Right-wing Hindutva activists attacked Catholic carol singers in Madhya Pradesh’s Satna district and also set a priest’s car ablaze, accusing them of religious conversion. The police detained over 30 members of the Catholic choir group, including priests.
The incident occurred on Thursday evening. Instead of taking action against the attackers, the police detained the carol singers, a Catholic priest said.
Father Rene Verghese told IANS on Friday: “A group of students training to become priests was moving around Satna town, visiting Christian institutions and singing carols.
“Some 15 km from here in Dara Kalan village church they were getting ready for the Christmas celebrations, when a group of people attacked them, accusing them of carrying out religious conversion.”
Verghese said the Hindu group raised slogans and called up the Civil Lines Police Station.
All 32 carollers, accompanied by two priests, were taken to the police station. Eight priests who later went to the police station to enquire into the matter were also taken into custody, he said.
The mob attacked the Christian students inside the police station, and set fire to the priest’s car parked outside.
Verghese denied any attempt at religious conversion. He said singing carols is a common practice around the time of Christmas. “We were just doing that and preparing for the Christmas celebrations.”
However, City Superintendent of Police D.D. Pandey told IANS: “One Dharmendra Dohad has registered a complaint with us that he was paid Rs 5,000 and converted to a Christian.
“He was given a holy dip in a pond and his name was changed to Dharmendra Thomas, the complainant said. They also asked him to pray to Lord Christ,” he said.
According to Pandey, based on the complaint of Dharmendra, the police have lodged a case against priest George M. and five other unknown persons on the charge of luring for religious conversion and an investigation has been launched. A probe into the vandalism carried out by the mob has also been initiated.
Leader of Opposition in the state assembly Ajay Singh said: “After the defeat in Chitrakoot bypoll, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) wants to saffronise the entire Vindhya region. The incident is part of that gameplan. But when they saw things getting out of their control, they produced the man making the conversion allegation.”
In a statement, state secretary of Communist party of India (Marxist) Badal Saroj said the attack on Christians, their arrest and setting on fire their car at the police station could at best be described as a “Talibani act”.
But brushing aside the allegations, state BJP spokesperson Deepak Vijayvargiya said the incident could also be a fallout of personal enmity and that his party always preferred communication in a democratic manner.
“After the killing of Gauri Lankesh in Karnataka, pointing fingers were raised at us. But what emerged later is known to the entire country,” he added.