Catholic school in India attacked by Hindu mob over alleged conversions

India flag The flag of India. | Alexey Gotovsky/CNA

A missionary Catholic school in central India was attacked by a mob of Hindu activists on Monday, despite the school saying they warned police about a possible attack. 

A right-wing Hindu group of an estimated 500 people attacked St. Joseph school in Ganj Basoda, more than than 60 miles west of Sagar, Dec. 6, throwing rocks at the windows, prying open the doors with iron bars, and finally entering the building and chanting slogans. 

The Hindus apparently accused the school of converting at least eight students to Christianity, after Holy Communion was offered at nearby St. Joseph Church on Oct. 31. 

The state in which the attack took place, Madhya Pradesh, has an anti-conversion law on the books which mandates up to 10 years imprisonment for violators. 

The school is run by The Congregation of the Malabar Missionary Brothers of St. Francis of Assisi, a community of brothers in the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church. The order also operates orphanages, special needs schools, training centers for at-risk youth, and boarding houses. 

The Free Press Journal reported that despite the chaos, no one was injured. High school students were reportedly taking an exam when the mob attacked. Security arrangements were made at other missionary schools in the area after the incident, the Journal reported. 

The Free Press Journal says five people have been arrested as of Tuesday in connection with the attack. The state is over 80% Hindu and less than one percent Christian. 

Archbishop Sebastian Durairaj of Bhopal said “a section of our community is feeling insecure” after the attack. 

“We belong to a country that is known for diversity and is secular constitutionally...But it is unfortunate that some antisocial elements have taken to violence and are attacking our community members,” Durairaj said in a statement Dec. 8. 

“We need to reach out to all those who have misconceptions or misunderstandings about us to bring peace.”

According to UCA News, the school, which serves some 1,500 students, suffered losses of close to 2 million rupees, or $26,500, in the attack.

Brother Antony Pynumkal, principal of the school, told UCA News that he informed local police on Dec. 5 about the possibility of an attack, which he had heard about through local media, but “none of the officials took us seriously and the vandals had free run of our campus for over an hour before they were removed by the police,” he said.

In recent years, Christians in India have decried an apparent rise in anti-Christian violence and Hindu extremism. Hindu mobs — often fueled by false accusations of forced conversions — have attacked Christians, destroyed churches, and disrupted religious worship services.

In additioon to persecution against Christians, reports indicate that Indian Hindus have systematically targeted Muslims in lynch mobs for slaughtering or eating beef– a practice that Hindus consider to be a religious offense. 

Article 25 of India’s constitution guarantees “the right freely to profess, practice, and propagate religion.” Christians comprise 2.3% of India’s population, according to the 2011 census, making Christianity the third-largest religion after Hinduism (79.8%) and Islam (14.2%).

Still, eight of India’s 29 states have passed anti-conversion laws, aimed at preventing conversions from Hinduism to minority religions by “force” or “inducement.” 

These laws and related accusations have drawn criticism from India’s religious minorities and from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, which listed India as a “country of particular concern” for religious freedom in 2020 for the first time in more than a decade.

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