidance, value education, cultural programmes and other skills for their overall growth and development,” explained the prelate who headed the Diocese of Khandwa until last year.

“There is absolutely no conversion activities going on” since “their forefathers were Christians. It is very unfortunate that our programmes to prepare our children are being misinterpreted –  each faith has the freedom to teach their own youth. We were doing nothing illegal nor criminal.”

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