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Christian school attacked by 300 Hindu nationalists in India

by Donna Birrell

A Christian school in India has been attacked by over 300 Hindu nationalists. 

St Joseph's School in Madhya Pradesh State was targeted earlier this month after false allegations that the school was involved in religious conversions.  
The charity CSW says many of the high school students were left traumatised by the attack which happened while they were sitting exams.   

Students at the school were taking their Class XII examinations (ages 16 to 18) when members of right-wing Hindu groups, including Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal, started throwing stones at the glass window at the entrance of the school and shouting slogans such as "Jai Shri Ram" (a Hindu chant meaning "Hail Lord Ram"). During the attack, the mob threw rocks at the windows, prised the doors open with iron bars, and stormed the building. 

CSW says that although the students were moved to another room for safety, many were traumatised and could not complete their examinations. The manager of the school, Anthony Pynumkal, claimed that he had received information about the planned attack the previous day and had requested police protection, but the police failed to arrive until after the mob had dispersed. 

It's believed the attack was sparked by a social media report with an image of eight girls receiving Holy Communion, which suggested that the girls were students at the school and were being converted to Christianity. However, school authorities later clarified that the photo in question was of a Confirmation service held at the nearby St Joseph's parish church. 

Mr Pynumkal claims that the police have downplayed the seriousness of the damages. Five people were arrested in connection with the case on 7th December and local police have made assurances that they will investigate the case further, including allegations of forced conversion. 

CSW's Founder President Mervyn Thomas said: "This incident shows how misinformation can lead to violence, which is happening on a frighteningly regular basis in India today. We call on local police to investigate this case swiftly and fully, and to guarantee protection for any individuals and groups who face threats from these dangerous Hindu nationalist groups. We also urge the Indian government to do far more to combat Hindu nationalist rhetoric, ensuring that those responsible for stoking intolerance and division are held to account."

St Joseph's School was established in 2008 and currently has about 1500 students, the majority of whom are non-Christians. It's run by the Congregation of the Malabar Missionary Brothers of St Francis of Assisi, an order of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church. 

Speaking to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) about the assault, a Catholic cleric in India, Father Maria Stephen was critical of the government.

"As long as the BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] remains in the government, the Christians will face high levels of injustice and persecution. They are frightened of Christians because of their service and commitment.

"Christians are attacked because the high caste Hindus want their low caste people to serve them. Missionaries educate people to come to the mainstream. A section of the Hindus want the poor to become poorer and rich to become richer."

Video of the incident can be seen here



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