Madhya Pradesh: carolling is not a crime, priest acquitted
After four years of legal wrangles, the High Court acquitted Fr George Mangalapilly. Hindu extremists had accused him of forcing residents of a village to convert via Christmas carols sung by a group of seminarians. Certain of his innocence, the priest is relieved of the verdict.
Bhopal (AsiaNews) – Madhya Pradesh High Court recently acquitted Fr George Mangalapilly. Bajrang Dal, a Hindu nationalist organisation, had filed charges against him and a group of Catholics alleging they had been involved in forced religious conversion.
The case dates back to 14 December 2017 when Hindu radicals attacked 32 students from St Ephrem's Theological College in Satna (Madhya Pradesh) accompanied by nine religious and a local driver claiming that they had been singing Christmas carols in the streets of the village of Jawahar Nagar Bhumkahar.
According to the Bajrang Dal, the group of Catholics was trying to convert people through Christmas carols. According to Raghunath Dohar, one of the complainants, the carollers also tried to bribe people with offers of money, 5,000 rupees (US$ 70), plus a rosary.
During their incident, the Hindu extremists set fire to the seminarians’ van, and later stormed the police station where the Catholics were held.
“We are very glad that the case has been dismissed,” said Fr Maria Stephen, head of public relations of the Diocese of Madhya Pradesh. “The case brought us agony for several years although we had no doubts that accusations had no merit.”
Fr George Mangalapilly, one of the accused priests, said he was relieved after hearing the verdict.
Although he was detained less than 24 hours and was certain of his innocent, the last four years have been a great strain, especially after the High Court decided not to quash criminal proceedings in August 2020.
Fr George noted that all 32 seminarians involved in the case except one were ordained priests.
Religious conversion is a highly controversial issue in many areas of India, particularly in Madhya Pradesh.
Local priests and missionaries are often targeted by traditional Hindu groups, who accuse them of luring and bribing people to convert to Christianity.
Recently the state government, which is ruled by Hindu nationalists, has increased the penalties for forced conversion, which is used to intimidate the small local Christian community.